The Federal Agency for the commonwealth of independent states affairs, compatriots living abroad, and international humanitarian cooperation, or ‘Rossotrudnichestvo’, is understood to have made the policy in reaction to the accusations from the British government that Moscow was behind the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
The plan is called “Highly Likely Welcome Back, OR it’s time to go home!” referencing the words of British PM May, who said it was “highly likely” Moscow was behind the poisoning.
“Most people want to keep politics out of student mobility”
A representative of the agency confirmed to the Russian media that the name was not an accident, and was indeed referencing May’s words in parliament.
According to Novaya Gazeta, the project’s creators at the agency believed the plan was necessary as students are pressurised in the UK “for political reasons”.
“There are serious fears that young Russians may suffer from provocations in countries that show unfriendly attitude towards our country,” the policy presentation said.
“As we know, the domestic politics in a host of countries, and in Europe in particular, have increasingly taken on a harshly expressed anti-Russian character. We are obligated to highlight the negative influence of Russophobic attitudes on the activity of our compatriots,” an unnamed official told Russian news agency RIA-Novosti.
Around 60,000 Russians studied outside the country according to the Education and Science Ministry’s latest data.
The PIE News understands that Russian government agencies are making physical steps to prepare for the potential return of Russian students, and MGIMO University (Moscow State Institute of International Relations) is said to be prepared to accept at least 100 new students as a matter of urgency, if needed.
“There are serious fears that young Russians may suffer from provocations”
The Kremlin is also reportedly preparing to help returning students find jobs if and when they arrive in Russia. It is also understood that mobile study opportunities in regions which may be more receptive to Russian students, such as Asia, may be offered to returnees.
However, the UK industry does not seem to have been affected by the policy – at least not yet.
Dominic Scott, chief executive of UKCISA, said international students tend to be more focused on their studies than international politics, and it remains unlikely that Russian students would want to leave the UK over this issue.
“Most people want to keep politics out of student mobility and educational exchanges – and we hope they do!” he said.
“Regardless of the politics, students won’t want to uproot mid course and go home. And most who are privately sponsored, may not take much notice of official government ‘invitations’ – choosing to make up their own minds on what is best for their future careers,” Scott added.
A spokesperson for the British Council, which was recently expelled from the Russian Federation, told The PIE that educational opportunities should be seen as a vital route for dialogue – and even more so when diplomatic tensions rise.
“It is our view that when political or diplomatic relations become difficult, cultural relations and educational opportunities are vital to maintain on-going dialogue between people and institutions.
“We remain committed to the development of long-term people-to-people links with Russia as we do in over 100 other countries,” they added.
However, in the immediate wake of the attack on the Skripals, a number of Russian education agents told The PIE they were concerned by the breakdown in diplomatic relations. Others said they have already had to persuade Russian parents that the UK is safe, following public fears of Russophobia.
Neither the British Embassy in Moscow, the UK Foreign Office, or the Russian agency in question have responded to further requests for comment.