Education Without Borders and Bars
29.05.2009 13:32
Maxim Krans, a columnist for InfoSCO

For a few days Moscow became a capital of the "educational space” of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The II Week of Education with the motto “Education without borders” and the I Forum of Rectors of the SCO member states leading universities were open there, that have become one of the main events in the year of Russia’s chairmanship of this organization. Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, Federal Education Agency and Russian Rectors' Union took the lead of them.

These forums’ tasks are actual and noble. According to the organizers’ idea, the forums are aimed at promoting the further development of intergovernmental cooperation in the sphere of higher vocational education and science, as well as distribution of the SCO countries leading universities’ progressive experience in personnel training enhancement.

The opening of the Week of Education and the Rectors' Forum took place in the Intellectual Center of the M.V.Lomonosov Moscow State University Fundamental Library, an acknowledged leader of the national higher school. Representatives of the Russian ministries and agencies, noted teachers and scientists, heads of many leading universities of Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, China, Russia and Tajikistan, as well as India being the Shanghai organization observer took part in it.

“The national education system competitive growth is one of the most important items on the agenda of each state,” Minister of Education and Science of Russia Andrey Fursenko noted in his welcoming speech. “Uniting in one format or another, we certainly make by joint efforts our systems of education more attractive and competitive. I am sure that results of our conference and the II Week of Education in whole will become a new, effective contribution to the cause of strengthening integration links in the field of education of the SCO member states.”

Each speaker at the Moscow forum tried to introduce his countries higher school’s achievements to his colleagues, to determine the points of contact that should make it possible to extend and develop the cooperation between the SCO member states in this field. But it may be said without exaggeration that the central theme of the meeting that was touched upon by each and every one of participants was the project for creation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization University.

It is a reminder that this idea was born two years ago, and Then-President of Russia Vladimir Putin was the first to formulate it. At the SCO member states summit in Bishkek he came forward with an initiative to create this type of general university as a network of higher educational institutions of the organization member states with a coordinated teaching program. On the same occasion the Ministry of Education and Science of RF and the Russian Academy of Sciences were assigned to build up a concept of a new intergovernmental higher educational institution. The laborious task on its drafting was carried out throughout a year closely with all allied agencies of other SCO countries, with the active participation of the teaching è academic community. Last October it was submitted to the participants of the Ministers of education meeting in Astana and was approved by them.

Deputy Director of the Department for International Cooperation in Education and Science of the Ministry of Education and Science of Russia Larisa Yefremova introduced this document’s principal provisions to the participants of the international conference. She told that the SCO University will be created on the base of the already existing leading higher educational institutions of the five countries. “In the SCO territory different ancient cultures are intersected, our nations’ languages, traditions and ethnocultural peculiarities have been always meeting,” Larisa Yefremova noted. “And in such a huge geopolitical space we decided to create a general university. There is no doubt that it is a sufficiently ambitious project and it requires joint efforts both of educational research teams, and our ministries and agencies. Because without such a composition of forces we will not be able to implement this megaproject, to enhance and develop it.”

According to her, the main objectives of this project consist of the development of integration processes in the field of education, science and technologies, in promotion to stable economic growth and competitive ability of the SCO member states, in enhancement possibilities for youth to get high-quality modern education, and for teacher and scientists – to develop scientific contacts.

Moreover, the university, as planned, will train highly-qualified personnel by no means in all range of professions, but only in those ones that are especially required for priority fields of the economic, scientific and cultural cooperation of the organization member states. So far there are only five areas that have been chosen – energetics, information and nanotechnologies, ecology and regional studies.

The undertaken task is difficult and Yefremova made no secret of that, as did other speakers though. Thus, for example, educational standards, as education programs themselves in the SCO member states differ, and sometimes substantially at that. Besides, there is no regulatory framework for mutual recognition of diplomas by all the Organization countries. There are problems with high capacity Internet lines, which complicates the use of modern electronic means of education. So problems exist but all the participants of the meeting were at one in thinking that they can be solved and offered their ways of consensus search.

The day before the II Week of Education the contests were summarized in the states participating in this project, identifying universities that will be base in it by certain fields of specialists training in each country. The task of step-by-step harmonization of bachelor, master and graduate programs lies before them in order to create common training courses. In accordance with them students will be able to study first in their home country, and then, since any term to go on to do further study in one of such base foreign partner higher educational institutions. According to the results of education they will receive a diploma of the university they primarily entered or where they studied for a longer time, and in foreseeable future – a single diploma of the SCO University.

Some winners of qualifying contests organized some sort of presentations of their alma mater at the forum in Moscow. They told their future partners how, for example, the Siberian Federal University is training environmentalists, the Belgorod State University – nanotechnologists, the Ural State Technical University – power engineering specialists, the Novosibirsk State University – IT-technology specialists, and the Ural State University – regional studies specialists. The same review papers were presented also by rectors of a number of base higher educational institutions of Kazakhstan, China, Kirghizia and Tajikistan. Moreover, they told not only of their research-and-development plants but also about comfortable conditions for foreign students study and rest they have created. And the first vice-chancellor of Belgorod University Tatiana Davydenko even boasted that her higher educational institution has its own sports horse base.

“We are sincerely glad to take part in such a grandiose project as the SCO University,” said vice-chancellor of the Kazakh Economics University named after T.Ryskulov Aleksey Shvydko. “Certainly, this is a huge task, and there are a lot of questions to be solved for its completion. But the cause of creation of a crucially new international innovative higher educational institution is worth to spend efforts and energy.”

The representative of Beijing teachers' training university, Professor Chou Kienshay told the same: “At present the international cooperation in the field of higher education now more than ever plays an important role. It is wide, versatile and necessary for the higher school to enable it to honor its commitments before the society, promote its development in every way possible. And the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has a great potential for cooperation in this regard.”

Actually, the idea itself of the SCO University became a follow-up of the active bilateral partnership that has been established for a long time between higher educational institutions of the organization states and has been extending from year to year. Now higher schools cooperation acquires a multilateral format. There is no analog of this university in the world. The more interesting this task solution is for the participants of the project.