Igor Spivak, President of the Russian Middle East Society Foundation, has visited St Petersburg University. During the meeting, the possibility of St Petersburg University’s participation in the establishment of a Russian university in the Syrian Arab Republic was discussed.

Sergey Andryushin, Vice-Rector for International Affairs of St Petersburg University, said that the University is always open for cooperation and is ready to consider all proposals on intensification of partnership with Syrian colleagues, and implementation of new projects.

St Petersburg University is actively developing cooperation with the Syrian Arab Republic. During the year, our delegations visited different cities several times and during the visits we signed agreements with all the leading universities in Syria: Damascus University; the Higher Institute for Applied Sciences and Technology (HIAST); and Al-Baath University to name just a few.

Sergey Andryushin, Vice-Rector for International Affairs of St Petersburg University

‘We have already started a number of joint research projects and studies, and are now working on various academic mobility programmes. So far, they are difficult to be organised, primarily because of difficulties with logistics. Nevertheless, we are holding events remotely and are striving to expand our partnership,’ said Sergey Andryushin.

For instance, St Petersburg University organises online testing in Russian as a foreign language jointly with Damascus University and conducts professional development programmes for teachers of Russian as a foreign language in Syria. The Vice-Rector noted that the University has extensive experience with the online format. Activities in this direction began even before the pandemic, and, in 2020, its quality was significantly improved. Today, St Petersburg University is among the world leaders in the number of its own online courses. It also runs Online School classes for students from 12 countries throughout the world.

According to Igor Spivak, the Russian Middle East Society Foundation is taking serious steps towards expanding relations in the humanitarian sphere with all Middle Eastern countries. Oleg Peresypkin, a Soviet and Russian diplomat who served in Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Lebanon, is Vice-President of the Foundation. Anatoly Karpov, a chess grandmaster and graduate of Leningrad State University, is Chairman of the board of trustees. The Foundation, with the support of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is currently implementing a project with the Centre for International Strategic Initiatives to set up a Russian university in the village of Maarat Saidnaya, a suburb of Damascus, to train students from Syria in Russian programmes. According to Igor Spivak, such a tool for creating and developing humanitarian and cultural ties is invaluable in the current tense international atmosphere.

The project of the future university was presented by Deputy Director General Anas Nsif.

Syria is in a major crisis right now, and the solution to get out of it lies in the creation of universities. For this, we will need a special kind of universities. Our idea is not just to open a higher education institution that will train and graduate students: they will be encouraged to create projects with a high intellectual and technical component as their graduation projects.

Anas Nsif, Deputy Director General

‘For example, the country now needs to solve problems in the electricity sector. So, if students wish to develop projects related to the production of wind turbines or solar panels, we will be ready to finance them. In this way, we will not just release them into the labour market ─ we will provide the graduates with employment,’ Anas Nsif explained.

The Deputy Director General added that IT, engineering, pharmacy, medicine and dentistry will be priority areas of study and gave a presentation on the campus of the future university. He said the project should become a key to promoting Russian culture and education not only in Syria, but also in Libya, Jordan, Lebanon and other surrounding countries.

Sergey Andryushin stressed that interaction with Syria is one of the priority areas in international cooperation for St Petersburg University and participation in the creation of a Russian-Syrian university may serve its development. St Petersburg University has great potential for creating such projects. This year, St Petersburg University has opened a joint campus in China and a branch in Uzbekistan, and, in 2023, it is planned to open a branch in Egypt.

At the end of the meeting, the parties agreed to provide information on the education market in Syria and the procedures required to obtain a state educational licence.