It has been two months since the academic year in Russia started, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, African students are struggling to enter the country and take up their studies. This might affect Russian educational diplomacy towards Africa, which has long been one of the prioritized tools for wielding its soft power.
With the implementation of restrictions and border closures in March 2020, the majority of international students returned to their home countries. As all the higher education institutions in Russia were then transferred online, their departure did not affect their attendance.
In September face-to-face education restarted, but many Africans are still in their home countries, as students are currently not on the list of foreigners who are authorized to enter Russia, which is taking strict health measures against the coronavirus.
In September face-to-face education restarted, but many Africans are still in their home countries, as students are currently not on the list of foreigners who are authorized to enter Russia, which is taking strict health measures against the coronavirus. Some universities provided their presence online, but learning medicine this way might be difficult and even completely ineffective. Students from countries such as Tunisia, Morocco, Republic of Congo, Namibia, Nigeria, and others have all reported facing such problems.
Moreover, only two African countries currently have regular flights with Russia — Tanzania and Egypt.
Apart from attendance, some Africans experience difficulties due to the expiration of their passports. A group of Senegalese students claimed that because of suspended flights they are unable to leave Russia to renew their passports, thereby making their presence here illegal, suspending them from work and depriving them of their salaries. Note that more than 50% of Senegalese students do not have a Russian government scholarship. Students state that the Senegal Embassy has not helped them yet.
Russia has a high infection rate, so it is clear that the government’s measures are aimed at preventing spread of the disease.
As face-to-face classes have now been cancelled throughout almost the entire country, it at least makes them possible for international students to attend online. We hope that by the time that distant learning finishes, all the African students studying in Russia will have the chance to re-enter the country and return to their studies.