Are young Africans going to make use of their opportunity to study in Russia?

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This autumn, the Russia-Africa Summit took place in Sochi, one of the most southern Russian cities. Over the course of two days the event lasted, a number of significant agreements were achieved. A delegation from the Republic of the Congo proposed a joint project on building a 1000 kilometres long gas pipeline. Alrosa, which is a Russian leading diamond company that has been already involved in geological exploration and diamond mining in Angola, will be supposedly granted 15 exploration licenses in Zimbabwe at the end of this year. It is also in the middle of discussions concerning future cooperation areas with the Government of Mozambique. Lukoil signed a memorandum with Equatorial Guinea empowering Russian energy corporation to start hydrocarbon production in the Republic.

New advanced technologies and investments in the economy are, however, not enough to implement projects of this scale. Highly competent local workforce is a prerequisite for success, since foreign companies cannot operate in most of the African countries without hiring local specialists.

University education is another important area of cooperation between Russia and Africa. Sustainable economic development of African countries is simply impossible as long as the shortage problem of qualified engineers remains unsolved.

As Filipe Nyusi, the President of Mozambique, notes “We would be willing to continue having your support in education. The knowledge Mozambicans gained here, in Russia, has affected and is still affecting our country’s development. It was indeed the most important investment of all time”.

Nowadays, students from the former Portuguese colony come to study in Russia by no means less actively than during the Soviet times. A most obvious explanation is the fact that some major gas discoveries have been done recently – in the basin of the Ruvuma River and off the coast of the Delgado region.

As Filipe Vasco Camundimo, a student at the Mining University, explains ”Resources industry looks most promising for Mozambique at this moment. However, we have no universities that could provide education for oil and gas engineers. Besides, international education is a lot better and of higher quality in comparison to the local one. Taking into account the recent discovery of deposits, I had no doubts about my decision to apply for the Saint-Petersburg Mining University. In regards to the future plans, I would like to mention that some foreign companies have already entered Mozambican market – Anadarko, Eni, Sasol and Rosneft are among them. Once I graduate and return to my home country, I can start working at any of these companies, but since I know Russian, Rosneft will be a priority option for me”.

Numerous Russian companies have been already working with African partners and are aiming towards further increase in cooperation. For instance, Alrosa and Endiama are both co-owners of an Angolan diamond mine Catoca, the largest diamond mine in Angola and the fourth largest in the world. The Catoca diamond deposit is located on a kimberlite pipe, at the Lunda Sul province.

As Gustavo Simão Martins, a student of the Mining University, points out “During the civil war took place in our country, Russia helped our people a lot. That is why we, in Angola, have a lot of respect for Russians. All of our presidents – we have had three of them so far – got their degree in Russia. For us, coming to Russia to study is a kind of a tradition, keeping up to which results in achievement of great goals. A degree obtained in Russia is also highly valued by employers, as Angolans know that Russian diploma is itself a confirmation of a high level of knowledge. My education is fee-based and it is paid by Endiama, the national diamond company of Angola, with which I signed an agreement. The degree programme’s name is ’Information technologies”.

As part of the Summit, the Governments of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Angola signed an agreement on mutual recognition of qualifications, academic credentials and degrees. Having done so, the result will be the substantially simplified admission process of Angolan students into Russian educational institutions as well as their employment in the homeland upon graduation.

More than 17,000 students from Africa are currently studying in Russia. Of these, nearly 2,000 were enrolled in 2019 under the annual quota the Government of Russia allocated to foreign nationals.

Given the rapid pace of mining development in Tanzania, St. Petersburg Mining University decided to take part in the exhibition ’Education in Russia’, which was organised by the Russian Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (in short: Rossotrudnichestvo) and took place in Dar es Salaam, the country’s largest city. Russian delegates delivered a speech to the high school students to present the University, the study courses and degree programmes.

According to Ilya Mishin, who was representing the Mining University in Tanzania, ”The most popular education programmes here are within mining, medicine and architecture fields. However, the biggest issue is that the Government of the Russian Federation allocates only 20 study places for the whole of Tanzania. Local students are hoping that the quotas will be at the very least doubled”.

The bigger part of Tanzanian higher educational institutions are private. The education is fee-based, tuition costs vary from 2.5 to 7.5 thousand dollars per year. Local people cannot afford paying that much. Besides, only few public universities provide education in mining and oil & gas. One of them is the University of Dodoma. It was founded in 2007, but in relation to the aforementioned study fields it only covers educational programmes leading to a Bachelor’s Degree, which means that further training can be only acquired through international studies.

Robert Magori, a student who came to study at the Mining University from Tanzania, explains the reasoning behind his choice ”Of all the options that I had, I chose Russia because St. Petersburg Mining University is making investments in science and technology: students get to work in the fully-equipped labs and research centres whereas our guest lecturers are professors from the world’s leading universities. For me, as a student from a developing country, it is very important not to spend all the time learning theoretical concepts but also gain some research experience”.

For a very long time, it had been private, mostly foreign, companies who were engaged in mining activities in Tanzania. Two oil fields in the country are currently under development: Mnazi Bay and Songo Songo. Large international companies, such as BP, Agip, Shell, AES, are also participating.

Deusdedith Magala, Director of Human Resources and Administration at STAMICO, the Tanzanian State Mining Corporation, outlines “The exploration activities are on the increase, which is confirmed by the higher inflow of foreign direct investment in the country’s mining industry. At the same time, the Government intends to increase the state share. It means that if local companies want to be competitive, they require highly qualified specialists trained in the world’s best universities. In addition, we are interested in improving the competencies of those mining engineers who have already entered the workforce, also through the short-term internships in St. Petersburg”.

Here Mr. Magala talks about personnel training programmes provided by the International Competence Centre for Mining-Engineering Education under the auspices of UNESCO. The Centre, established on the base of the Mining University, is currently involved in establishing a new competency framework system that would result in continuous skills growth of mining engineers. As it is known, UNESCO has been working with the issue of sustainable mining development, both at the national and international levels. Supporting African countries was identified as a global priority of the organisation.