Belarus is forming partnerships with countries around the world to offer distance learning courses, and thereby to modernize its economy and higher education system.
An agreement was struck with the United Kingdom this year to offer online professional qualifications to young people interested in business and financial management, and details of the courses are being finalized now. In this way the UK is breaking into the East European market. The qualifications will be offered through the private Magna Carta Oxford Business School and awarded by the London-based Association of Business Executives or ABE, which accredits courses at 300 colleges around the world.
“Distance learning is not very well known or established in Belarus,” said Ian Fraser, director of marketing and business development at ABE. “The courses we are offering will give it a big boost.”
British qualifications are seen as internationally recognized and the university system has a major emphasis on quality. By reaching out to other nations, Belarus hopes to improve its education system and gain entry into the Bologna process. It also wants to increase the number of international students it attracts.
At a conference in the capital Minsk on 27-28 November, delegates from all over the world discussed the importance of ensuring quality in distance learning.
Speaking was Deborah Trayhurn, a reviewer of Britain's Quality Assurance Agency, or QAA, and the subject of the conference was “European Quality of Distance Education”.
“The QAA has students at the heart of everything they do,” said Trayhurn. “And we try to reduce the administrative burden for universities.”
According to Vadzim Tsitou, deputy dean of Magna Carta College, “Belarus has partnered with the UK because it appreciates the traditions and the quality of courses. The UK is a world leader.”
Belarus is also talking to the government of Iraq about supporting Iraqi students to undertake British courses in Belarus. This would be a cheaper study abroad option for the students and would enable them to access a British higher education that is made more difficult by new immigration restrictions.
There has been a significant increase in overseas students studying in Belarus. The number is now more than 17,000 students from 98 countries including many from former republics of the Soviet Union – but the government wants to attract more in order to grow the economy. Belarus is well aware that overseas students bring in precious revenue, not just in tuition fees but also in money spent on books, food and other living costs.
Iraq, for example, has almost 400 students taking courses in subjects such as IT and technology in Belarus. Most are taught in English. The medical school in the capital city Minsk has almost 100 Iraqi students, according to the Iraqi Ambassador to Belarus, Haidar Hadi. Most of them are paying for themselves, but some are funded by the Iraqi government.
“We’re trying to encourage more to come and study in Belarus because we believe that the education system in Belarus is quite good,” said Hadi. “Most of the universities are very solid. And it’s more practical for them to go to Belarus rather than the UK because it is cheaper.”
The cost of a place at a Belarus medical school is around US$6,000 a year and that includes a room in a hall of residence. Iraq is hoping to sign an agreement with Belarus, which would lay down a framework agreement between universities in both countries.