Soros largess plugs gap in Russian regions

July 16, 1999

Philanthropist and financier George Soros will target Russia's provincial universities in a drive to improve the quality of higher education in far flung regions.

Mr Soros, who last month criticised the Kremlin during a visit to Moscow for failing to spend enough on education and science, willthis autumn expand a pilot scheme known as the "megaproject" to create regional centres of excellence.

More than $15 million (Pounds 9 million) will be spent over the next four years on improving teaching, particularly among junior lecturers and research fellows at provincial universities; upgrading research; developing internet resource centres; aiding intra-regional work; and supporting better professional and academic links throughout Russian higher education.

But an existing programme to aid natural sciences, on which more than $76 million (Pounds 45 million) has been spent over the past five years, will be scaled back.

Mr Soros is understood to be disappointed that his investment,

including grants to 18,000 teachers, 3,000 professors and 9,000

university students, was not matched by an improvement in funding from the Russian side.

During his visit to Moscow the Hungarian-born financier emphasised the importance of aiding the regions. Excessive centralisation was one of Russia's biggest problems, he said.

The "megaproject", which links top universities in Moscow and St Petersburg with a network of 33 higher education institutions across Russia, is to upgrade humanities and social science.

Earlier Soros programmes run through his Open Society Institute in Russia have taken a broad-brush approach that included publishing and distributing textbooks and supporting the natural sciences. These are being scaled back.

The megaproject has been piloted over the past year at seven universities, including Tomsk State and Novosibirsk, and has linked with the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, the New Economic School, Moscow and the European University of St Petersburg.

Yakov Berger, project consultant with the OSI, said there was a pressing need in Russia to support the development of regional education. The collapse of the Soviet Union and a chronic funding crisis in the ministry of education had contributed to a growing disparity between relatively well-supported institutions in Moscow and St Petersburg and those in the regions.

"The aim of the mega-project is not just to support individuals in universities, but to support whole departments, with the goal of transforming these departments into resource centres for their regions. "There is a great gap between Moscow and provincial universities in the quality of education. Our wish is that all young people entering university should have the same opportunities" Dr Berger said.

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