U.K. Sees No Decline in Number of Russian Students
Published: June 29, 2011 (Issue # 1663)
Well-off Russians with ambitions for their children see British public schools as a launchpad to prestigious universities such as Cambridge University (above).
In the 1970s and 80s, the literacy rate of the Soviet Union reached an impressive 99.7 percent, and the Soviet education system was a source of pride. But widespread corruption in the Russian education system is now dragging down both the system’s reputation and educational standards, for who wants to hit the library when money will buy students a top grade and a place at university? As a result, for more than a decade now, wealthy Russians have been sending their children to prestigious — and expensive — boarding schools abroad.
As the number of well-off Russian students studying at Britain’s celebrated public and boarding schools grows, there are however occasional reports of the corruption endemic to the Russian system coming with them. One student who recently completed his schooling at a prestigious London day school says he was offered $1,600 by a Russian student in exchange for writing a piece of A-level English Literature coursework for him. After considering the offer, he accepted it, wrote the assignment and collected his fee.
A class at Britain’s Eton College, on the other hand, witnessed their Russian classmate, upon being scolded by a teacher for late work, threaten her with assassination, claiming that his father could have the ‘hit’ exacted within days.
Peter Reznikov, director of PRINCE Education Consultancy and head of Russian at Eton, will soon publish a book on his experiences of relocated students from the ex-Soviet states. He cites a phone call he received from Moscow during the early nineties:
“Can you put two of my children into Harrow?”
“What are their names?”
“George and Maria.”
“But Harrow does not take girls!?”
“Make it a precedent, my friend; I buy you a nice present of your choice…”
Eton College (above) has attracted Russian students for several decades now.
Reznikov is, however, optimistic about the future of Russia’s education.
“With the current changes of a unified examination system, tighter control of the quality of higher institutions and better integration into the rest of the world, it will get better and better. Increased salaries and the importance of schools and teachers will become apparent. The recent announcement of pay rises is just the first step,” he said.
“When I started PRINCE in 1991, a lot of people who sent their children to U.K. boarding schools from former Soviet republics made their money very quickly and often had more money than sense,” Reznikov says. “It was difficult and stressful to work with them. Their children were often spoilt and poorly motivated. Now the vast majority of my clients earned their money the hard way and they are so much nicer to deal with. Their children are highly motivated and pleasant to deal with — this trend is good news for all of us.”
Nor is a British education available exclusively to the children of oligarchs. The demographic to whom education abroad is now available has been widened by schools like Eton offering bursaries and scholarships to gifted children.
“One of the interesting things about the maturity of the Russian involvement in British education is that at Eton, we now have sons from some very rich Russian families, but also boys whose parents are aspirational professionals and even some who are at Eton on scholarships,” said Anthony Little, headmaster of Eton College.
The only strict requirement for Russians for entrance to a British public school is a good grasp of the English language.
What is not reconcilable with British educational establishments, however, is the “New Russian” outlook. An education at a notable institution abroad should not be sported like a Louis Vuitton handbag. In addition to warning parents against sending a child abroad to a school where students of their nationality are already prevalent, since it undermines the “distinctive British style of education,” Little says: “We make a particular point of seeking to identify overseas families who genuinely wish to participate in what Eton has to offer. We are not interested in those who simply wish to buy a brand.”
While Russia’s education system works on eliminating corruption, educational agencies encourage those in a position to do so to continue taking advantage of what schools in other countries have to offer.
“You buy a very fine product and your investment into the education of your child in top schools will always give them the edge in an ever more competitive job market,” says Reznikov. “I cannot think of a better way of spending my money.”