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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Money Talks as Academia Turns West

A major demographic change has been taking place within the cavernous halls of Moscow State University in line with the shift in politics from the Soviet Union to Russia. The foreign student community, once almost exclusively from the Third World, has taken on a decidedly Western character as tuition costs have risen sharply and Russia has opened up to foreigners. As European and American students arrive, the other foreign students who used to fill the universities of the Soviet Union -- from Africa, Southeast Asia and Central and South America -- are losing their communist-sponsored scholarships, and losing one more opportunity for education abroad. "During the Soviet era, Moscow State was very popular among friends of the Soviet Union," said Nikolai Koroteyev, vice director of international relations at the university. "Almost all the foreign students were from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa, and were allowed to study free of charge as a present from the Soviet government." Now that Moscow State has achieved autonomy from the state, tuition fees are the same for all foreign students regardless of nationality. The contracts that were issued during the Soviet era are being honored but no new contracts are being given. This, according to Dmitry Parshin, an official in the department of international education, has led to a shift in foreign enrollment. Of the 2,000 foreign students currently at Moscow State, only 100 are still under Soviet contracts and most of them are in their final year of study, he said. The lack of new contracts and the high cost of tuition, $3,000 to $6,000 per semester, have made enrollment impossible for many would-be students. In some situations, the Ministry of Education will provide scholarships to deserving students from other countries but there will be far fewer than in the past. In addition, the university has cut back a special preparatory Russian-language program and now requires foreign applicants to pass an initial Russian exam. "The situation is not good for students of my country who want to get a good education at Moscow State University, because not only do they pay for it themselves, but it is harder to get accepted," said one Iraqi student who came to Russia four years ago on a scholarship. The cost of tuition does not seem to have slowed the infusion of students from the West. Once almost nonexistent, the Western student population has grown to include 500 Americans and 300 Western Europeans. The changes in Moscow have also led to difficulties for the university over housing and security for students, both foreign and Russian. According to Parshin, the dorms are in very bad need of repair but there is little money for anything right now. So money talks. Students who can afford to pay extra are given the better rooms while those with little money get the rooms in the worst condition. The most frequently talked about problems among these students are those of food, safety and the amount of time that it takes to get anything done. "It takes a while to get used to buying food here and dealing with everyday things," said Shawn Corey, a 24-year-old Canadian exchange student at Moscow's Pedagogical University. "But after you get used to it, it's OK. In a lot of ways it's like other big cities." Being in a big city with a rising crime rate is causing problems for the authorities at Moscow State. In the past, there were few problems of safety around the university, but according to Parshin, the issue is now a high priority. "Students come here unaware of the dangers that exist," he said. "It is a hard thing for us. We have gone back to having guards at the entrances but we are considering other things as well." Whether they come to Moscow to improve their Russian, bolster their r?sum?s or satisfy their curiosity, few of the new Western students leave without a little more insight. "Coming to Moscow was like a final challenge to me," said Glen Stoffel, 23, a business major from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. "I'm a senior and I wanted to throw myself a curve ball. It was an experience I hadn't had."