The head of the SUSU Office of International Relations Artyom Ponomaryov took part in a Fulbright educational grant program. He talked about the opportunities, the three visits to American universities, and his ideas on how we can compete with them.
– Tell us about the Fulbright program and its goals?
– The Fulbright educational grant program was founded after the second world war with the goal of creating a space for cultural and educational exchanges between the USA and different countries, as well as increasing the level of mutual understanding between the people of the world. For the more than 70 year history there have been more than 360,000 graduates of the Fulbright programs. Today, Fulbright grants are awarded in different areas and profiles – from student exchange grants to grants to study the Arctic. The RIEA (Russian International Education Administrators) program was of special interest to me.
– Why did you decide to participate in this program?
– The main motivation for participating was the idea that the university, existing today in the international scientific and educational space, is not able to vie for high positions in the international ratings without understanding how the world’s leading universities function. When I applied, I was asking myself, how can the university become the center of development for the city and region and how could I enable its movement to the global stage. All of the Fulbright programs are coordinated by the Institute of International Education, the head office of which is located in New York, and, notably, right across from the United Nations headquarters.
– Was it difficult to become a participant of this program?
- The basic requirement for candidates is working in an international office for at least 2 years, no matter your job title. Then you have to complete the TOEFL test and an interview. 2017 was a record year for applications, however only 8 people were chosen.
– Which Russian university representatives took part in the program this year?
- I worked with representatives from ITMO, South Federal University, Ulianovsk State Technical University, and a number of others.
– What was included in the course’s program?
- RIEA is a very intense, but carefully structured program, offering a chance to get experience in a large range of issues. In the 11 weeks of the program, I count 15 educational institutions I visited: from community colleges to large research universities. And I don’t have a shred of doubt that the experience I had will be useful.
Over 11 weeks, I dove into the USA system of higher education and studied the principles of international affairs in American universities – choosing international students, supporting them and their adaptation, seminars in internationalization, and more. We studied at Indiana University, Xavier University, and Ivy Tech Community College.
Besides exchanging experiences with colleagues through visits to a number of American universities, the work happened within the annual AIEA conference. In 2017 it was held in Washington, so we had the chance to attend the conference’s informational sessions and meet and exchange opinions with colleagues from various universities not only in the USA, but also from Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, and many other countries. Besides participating in a conference for program participants, informational sessions were organized at the IIE office in Washington and a visit to American University.
In addition, they organized visits to Columbia Universty, New York University, and the Borough of Manhattan Community College.
The course schedule also included Networking Week, which was based around creating possible partnerships and sharing experiences in topics of interest. Throughout that week I traveled to three universities of my choice. At Boston University I focused on questions of the recruitment and extramural activities of international students; at Boston College colleagues and I shard experiences about the internationalization of universities. At Olin College of Engineering we discussed questions about practically-oriented education in bachelor’s programs as well as scholarships for students.
I was able to totally dive in to the work of international offices at Pima Community College, the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University. These universities actively work with Russia in science and education, so we have a chance to create a beneficial partnership. The President of Arizona State University Michael Crow is also a member of the 5-100 Program council, and the university itself maintains a leading position in the USA and globally in number of international students. There was much to learn.
– Tell us, please, about the main differences between Russian and American education.
– Despite the many differences from the history of the two country’s educational systems’ foundation, legal basis, and mentality, Russian and American higher education has a whole range of problems in common from the processes of globalization and the necessity of functioning within it. We can’t adopt the experiences of our American colleagues completely and without question, but understanding the best practices can enable us to form the foundations of quality changes. We can discuss the differences between the education systems in Russia in USA for a long time and in great depth and that American universities are partially spared the issues and questions that come up at Russian universities. However the opposite is also true. And that in particular allows us to bravely state that Russian and American universities have equal potential for development. The main competitive advantage of Russian education, especially for international students, I would say, is cost of education first and foremost. Any American university or college, even with the lowest cost of education in the USA, will lose in this category to Russian higher education institutions. In addition, in our country the government gives colossal support to higher education from both the financial standpoint and from the standpoint of developing education and science as a part of Russian culture abroad. I must also note the strong theoretical base of Russian higher education.
From the knowledge and experience I gained, I would note that support from the state services and offices is the most important, especially given that internationalization of education is one of the first priorities for government politics. To suggest that American universities and colleges have carte blanc in their activities would be fundamentally incorrect, since they operate to an equal degree, if not to a greater degree, within strict conditions and requirements created in part in the legal spere. However, the principles and approaches used in managing processes within universities in colleges allow them to successfully and effectively function on both a local and global level.
The USA is the leader in international education today, especially by number of international students studying in American universities and colleges. More than 25% of all international students study here, and just the number of students from China (more than 330,000 people) is already greater than the number of all international students studying in Russia. However, Russian higher education is also not standing in one place, it’s progressively development, so we have a chance to return the title of leader of international education to ourselves.
– What did participation in this program give you?
– The RIEA program is unique both among Fulbright programs and in general among professional training programs for administrators of international offices. It is a two-way street – participants are not just adopting professional experiences but sharing their own; they aren’t just diving in to American culture but also bringing the culture of their country. Besides professional experience, this program allows you to remove yourself from the questions and issues you face in everyday life, experience a certain level of nostalgia for your home country and talk about the best things in it and that which we value above all. We are all human, and to talk about who is better or worse is totally absurd and foolish. We all have our merits and shortcomings, but the merits are more visible from afar, and when looking closely the shortcomings appear. And despite the forming situation in the world and the more and more frequent misunderstandings between countries, it is by no means appropriate to belittle the role of humanitarian cooperation. There is no more effective means of achieving mutual understanding than a two-way dialog, sharing experiences, and solving mutual issues. And in “people to people” relationships there is always a place for dialog, mutual understanding, and mutual respect.