According to statistics, Belarusians tend to leave their country to study in Western countries. They also seem to prefer European universities. Belarusian authorities are doing everything to encourage students to study "at home". But how is this care expressed?
There are 500 students in academia for each 10 000 dwellers in Belarus. This is one of the highest ratios in Europe. Almost 2% of those students are foreigners who come to get a Belarusian diploma, while Belarusians themselves increasingly prefer to study abroad.
To the West for a prestigious diploma
Warsaw University admitted 243 Belarusian students last year. Annually, some 150 students go to study to the European Humanities University (Lithuania) and 100 to 150 Belarusians go to study to Germany. What motivates these young people? Why are they going to learn to the West?
The main motive is to obtain a prestigious European diploma and, consequently, the possibility to work in Europe later. Holders of Belarusians diplomas have far fewer possibilities.
“We believe that our education system is not worse than in Europe, but it is a well known fact that graduates of our universities cannot to get a job in Europe. They are not claimed, they must retake the exams, pass the required minimum in order to work in Europe” says Professor Mikhail Pastukhov, who is also a judge of the Constitutional Court.
The cost of education plays a big role too. In Belarusian universities, it increases annually. Thus, according to the official site of Belarusian State Medical University, first year students studying "Medical Business" and "Pediatrics" have to pay for 5.34 million rubles (1,340 euros) a year, while future dentists pay 6,54 million (1,643 euros). Last year, the cost of education was 4,98 million rubles (1,251 euros), and 6 millions (1,507 euros), respectively. Note that the average wage in Belarus for 2009 is 994,000 rubles (249 euro).
For comparison: in France the university fee rarely exceeds 300 euros per year. Often students can benefit from scholarships or interest-free loans.
Great educational opportunities outside of Belarus
Contrary to Belarusian ones, European students can benefit from mobility between universities. There are rafts of exchange programs between universities and a university student can go to another country for a year- or semester-long internship. One can go as a teacher or as a student: an exchange of experiences contributes to professional development of participants in the program, and if you think on a larger scale, the exchange programs contribute to the development of education in countries where they operate.
«Erasmus Mundus» is probably the most famous among these exchange programs. It has a budget of more than 950 million euros for the next five years. In the 2009/2010 academic year, 8,385 students and teachers from higher education institutions in the EU will benefit from it. This program opens up many new opportunities for its members, but unfortunately Belarus remains neglected on the sideline. Over the past five years, the largest number of students from Belarus (9 persons) were enrolled in 2008. This is a relatively large number, compared to 2006 when only two people joined the Erasmus-Mundus pack. For comparison, in 2008/2009 in France, more than 23, 000 French students benefited from this program.
Belarusian students can only dream of such freedom of movement. In our universities there are practically no educational programs to go on an internship abroad, and if such programs exist, they are associated with very unattractive conditions. So until recently the students of the Belarusian State Economic University (BSEU) had the opportunity to go for an internship after graduation for a year at the Sorbonne (France). Of course, only a few could get there. The condition was that upon returning home having spent a year in France the program participant would have to work at the university for 5 years. Potential candidates had thus to ponder whether the year in Paris was really worthwhile. But now the program is closed.
Mandatory distribution – is it good for students?
The idea of mandatory distributions after graduation is represented as a positive thing by the authorities, but students themselves think otherwise. Mandatory distribution means that in Belarus if you study for free and receive a scholarship, after graduating, you must work for 2 years at a company where you will be sent. Usually this company sends you then to a remote part of Belarus. If you refuse to so, you must then repay all tuition fees. To avoid this, students have to pull all sorts of tricks: they switch to distance-learning course (to which mandatory distribution does not apply) on the last year of school, girls marry and have children, etc.
According to the authorities, if students study at universities at the expense of state and local budgets, they should be distributed. And if they do not agree with the distribution, they must pay the entire cost of their education. But this justification does not seem very persuasive. According to the journalist Alina Shalaeva ("Studentskaya Dumka") "the Constitution guarantees all citizens a free education on a competitive basis. There is no clause that says the subject has to return the money spent on education. In addition, all adult citizens are paying taxes for education. Therefore, we can not speak about any "public money", we can only talk about taxpayers' money which is used for the purpose of educating the taxpayers’ children. Some countries also have distribution. But such a distribution is a real gift to students".
The distribution system in Belarus is also an attempt of authorities to prevent the "brain drain" and to "tie" young professionals to their homeland for at least two years or forever. In fact, it often happens that after having to work somewhere in the country, young people acquire family and settle down there. However, students who would later want to work or study abroad will have to think twice about going to a state university and most will choose a European one. Administrative action is not the best way to keep students in Belarus. A decent salary, conditions for development, and respect for human rights – this is what can keep young people in Belarus or even make some of those who left return to their home country.
Few students plan to return to Belarus but the tendency is that some actually do
The social group most prone to migration is our youth. The results of sociological studies show that 45% of young people under the age of 18 years are ready to go abroad on any terms. The same is true for 43% aged 18 to 25 years and 34% in age from 26 to 30 years. The easiest way for a young person from Belarus to emigrate is to go study abroad.
Education of Belarusians abroad has always been presented as "brain drain" in the media and little is said about what benefits it could bring to Belarus. Often students, who work and study abroad contribute to their integration into the global academic and professional community, also become highly qualified scientific personnel.
Of course, studying abroad opens up many new possibilities, including the opportunity to stay in another country. According to the project coordinator (this project allows students from around the world to have the opportunity to meet), which the Lithuanian Center for East European Studies conducts for the third year, returning to Belarus for the majority is not a priority but a fall-back option. But every fourth participant in the project is seriously planning to return to Belarus - this is already a lot of people.
Restrictions on mobility of Belarusians close prospects for our country
There are no programs in Belarus that allow students to leave for an internship abroad as they would have wanted it. Those programs that are official look unattractive, and only a few people use them. Belarusian authorities are doing everything to ensure that students do not leave, but it never occurred to them that if the Belarusian universities deny their students the elementary possibilities, Belarusians will simply choose other universities – European ones.
Some go studying to the West to get a further opportunity to stay there, but many Belarusians still come back to use the gained knowledge in their homeland. Restriction of mobility closes many opportunities for our country including the prospects for development. For Belarus to reach European living standards the education system must change, among other things.
To live as a "European", it is necessary to think "European". And in our education system, little has changed since the demise of the Soviet Union, especially when it comes to providing choice and opportunities. The slogan of “Europeanization” still retains its importance in the Belarusian society which really needs all types of exchange with Europe, including educational programs.
Tatsiana Hurynovich studies political science in the European Humanities University in Vilnius. She is also a journalist for the internet-magazine “Novaja Europa” (Belarus) and an analyst in the Centre of European Transformation. This article, first published on Novaya Europa’s website, won the third place in contest of articles organised by EU’s delegation in Minsk, Belarus (category: “The best analytical article”).
To go further
On the Internet
- Наталья Григорьева 09.10.2010 «Белорусские студенты отправляются в Европу за свободой и знаниями». Online magazine “Deutsche welle”.
- Информационный сайт «Высшее образование в Беларуси».
- Ольга МИКША, Виктор МАРТИНОВИЧ 17.01.2005 «ЦЕНА БЕСПЛАТНОГО ДИПЛОМА» Online magazine “Belgazeta”.
Nouvelle Europe website
- Erasmus est malade
- Mobilité des cerveaux et citoyenneté européenne
- Vers un Espace européen d'enseignement supérieur
Source photo : Ikin's Convocation, par syafik, sur flickr