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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Minister Worries About British Council

APFursenko and U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, right, speaking to reporters at G8 talks on Thursday.
A two-day summit of Group of Eight education ministers kicked off Thursday with the British minister fretting about a Russian probe into the British Council and his Russian counterpart announcing a plan to attract more students from former Soviet republics.

British Higher Education Minister Bill Rammel said he hoped to use the upcoming G8 summit in St. Petersburg to resolve the dispute over the British Council, the British Embassy's cultural department that offers fee-based English-language lessons.

The dispute started in May 2004 when police called the council's 15 offices across Russia and then visited them to demand their financial records. The Interior Ministry opened an investigation and threatened to fine the council if it did not cooperate.

The investigation -- which looked into whether the council had carried out illegal business activities -- was closed last summer due to a lack of evidence, but prosecutors in St. Petersburg reopened the investigation into the business activities of the St. Petersburg office of the British Council in January.

"By now all branches of the British Council are registered properly and are paying taxes. It is in the mutual interests of Britain and Russia that the British Council operates successfully in the Russian Federation," Rammel was quoted as saying by Interfax.

Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko told reporters that Russian universities and colleges would enroll more students from neighboring countries in an effort to attract more young migrants. He said the foreign students would receive free tuition and be encouraged to stay in Russia after graduation.

The government is reconsidering Russia's migration policy in a bid to attract more qualified migrants amid a demographic crisis.

Fursenko also said that during the two-day summit he planned to seek a mutual recognition of education standards by G8 nations.

"We are not offering to establish the same standards for all G8 nations, but we would like to negotiate recognition of one another's education standards and to achieve common understanding of what is behind those standards," he said.

Russians often fail to find employment abroad, where their higher education degrees are often not recognized.

Education is one of three priorities named by President Vladimir Putin for Russia's presidency of the G8 this year. The other two are energy security and infectious diseases.