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RUDN University: Providing Young Generation With Excellent Professional Skills And Knowledge

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In an insightful long-ranging conversation, the newly appointed Rector of the RUDN University (Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia), Oleg Yastrebov, discusses the latest developments, educational reforms, students’ enrollment as well as cultural diversity in his multinational university.

During his meeting with our Media Executive Kester Kenn Klomegah, Rector Oleg Yastrebov, particularly stressed the importance of effective monitoring and evaluation of students’ performance by the hard-working academic staff. He unreservedly argues that the university staff and academic teams provide the necessary knowledge and cutting-edge skills for young aspiring leaders and that makes the university first-class among many others in the Russian Federation.

The RUDN University (Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia) is an educational institution located in Moscow. Established in 1960, it primarily provides higher education to Third World students during the Soviet days. Many students especially from developing countries still come this popular university from Latin America, Asia and Africa. It is Russia’s most multidisciplinary university, which boasts the largest number of foreign students and offers various academic disciplines. Here are the interview excerpts:

What are your remarks to the popular saying – a new leader, new management approach?

The previous rector of the RUDN University, who is now its President, Professor Vladimir Filippov gathered a unique scientific and expert team. I am not a new person for them, as a graduate of Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia – that is the full name for the RUDN University. I was the head of the Law Institute, so I am familiar with most of the teaching staff. All the administration of the university, are all obliged to preserve and strengthen the achievements. We are the most international, the most multidisciplinary and the friendliest university in Russia. I am sure that with the arrival of new people in the team, the university will become even more ambitious, international, digital, and with a new approach to the quality of education. We are a modern university and we are ready to remain as a dream-university for many bright students.

Quite recently, you assumed the position of rector. What would you count as the marked achievements and success stories during these few years?

Over the past year, the RUDN University has strengthened its position among the best universities in the world. We are the greenest university in Russia. More and more talented students are coming to us. Bright international students continue to enroll in RUDN – last year we had new students, for example, from Portugal and Lesotho. We have signed agreements with strong partners – Sistema (the largest Russian investing organization), Kaspersky Lab, and the European Medical Center. I would like to note separately that RUDN was the first in Russia to receive the right to validate and verify greenhouse gas emissions.

What are the current challenges and tasks as you take up the position of rector of the RUDN University?

The first priority is a new approach to recruitment criteria to teachers. These should be people with real professional practical achievements. A teacher who retells books is a transmitter of information, but not a source of new knowledge. We understand that it is important to move on to motivate students and to initiate startups in collaboration with employers. By this direction, it creates a competitive environment among students and employers will be able to notice talented students even before their graduation.

We will continue to strengthen science at the university. We integrate successful educational technologies into the education process. We expand the network of partner universities. There is a serious progress in a multilingual environment — all our graduates of bachelor’s programs speak at least one foreign language at a serious proficient level. The pan is to make two languages.

I would like to mention here that we updated the whole university environment. The campus is transformed – this is also an important factor for students. Co-working areas, sports and recreation spaces, dormitory rooms are becoming more stylish and fashionable. It is interesting to say that 300 students have already moved into the rooms in the new design. In fact, 450 rooms are being transformed for the new semester. RUDN was the first university in Russia to open the first multifunctional student center, where you can get all the basic documents about studying. The process will take just 5-15 minutes.

On the other hand, what do you suggest as significant steps to raise the cultural profile among students who have come from different countries?

RUDN worthily preserves long-standing traditions: weeks of national cultures for instance, and we signed the Declaration of Tolerance. We have more than 100 community organizations and international study groups. We have active students who help freshmen to adapt to the new study and living conditions. There is a volunteer center of more than 200 volunteers — this is a kind of international student office, which helps foreign students adapt to live in Russia. Their work is based on the principle “Buddy For Each Foreigner”. Each foreign student is assigned a Russian curator friend. The curator is in touch and ready to help out a foreign ward in any situation — from “I am lost” to “help me with this home task”. In addition, students arrange informal meetings, where they get acquainted with fellow countrymen, make friends, help each other with their academic studies.

What are the peculiarities of running an educational institution such as the RUDN University, especially in a liberal market economy?

Approximately 70% of the budget the University earns itself. This is not only educational activity, but also additional professional education, income from science. Mainly, the income is generated by physical and mathematical sciences, chemistry, mathematics, and the Institute of Innovative Engineering Technologies. Humanities mainly work on a grant basis, it provides all kinds of scientific advisory services.

What are the competitive edge of the RUDN University? What advantages it has over other similar educational institutions in the Russian Federation?

