The country’s ministry of education said two years ago that it would be raising the international student quota for universities to 30,000 per year – it is not clear whether this target has been reached.
Despite the new quota not being announced as officially in place students speaking to Novaya Gazeta, a Russian publication (labelled undesirable by the country’s government), said they were studying “free of charge” thanks to the quota – and despite the war, one vowed to stay.
“My mum texted me and asked me if I wanted to leave Russia. But I said I didn’t want to. I like it here,” said Latvian student Isidor.
Overall, 351,117 international students were in Russia in 2022 according to IIE’s Project Atlas – which was actually down from the previous year, where over 395,000 were counted.
Kazakhstan remains the most popular source country for Russia – over 62,000 students chose it as their destination – but reports of African students choosing Russia are also increasing, amid record scholarships being offered for them.
Vladimir Putin himself said in August that over 35,000 students from the continent study in Russia, a number he aims to grow – this number has not been confirmed by the ministry with any official data.
“There’s a strong legacy of higher education links between Russia and Africa, dating back to the Soviet era,” said Precious Chatterje-Doody, an expert in Russian international relations and a lecturer in international studies and politics at the Open University.
“The USSR used these links to project its superpower status there but also to educate successive generations of Africa’s thought leaders and open them up to Soviet values. Fast forward to now, and well-respected Russian universities still maintain their good reputation across Africa for those who want an international education,” she continued, speaking with The PIE.
Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s president, also said in August that he was interested to get “more and more students” to go to Russia to learn across a “number of disciplines”.
“Russia has been actively promoting itself across Africa as a challenger to an unfair Western-dominated international system that rests on the gains of colonialism,” Chatterje-Doody added.
“This idea resonates in various African countries where the legacies of colonialism are still felt, and it’s only been bolstered by recent Russian military and information influence operations in the region.”
Multiple former students in Russia, originally from Africa, were also drafted by late General Prigozhin’s mercenary group Wagner, where some were killed.
Russia has been pushing for students from less highlighted destinations too – the Russian Embassy in New Zealand recently released a video on Twitter promoting Russia’s scholarships for international students.
👩🎓🧑🎓Do you want to study in Russia?
The Russian Government offers annual scholarships to international students and Russian compatriots living abroad who wish to study full Bachelor’s, Masters and PhD degrees programmes in Russian universities.
— Russian Embassy, NZ (@rusembnz) September 14, 2023
While official data is not being given by the Russian government – despite the impression that numbers are skyrocketing – it is clear that portions of students around the world are still choosing Russia.
Whether this number will exceed its 2021 quota amidst the war, however, is a different, more difficult question.
The PIE reached out to several Russian universities and the Russian ministry of education to find out their official international student numbers – none replied to our request for comment.