“When I am abroad, I always make it a rule never to criticize or attack the government of my own country. I make up for lost time when I come home.” - Winston Churchill
Russia is a fascinating country. There are over 230,000 international students in Russia each year with a decent number of Britons and other Europeans in attendance.
Russia is the world’s biggest country and its education system features quite a few formalities so let's have a look at how international students can study at Russian universities.
Step 1: Get Accepted in a Russian University
The first thing you’ll need to do is be accepted onto a course. The Russian education system isn't the same as ours so students in Russia don't apply to universities in exactly the same way that students in the UK would.
There are around 2,400 different programmes for international students and they can involve different application processes. Furthermore, the process you complete can affect the subsequent formalities.
So what are these systems exactly?
There are three main ones:
- The “European” system: a candidate chooses a programme, submits an application, completes application forms, provides a CV and cover letter, etc.
- The “Russian” system: a highly-selective process in which free education is provided to exceptional candidates.
- A random draw.
Very few universities offer distance or remote learning.
In general, the candidate needs to apply between January and March for the upcoming academic year (September):
- It can take between 3 weeks and 3 months to process your application.
- Administration can also take between 1 and 3 months.
- It can take between 2 weeks and 1 month to get settled once you’re there.
It’s a good idea to do everything as early as possible as there’s always something that can delay your application.
Different degrees and universities may use different application processes so make sure you're following the right one. If you're applying as an exchange student for a semester or academic year, your host university in the UK may be able to help you. However, if you're applying to a Russian university for a full bachelor's or master's degree, you may have to go it alone.
So how is studying in Russia different?
Let’s have a look.
Step 2: The Administrative Steps for Entering Russia
Have you been accepted onto a Russian university course?
Congratulations! Once you’ve been accepted onto a course, you’ll need to follow the enrolment procedure to the letter. Universities in Russia come with a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork for international students so make sure you do everything right as places on courses can depend on it.
You’ll have to ensure that you have a passport that’s valid for over 6 months after the end of your stay. If you don’t, you may have to restart the application.
It should be noted that some universities may need to be prompted to provide you with responses to enquiries. Don’t hesitate to be a bit pushy.
One of the first things you’ll need to do is organise your visa. This can be a bit stressful as the process isn’t always clear. Here are a few things you should know about it:
- You can get your visa via organisations and companies or the Russian Embassy.
- If you’re a student, a single-entry visa will be provided. You’ll need to renew it once you’re there for a multiple-entry visa.
- Your visa will be glued into your passport and stamped each time that you travel abroad.
- Your visa is essential and will be checked.
- The dates on your visa are very strict: the start date must correspond with your arrival in Russia and you have to leave Russia before the expiration date. No exceptions.
To get your visa, you’ll need the following documents.
- Your invitation letter (from either immigration or the university)
- Insurance including repatriation
- The visa application form
- ID photos
- Medical certificate and an AIDS test
In fact, the formalities are so complicated that you can find guides online on how to fill out the forms. Also, the tourist visa and student visa forms aren’t the same so make sure you’re following the guide to the right one.
Once you’ve filled out the forms, there are other steps including:
- Filling out the university forms
- Getting a Russian student card
Make sure you always have the original on you. The process isn’t easy.
Now you’re ready to study in Russia!
What’s the next thing you have to do?
Step 3: Accommodation in Russia
Getting to Russia is one thing, living there is another. While the formalities for visas and immigration are obviously essential for international students in the Russian education system, so is accommodation. You can choose from:
- Renting a flat.
- Staying with a host family.
- Living in a university dormitory.
Renting an apartment or flat can give you freedom but it’s quite complicated as there won’t really be anyone to help you. If you’re there for just 6 to 9 months, student accommodation may be the way to go.
For university dormitories, you’ll need your visa and some may even ask medical insurance that stipulates you don’t have any mental health issues. This may seem odd, but you have to do as they tell you.
You’ll also need copies of your passport and your visa (once you have it).
There are different types of university accommodation available. However, if you move around the country or travel to another country, you must inform your university. In some cases, you’ll need documentation from them.
Step 4: Getting Ready for Russia
Finally, once you’ve finished with all these formalities, there’ll also be a few to do once you get there:
- Registration once you’re there.
- Planning a budget in rubles and organising payments.
Your registration is not the same as your visa. The first is for entering Russia and the second is for proving your residence.
Registration is another obligatory bureaucratic step. As a student, the university will provide you with this:
- If you’re not living on campus, you’ll need the property owner to register you, but some universities may do it for you. If the university doesn’t, you’ll have to visit the local police with your landlord and this can take half a day at least.
- If you live on campus, your university will register you. You’ll be bound to their rules.
Registration is another one of the necessary documents you’ll need when opening bank accounts or getting a phone contract.
You’ll also need to think about your finances before you go. Some British banks have partnerships with Russian banks. You have a few options:
- Authorise international payments on your British bank card and use it abroad.
- Choose a bank that’s partnered with your own so that you can transfer funds to a Russian account.
- Open a new account with a Russian bank.
The biggest Russian banks include:
- Alpha Bank
Your bank may offer an international option allowing you to open a free account with one of these banks. There may even be rewards!
You’ll need this to pay for your tuition, visa renewal, accommodation, and everyday purchases.
So are you ready to go to the Russian Federation?
Before you start looking at Russian universities, you might want to study a bit of the language first. Of course, international students will see their Russian language skills improve dramatically but it's always useful to have a foundation in the language before you go to help you during your first days of admin at the universities and for opening bank accounts, finding accommodation, etc.
Even though there are programmes and university courses that are taught in English, that doesn't mean that everyone in Moscow or Saint Petersburg will start speaking in your language just because you're there. International students can learn the basics or brush up on their language skills with a private tutor from Superprof.
No matter your level in Russian, a tutor will tailor their lessons and courses to you to ensure you learn as effectively as possible. When it comes to learning languages, you need to practise and having someone regularly teach you and give you the opportunity to use your new language is a great way to learn.
Don't forget that a lot of the tutors on Superprof offer the first lesson for free. Use this to try a few different tutors out before deciding which one is right for you and what you want to learn.