Foreign Students in Russia: 1950s – 1990s

The late 30s and the first half of the 40s of the last century is remembered by hardships and bloody conflicts of World War II and by the victory of the USSR and the Allies which drastically altered the world map, having divided it into two poles – the capitalist and the socialist ones. A little later, in 50s – 60s, anti-colonial movement arose and started spreading rapidly over the world; and at its height dozens of African, Asian, and Latin American countries got their independence. Consequently, international aid in specialist training for the socialist countries of Eastern Europe and for the developing states became a principal priority for the USSR.
It secured the consolidation of the socialist camp forces and good relations with the young independent states. That is why the USSR resumed inviting multiple foreign students to study in its universities and institutes, providing a fundamental high-quality tertiary education. To secure the best possible educational services was an issue of prestige for the Soviet government which was eager to prove to the Western capitalist world that a socialist model of the society is more effective, particularly, in the sphere of education.
Thus, in early 50s foreign students started to come and study in the USSR. They were Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Bulgarian, Czech, Hungarian, Slovak, German (GDR) and other representatives of people’s democracy countries; i.e. the countries having started in the post war period to develop under the protectorate of the USSR in the direction of socialist economic model and having formed the so-called Warsaw Pact which opposed itself to the NATO.
Among the students there were also Italian, English, French, Spanish and other capitalist countries’ citizens. It goes without saying all of them were members of their national Communist parties arriving to the Soviet Union not directly, but via third European countries, for example, Austria or Hungary.
In 1954 in Lomonosov Moscow State University was founded a special preparatory faculty where new-coming foreign students were able to study Russian before entering the first course. Later all higher institutions having foreign applicants established such faculties.
Starting with 1960s a greater number of students began to come to Russia from the Arab Eastern countries, Africa and Latin America, which was connected with the opening of Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia in Moscow in 1960. During the 1960s the geographical scope of foreigners coming to the USSR widened remarkably, for the universities of other cities also had started participating in the work creating special faculties for foreigners on the model of Moscow and Leningrad leading universities.
On the whole it can be positively stated that the USSR’s international aid in training foreign specialists became one of the most important factors in the economic and cultural speed-up of many socialist and developing countries. The Soviet higher school started the work practically from the scrap. And in a few decades a smoothly running system of foreign specialists training was established. There were created:
• the basic principles of work with foreign students and, in particular, some personnel and legal issues were solved;
• the state structure providing admittance, training, and upgrade qualifications training of foreign citizens (preparatory faculties and dean’s offices responsible for work with foreign students were established and relevant positions of the dean and pro-rector introduced);
• the unique methodological data base concerning the issue of foreign citizens’ training.
And it is worth mentioning that in the Soviet institutions different nations’ cultural peculiarities have been always paid great attention to and the original educational and cultural background of the students has been always considered.
Speaking about the number of the students, it must be pointed out that since the 50s of the last century the number of foreign students in the USSR grew steadily every subsequent decade. For your reference:
• in 1950s – 1960s in the Soviet higher education institutions there studied 5.9 thousand of people on the whole;
• in 1960s – 1970s – already 13.5 thousand;
• in1970s – 1980s. – 26.2 thousand;
• in 1980s – 88.3 thousand;
• in1990 – 126.5 thousand (the third place in the world after the US and France regarding the number of foreign students).
The collapse of the USSR and the following financial destabilization of the country hindered further increase of the students’ number, for many foreigners had to leave Russia, and in a year their number reduced to 39.4 thousand of people. Anyway, this disagreeable period had come to the end by the mid- 90s, and in 1996 the stream of foreign students to Russian universities started to grow, having reached the figure of 61.4 thousand of people by 2001.