On the way to interaction: Reflections on the results of the forum of Soviet and Russian University graduates

In November 2023, the city of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, for the first time at the state level hosted the Forum of Soviet and Russian University Graduates – representatives of education and healthcare systems of African countries. The Forum was organized by Rossotrudnichestvo, the International Institute of Education and Development and the Humanitarian Education and Testing Institute, which brought together representatives of graduates associations from Tanzania, Angola, Rwanda, Uganda, Republic of Congo, Tunisia, Zambia, South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia. The Forum participants met with senior officials from Rossotrudnichestvo and representatives of Russian universities and discussed current issues of international cooperation in the field of education, medicine, science and technology. We asked Forum participants to share their impressions of its work. Excerpts;

Interview 1

Zakayo Mhodi, Senior Officer, Deputy Inspector with Personnel and Vocational Development Department, Rufiji Coastal Regional Police Department in the city of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania)

– You speak Russian very well. Could you please tell us where such a profound knowledge of the language comes from?

– Thank you for your question. I speak Russian because I got a degree in Russia. I first came to Russia in 2008 and lived there for five years. All the lessons had been conducted in Russian that is why I learned Russian so well. I can not only speak Russian, but also write and read.

– Why, in your opinion, such Forums are particularly necessary?

– Here in Tanzania, this year we have gathered people from African countries who studied in the Soviet Union and in the Russian Federation. For two days – yesterday and today – we discussed current problems of education and science, and also addressed the field of medical technology. Representatives of the Russian Federation and graduates of Russian universities actively exchanged experiences and discussed how our relations could be developed.

– What new contacts with representatives of other associations of graduates did you manage to establish?

– I met a lot of graduates from Soviet and Russian universities from different countries of the world. Finally, I met some of my compatriots among the graduates of Russian universities, whom I had not seen for many years. Therefore, the Forum became a significant event for me. Such forums are necessary.

– Which part, do you think, was the most successful at the Forum?

– I liked the opportunity to meet other graduates from numerous African countries and discuss common problems together. In my speech at the Forum, I raised issues of improving the level of education in Tanzania. The times are changing, the technologies are changing, and therefore a lot needs to be done to make sure education meets the challenges of economic development. I would like to develop cooperation with Russia, which such forums undoubtedly contribute to.

– The idea to conduct the same Forum in other countries was expressed by many participants. Do you support the idea?

– Yes, the forum that was conducted this year in Tanzania should be continued. I would like to see my colleagues and like-minded people again. And now it doesn’t matter where the forum will be held – in Angola, Rwanda, Burundi – I’m ready to come to any venue. It would also be nice to hold a forum in Russia. I really want to visit Russia and see familiar places again. We must try to change the venues of the Forum in order to involve graduates from various countries more actively in the activities aimed to promote Russian education.

Interview 2

Elena Otaru, the Secretary of Soviet and Russian University Graduates Association in Tanzania

– Ellena, you are a leader of university graduate association. How did it all start?

– I was a graduate of a university of the former USSR, I studied in Kyiv. After the creation of an association of graduates of Russian and Soviet universities in Tanzania, I became its executive secretary. This year we have an important event – for the first time, an alumni forum is being held with the participation of Deputy Head of Rossotrudnichestvo Pavel Shevtsov, representatives of leading universities in Russia.

– What opportunities did the Forum of Soviet and Russian University Graduates – representatives of education and healthcare systems of African countries give to its participants?

– The Forum gave us the opportunity to meet and talk to the graduates from other African countries and representatives of associations. We were pleased to host representatives from nine countries in Tanzania, i.e Angola, Rwanda, Uganda, the Republic of Congo, Tunisia, Zambia, South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia. Meetings with representatives of Russian educational organizations and learning about their experience in training personnel from African countries became even more significant. For us, this Forum has become a step into the future, towards new horizons of cooperation, towards new tasks and plans.

– What problems raised at the Forum of Soviet and Russian University Graduates – representatives of education and healthcare systems of African countries do you consider the most significant?

– There was a period when almost noone came from Tanzania to study in Russia. Since the 2000s, the flow of students has resumed. These are representatives of the next generation, whose thinking is different from ours, i.e. the thinking of people who studied in the Soviet Union. Having received an education in Russia and returning home, young people ask themselves: what’s next? What should I do next? What will happen after classes, after the coveted diploma has been received? And here interaction in the economic sphere, the arrival of Russian companies in Tanzania, and the development of industrial production play a very important role. And I am glad that these issues are emphasized at the forum. We hope that at the end of the Forum of Soviet and Russian University Graduates – representatives of education and healthcare systems of African countries we will have tangible positive results.

Interview 3

Florian Kulimaya, Youth Advisor at the Ministry of Youth and Sports of the Republic of Congo

–Florian Kulimaya, in your opinion, what is the importance of Russian and Soviet University Forums in sustaining international cooperation between different countries of the world?

– Yes, holding such forums are not only interesting and important, but also promising for the development of international cooperation. Russia must always remember that graduates of Soviet and Russian universities are its most reliable allies. Returning to their homeland, graduates become ambassadors of Russia in their countries, ambassadors of Russian education, Russian science and culture. After all, over the years of study, graduates begin to love Russia, the Russian people, their customs and traditions. Despite problems, cataclysms, various difficult situations, the love for Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Aivazovsky is not weakening.

