Russia's North Caucasus is to become the seat of an international ecological university following a decision by an international seminar last month on "innovative programmes of ecological education".
The headquarters of the university will be in Stavropol, with branch campuses in Kislovodsk, Sochi-Cherkessk and Elista. The region is famous for its health resource: mineral springs and therapeutic mud spas, a mild climate and a superb landscape.
But Soviet industrial development, and a highly ecologically unfriendly transport network has taken its toll. In 1993, 1,350 sources of pollution were identified, many in the immediate vicinity of health resorts, while atmospheric pollution from the transport system was 40 per cent above the maximum permitted level for health facilities over 94 million tonnes of pollutants a year. An urgent rehabilitation programme to develop the area as an ecologically clean zone was launched. The new university is intended, in part, to provide graduate-level personnel for this programme.
Students with an appropriate level of pre-university training will not be hard to find. A new ecological college has already been opened in the area, providing four years of specialised secondary education with a strong ecological slant for the 14-18 age group.
The location is also appropriate for a symbolic reason. It was in the Stavropol region that a young Communist official called Mikhail Gorbachev began his political career - before going on to lead the Soviet Union into an era of reform, without which such international ventures would have been impossible.
The university is scheduled to open in the coming autumn - fast work in a country in the throes of economic crisis. The administration of the Stavropol region, and the town of Sochi, and also the protected ecological-spa zone are providing sites and buildings. Russia's federal ministry of education and Moscow State University are working out the teaching programmes; the ministry will also provide money and equipment, and 25 scholarships a year.
The ministry of education of Belarus and the International Sakharov Institute of Radio-Ecology in Minsk will provide computer teaching-programmes in radio-ecology and radiation medicines, while Kingston and Pittsburgh universities have promised computer programmes in management, use and conservation of natural resources, English language and international environmental law.
The two western universities will also supply computers and physical and chemical apparatus, and will also receive students from the international ecological university for work-experience.