Minsk campus move unlikely

September 17, 2004

A mass relocation of all 1,000 former students of the European Humanities University in Minsk to a single location elsewhere in Europe is increasingly unlikely.

The privately funded EHU, the only higher education institution in Belarus offering Western-type courses and a pro-democracy climate, was closed by authorities last month.

Most of the students have chosen to study abroad. Initially, faculty members and students favoured a solution under which the university would emigrate en bloc to neighbouring Lithuania or Poland. This would have allowed EHU to retain its corporate identity. But as foreign universities began to offer scholarships to small numbers of the displaced students, the single-site solution became defunct.

Viadrina European University (VEU) in Frankfurt an der Oder is taking 60 ex-EHU students, while the Free University of Berlin and Rostock University are expected to offer a similar number of places. The universities will have to bear the main burden of the expense, although the German Government will contribute €130,000 a year (£89,000).

US and Polish universities have also offered places to EHU students, according to Anatoli Mikhailov, the EHU rector. He is negotiating with the American University in Bulgaria to take some EHU students.

But Kristof Ehrmann, secretary general of the Campus Europae higher education alliance, warned that EHU students who continued their studies abroad might find that they were unable to return to Belarus.

In the newspaper Die Tageszeitung Mr Ehrmann said the Belarusian authorities might interpret the students' admission to foreign universities as a claim for political asylum and ban them from returning.

Some students have begun to transfer into the state system in Belarus. One ex-EHU psychology student said: "We have lost the opportunity to participate openly in the European process because now we are the students of state universities in which it is not safe to show pro-European views."

Gesine Schwan, VEU president, who last year supervised an EHU management course, estimated that up to two-thirds of the EHU students wanting to transfer to other institutions in Belarus might be rejected to create the impression that EHU's standards were too low.

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