Thursday, August 6, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow State Branches in Former Republics Reflect Rather than Change Bilateral Ties, Russian Scholar Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 6 – A Kremlin plan to use branches of Moscow State University in former Soviet republics in order to enhance Moscow’s influence has not yet proven its worth, with each of the four established so far reflecting rather that modifying bilateral ties between the countries involved, according to a Moscow professor.
In an interview posted on this week, Anna Arkhangelskaya, an instructor at MSU’s philosophy faculty, says that the Kremlin’s plan over the last ten years to use the MSU “brand” to attract students and hence win over the political elites in the non-Russian republics has not worked out as intended (
Saying she is “absolutely certain” that those “at the highest levels” of the Russian state decided to promote the opening of such branches for “political” reasons, Arkhangelskaya says that the experience of the four established since 1999 – in Sevastopol, Astana, Baku and Tashkent with a fifth planned for Dushanbe – does not permit any single conclusion about them.
“On the one hand,” she continues, such institutions can draw on MSU’s reputation to reinforce or build ties across the former Soviet space. But “on the other, this is a question of priorities: if politics and not education is in the first place, then this will have the effect of harming education” whatever else it does.
“It seems to me,” she continues, “that it would be much better if the filials created did not become a currency of exchange in political games. The establishment and operation of the branches is a difficult, intensive and lengthy work, which is [best] supported not by speeches from tribunes and not by words for popular television programs.”
Arkhangelskaya, who has had experience with all of the existing branches, notes that they have in common the use of Moscow instructors for intensive, short courses, something that limits the number of subjects that can be taught and that often interferes with the educational programs that the students may be pursuing in other institutions.
But in the course of the interview, the MSU instructor says that what has struck her most about the branches is diversity among them. First of all, she notes, they vary depending on the attitude of the host government. “In Kazakhstan and especially in Baku,” the governments are particularly supportive, providing much of the financing for the schools.
But in Sevastopol, the MSU branch exists, Arkhangelskaya suggests, “inspire of the leadership of Ukraine, the political line of its government, and its relationship to Russia.” There, the Russian government and MSU have had to bear almost all the costs involved in the branch’s operation.
Second, she continues, the relationship between MSU visiting instructors and faculty from institutions in the cities where the branches are located varies enormously. In Astana, the MSU branch has “good relations with the staff of the Gumilyev Eurasian National University. Elsewhere relations are less close, at least so far.
And third, Arkhangelskaya stresses, the experience of the students and the likelihood that they will pursue their studies in Moscow vary enormously. In Baku, for example, she says, officials are talking about sending the best students to Moscow as “a reward” for good work; elsewhere, there have been serious problems in coordinating the students’ programs.
Because these branches have not produced the expected results and because they create problems for instructors from Moscow who must disrupt their teaching and research, Arkhangelskaya says that the future “fate of the filials” is not entirely clear. “Opening new ones,” she says, “threatens the existence of older ones,” even before they can produce.
And she says that as someone who grew up before the current obsession with “branding” and “advertising” took hold in education as in other spheres, she very much doubts that even MSU’s undoubtedly well-known “brand” can play the role the Kremlin hopes for, and she fears that pursuing that goal could end by harming the educational process.

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