Colleges open in Chechnya

October 6, 2000

The Russian education ministry has reopened three universities in the Chechen capital Grozny even though fighting between federal forces and rebels continues.

Students were officially welcomed back to Chechen State University and the Chechen State Pedagogical Institute at a ceremony led by Grigory Balykin, first deputy education minister. The Grozny Oil Institute had reopened several days earlier.

The colleges had been struggling to offer students a skeleton programme of classes, impromptu tutorials and distance learning over the summer.

Tatiana Akimova, of the department for Chechen educational rehabilitation, said university buildings had been refurbished to repair the damage they had suffered after fighting was renewed last year. None of the buildings had been severely damaged.

"We cannot say that it is entirely safe for students to go back and study at the universities - no one is totally safe in Grozny - and life remains very difficult. But students are no less safe in there than anywhere else," Ms Akimova said.

It was not clear how many students had enrolled, but professors and other staff were confident that numbers would increase as word spread.

The re-establishment of regular classes is part of a ministry policy to normalise education in Grozny now that the focus of the fighting has shifted away from the city.

The move follows a failed bid last year by education minister Vladimir Filippov to attract Chechen students to Moscow institutes with the offer of free places. The minister, a former rector of Moscow's People's Friendship University, made 350 places available to Chechen students, but only 14 took up the offer.

Mr Filippov's concerns about the disruption caused since the first Chechen war erupted in 1994 led to the policy to reopen both schools and colleges in Grozny and in other areas of Chechnya.

Many students have been forced to pay to continue their education, and Mr Filippov's policy was designed to combat that, the education ministry said.

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