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Viktor Sumy: "Cooperation in the field of education is the most important reserve for strengthening relations with the ASEAN countries"

Director of the ASEAN Center at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Doctor of Historical Sciences Viktor Sumsky, reports on the forthcoming VEEF University Forum Russia-ASEAN

Viktor Sumy: "Cooperation in the field of education is the most important reserve for strengthening relations with the ASEAN countries"

- Viktor Vladimirovich, Russia has another platform for dialogue with the ASEAN countries: 1-2 September in Vladivostok, within the framework of the Eastern Economic Forum, the Russia-ASEAN University Forum will be held. Please tell us more about this initiative.

- The initiative arose when drawing up a program of events in honor of the 20th anniversary of the Russia-ASEAN dialogue partnership, which we celebrate in 2016. Not so long ago, a similar forum was held on the occasion of the BRICS summit in Ufa. Now we are trying to use this positive experience in relation to the Russia-ASEAN partnership. When asked why we want to bring together administrators of education, scientists, education and culture, representing our countries, two answers can be given. One of them boils down to the fact that universities are very complex organisms, and the discussion of ways to effectively manage them, the best practices in this area, is of independent interest to management professionals. But another thing is also obvious: universities - keepers of huge amounts of knowledge accumulated by mankind, generators and disseminators of new ideas - are directly related to literally everything that happens in the modern world, have a colossal potential for analyzing and assessing where this world is heading. From people whose lives are connected with universities, it is natural to expect qualified forecasts in relation to the most diverse areas of human activity, unconventional recommendations on how to approach the solution of certain problems. Taking these things into account, the Russia-ASEAN University Summit is an excellent opportunity to discuss how our cooperation in the spheres of politics and security, economy and culture is evolving, and how to give it the quality of a full-fledged strategic partnership. After all, this is the goal set by the leaders of the Russian Federation and ASEAN following their summit, held in Sochi in May this year.

Symbolical choice of the place where the Forum will be held. The campus of the Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) - the newest and most well-equipped campus of modern Russia - is perceived as a clear confirmation of its interest in the development of its eastern territories, and in strengthening ties with its Asian neighbors, including ASEAN.

Along with FEFU as the host of the WEF, other universities in Siberia and the Far East - as, of course, Moscow, St. Petersburg and other centers of Russian higher education will be widely represented. It should be noted, finally, that the management and experts of MGIMO, which is leading this project in close partnership with FEFU, have been actively engaged in the development of the Forum concept and its organizational preparation.

- As representatives of universities from the ASEAN countries will take part in the Forum, please tell us about the state of higher education in these countries.

- It is known that ASEAN unites ten countries that are very different in size from the point of view of levels of economic development and political order. However, in each of them - from miniature Brunei to immense Indonesia - there are universities that have received recognition in the region, and sometimes beyond, thanks to the high level of teaching, the international composition of students, strong international ties and decent conditions for scientific research. Universities such as Chulalongkorn and Tammasat in Thailand, such as the National University of Singapore, like Ateneo de Manila and the University of the Philippines, are subjects of national pride, personifying their countries no less than MSU or St. Petersburg State University. But this is by no means all educational institutions that the ASEAN countries have the right to be proud of. So in Vladivostok our rectors and professors will meet with very serious and authoritative colleagues from Southeast Asia, and their discussions promise to be truly meaningful.

- In what state is Russia's cooperation with the ASEAN countries in higher education and science today? How does it look if we compare ourselves with other partners of the Association?

- Let's just say: today the number of students from ASEAN countries studying in Russia is significantly less than in the US, China, Japan or Australia. Nevertheless, it is quite obvious that Russia is in its own way popular and competitive as a country that provides high-quality and relatively inexpensive education in the field of medicine, science and natural sciences. We are able to train engineers of very different profiles, our students confidently excel at international olympiads in informatics and programming, Russian traditions and competencies in the disciplines working for aircraft building and astronautics are well known. Therefore, it is natural that in medical universities in Russia - and not only in the capital, but also in cities like Volgograd and Nizhny Novgorod - you will meet with students from Malaysia, and at MSTU. Bauman and Technological University "Stankin" - with students from Myanmar.

As for the leaders in the total number of students studying in Russia, today it is Vietnam, Myanmar and Malaysia: year after year, several thousand of their representatives study at our universities. In my opinion, the prerequisites for reaching a level close to this are available in Thailand and Indonesia. The question of what needs to be done to further attract students from ASEAN countries to Russia, and young Russians to the best universities in South-East Asia (where, by the way, there could be more of them) will necessarily be discussed at the Forum.

No review of Russian-ASEAN cooperation in higher education would be complete without mentioning MGIMO's contribution to this work, and here's why. In the case of MGIMO, it is legitimate to speak not only of training national cadres, but of assistance in educating national elites - political, business, and intellectual. Today, the list of graduates of our University includes almost four hundred Vietnamese citizens, about a hundred Cambodian citizens, and about the same number of Lao people, and in many cases these are diplomats, managers, and party and state leaders of a very high level. Our distinguished alumni include Ms. Syeng Ratchavi, formerly Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN and now Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cambodia. A graduate of MGIMO is Salemsay Kommashit, who this year headed the Foreign Ministry of the Lao People's Democratic Republic. These examples prompt us to reflect on what great opportunities for strengthening mutual understanding and cooperation with ASEAN countries - as well as with other external partners, in fact - arise from student and teacher exchanges and other joint education and science initiatives. I have no doubt that this topic will be one of the central ones at the University Forum in Vladivostok.

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