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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 in the preparation of the program of events in honor of the 20 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 with reference to the Russia-ASEAN partnership. When asked why we want to bring together the administrators of the sphere of education, scientists, educators and culture representing our countries, we can give two answers. One of them boils down to the fact that universities are very complex organisms, and discussion of ways to effectively manage them, the best practices that have developed in this area, is of independent interest for professional managers. But another thing is obvious: Universities - custodians of huge arrays of knowledge accumulated by mankind, generators and distributors of new ideas - have a direct relation to everything that is happening in the modern world, they have a huge potential for analyzing and assessing where the world is heading. From people whose life is connected with universities, it is natural to expect qualified forecasts for various areas of human activity, non-standard recommendations on how to approach some problems. If you take these things into account, the Russia-ASEAN University Summit is an excellent opportunity to discuss how our cooperation in the fields of politics and security, economics and culture develops, and how to give it the quality of a full-fledged strategic partnership. After all, this goal was set by the leaders of the Russian Federation and ASEAN following their summit 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 cooperation between Russia and ASEAN in higher education will be complete without mentioning the contribution of MGIMO to this work, and that's why. In the case of MGIMO, it is legitimate to talk not just about training national specialists, but about helping to educate national elites - political, business, intellectual. Almost four hundred Vietnamese citizens, nearly a hundred citizens of Cambodia, and about as many Laotians are on the list of our University graduates, and in many cases they are diplomats, administrators, party leaders of a very high level. Among our outstanding graduates are Ms. Syeng Ratchawi, a former Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN and now Deputy Foreign Minister of Cambodia. Graduated from MGIMO University is Salemsay Kommasit, who headed the Foreign Ministry of the Lao People's Democratic Republic this year. These examples inspire us to think about the great opportunities for strengthening mutual understanding and cooperation with ASEAN countries - as, indeed, with other external partners - due to exchanges of students and teachers, other joint initiatives in the field of education and science. I have no doubt that this topic will be one of the central issues at the University Forum in Vladivostok.

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