– What practical steps should be undertaken after this Forum?

– First of all, I am pleased with the attention that the Russian Federation has begun to extend to associations of graduates of Soviet and Russian universities. This didn’t happen before. I really hope that the Forum will continue – not in the form of some regular meetings, but in the form of real steps, systematic constructive work aimed at strengthening cooperation in the educational, scientific, and medical spheres. We need real work. I hope that after some time there will be a new Forum for African graduates, and at it it will be possible to talk about what has been done recently to strengthen interaction and establish close cooperation with associations. Well, now I am sincerely grateful to Rossotrudnichestvo and the other organizers of the forum for bringing us together, giving us the opportunity to meet representatives of ten countries for the first time in many years, get to know each other, and communicate on topical issues in the development of cooperation between Russia and Africa. We all now understand that Africa has become a strategic partner for Russia. At the same time, many African countries are attracted to Russia, have confidence in it, and see it as their ally and like-minded partner. In such political situation, graduates associations in many ways have become conductors of Russian policy inside their own countries, and therefore they need to be supported in every possible way.

Interview 4

Salim Kungulilo, Vice-Rector of El-Imam El-Mahdi University (Tanzania)

– Was your participation in this Forum fruitful to you?

– I am glad that I am taking part in such a significant, important event, that I was able to meet many people with whom I was when I lived in Russia, and whom I had not seen for many years. But especially important for me was the opportunity to communicate with the heads and staff of Russian universities, as well as representatives of the central apparatus of Rossotrudnichestvo – people who make government decisions in the field of educational, scientific and cultural policy of Russia abroad.

– Were you able to use the opportunity to discuss issues of interaction between African alumni associations and government authorities of the Russian Federation?

– I was able to communicate directly with senior staff of Rossotrudnichestvo, with Deputy Head of Rossotrudnichestvo Pavel Shevtsov. We have problems, we talked about them. We hope that the forum will be followed by concrete steps to strengthen interaction with associations.

– How significant is the role of alumni associations in promoting the Russian language on the African continent?

– Some time ago, we all received a high-quality education in the Soviet Union and in Russia, we fell in love with the Russian people, Russian culture. We are pleased to remember our student years; there was a lot of light and positive things. It is natural that associations do everything possible to maintain interest in Russian education and culture in their countries. They are ready to interact in this direction with Russian universities, which are actively opening Centers for Open Education and Russian Language Teaching on the African continent, and with Russian government authorities.

– In recent years, the number of quotas for African countries for admission to Russian universities has been increasing. How important is this now?

– There were different periods of our history. During Soviet times, there were a lot of students from Africa, but in the 1990s there was a sharp decline. Now, in the 21st century, the lost positions of Russian education are gradually recovering. And the increased quotas for African countries contributes to this.

– Do you support the idea of conducting such Forums on regular basis?

– Without any doubt. Thanks to the forums, representatives of associations from different countries communicate more closely, ways of their interaction are outlined, work experience and plans for the future are discussed.

– Thank you very much for your answers, it was very nice to talk with you.

– Thank you very much.

Interview 5

Edouard Ndinga, Director of Epidemic Affairs at the World Health Organization in the Republic of the Congo

– Tell us about your background and when did your post-graduate experience start?

– I am a specialist in the field of health care and vaccination. I am an Advisor in the World Healthcare Organization. But I came here as a graduate of a Soviet university. I completed my studies in the Soviet Union more than 30 years ago and became a doctor. At this Forum I represent the association of Soviet and Russian University graduates in the Republic of Congo.

– Do you think that the Forum plays a supporting and unifying role to graduate associations in various countries?

– I am glad that I was invited to this wonderful Forum. First of all, the Forum has become a unique platform for the exchange of experiences and opinions between graduates. And this is the most important thing for me. We conducted meetings, spoke in Russian, discussed perspective ideas with graduates from other countries. This is what I liked the most. I am glad that each of the African countries represented at the Forum had created its own association of graduates. And now, thanks to the Forum, each association sees that it is not alone, that there are other associations of people around who are friendly towards Russia, who highly value Russian education and culture. It is equally important that the leadership of Rossotrudnichestvo remembered the associations and organized such an event for the first time at the state level. Associations need support, not only material, but also conceptual and ideological – in this case they will work harmoniously, within a single system.

– Which training courses were of the most interest to you at the Forum of Soviet and Russian University Graduates – representatives of education and healthcare systems of African countries?

– I liked the advanced training course “Management in Healthcare” conducted by Elizaveta Volchkova. These were interesting and useful lessons related to organization in healthcare system.

– Thank you. What can you say about organization of the Forum? Will you take part in future forums and do you find them necessary?

– I think that each forum will be a useful experience to me, so, please do invite me, and I will be happy to participate. I would like to thank all the organizers for their clear, well-coordinated work and meaningful program, which has opened up wide opportunities for the dialogue between Russia and neighboring African countries.

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