RUDN is the most multidisciplinary university in Russia. A student can choose from 446 directions. Here you can get a technical, scientific, medical, economic, humanitarian education. Engineers, lawyers, doctors, diplomats, financiers, agrarians, physicists, mathematicians, linguists, journalists are educated at the RUDN.

RUDN has the strongest language school. By studying languages, students receive an extra diploma of a translator. A student can choose from 12 foreign languages to study: European, Oriental or Russian as a foreign language.

RUDN has all the conditions to do science. We have more than 200 laboratories, more than 40 scientific and scientific-educational centers with modern equipment, annual scientific conferences, grants, scholarships, joint research projects with leading foreign universities.

What can you say about the system of education and training particularly for foreigners, as well as regular educational exchanges as a means of forging closer relations with the university?

RUDN is an international university. Representatives from 160 countries study here. We have an established system for recruiting foreign students. We interact with applicants from Asia, Africa, Latin America directly through Olympiads, our pre-university classes and training centers.

Last year, 4395 foreigners enrolled into the RUDN University. This is almost 500 people more than was previously planned. Most of all – on “Medicine”, “Dentistry”, “International Relations”. Egypt, Zambia and Nigeria were among the top three (3) African countries in terms of numerical strength of international students.

We have exchange and internship programs, double degree programs in cooperation with foreign universities, international conferences, summer schools. The geography of educational and scientific cooperation of the RUDN is extensive: more than 250 agreements have been signed with educational institutions of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Europe, Asia and the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Since 2007, graduates have received an European Diploma Supplement, and that is recognized worldwide.

What keeps you motivated as a rector in this educational environment? Who are some of the most notable people, besides Russians, that you have interacted during the work at the RUDN University?

Students motivate me a lot especially when I see their success in scientific, educational, sports and creative fields. Besides students, I am also highly motivated by my colleagues who sacrifice a lot, devote their energy and considerable time to perform their work effectively, efficiently and conscientiously.

By all appearances – education and professional skills training – are aspects of diplomacy. Do you think that the youth should be involved in this public diplomacy?

Without mincing words, the youth is our future. The whole development and technological progress depend on them – the present young generation. Therefore, at RUDN we teach them to become professional leaders in various fields, equip them with the necessary skills, and help them to acquire the knowledge of communication internationally.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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New Social Compact

The World Cup and beyond: Thinking strategically about LGBT rights

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When Egyptian football legend Mohammed Aboutreika came out swinging against homosexuality in late 2021, he touched a raw nerve across the Muslim world.

The tit-for-tat between Mr. Aboutreika and supporters of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights laid bare a yawning gap.

For Mr. Aboutreika and many in the Muslim world, the issue is adhering to their values and rejecting attempts to impose the values of others.

For supporters of LGBT rights and LGBT soccer fans, at stake most immediately is LGBT people’s right to attend the 2022 Qatar World Cup without fear of discrimination or legal entanglement because of their sexuality.

Longer-term, it’s about ensuring recognition of LGBT rights, including social acceptability, inclusivity, and non-discrimination.

Solving the immediate problem may be the lower hanging fruit. However, it may also open a pathway to what is realistically achievable in the middle term.

The reality is that what may be realistically possible is at best akin to US President Bill Clinton’s application to gays in the US military of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell” rule or Indonesia’s de facto ‘live and let live’ principle.

That may not be satisfactory, but it may be the only thing that, for now, is possible without putting LGBT communities at risk by provoking public hostility and backlash.

To be sure, autocratic Middle Eastern regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt often target LGBT communities for domestic political gain. In addition, the United Arab Emirates, perhaps the Middle East’s socially most liberal society, recently backtracked on LGBT-related issues.

The trick in campaigning for LGBT rights is avoiding playing into the hands of autocrats while maintaining the pressure.

Simply attempting to impose recognition is unlikely to produce results. Instead, a more realistic strategy is to devise ways to stimulate debate in Muslim-majority countries and encourage social change bottom-up to ensure public buy-in.

That worked to a degree as human rights groups, and trade unions used the World Cup to pressure Qatar to make changes to its labour regime. LGBT rights are in a different category and relate more directly, rightly or wrongly, to perceived religious precepts.

As such, what worked with labour rights, even if human rights groups would like to see more far-reaching reforms, is unlikely to produce similar results when it comes to LGBT rights.

“Lobbying on behalf of a vast migrant labour force, which has historically been subjected to brutally exploitative practices, has yielded tangible results… But there is a long way to go before the rights of a mainly South Asian workforce, from some of the world’s poorest countries, are properly safeguarded,” The Guardian noted.

The paper backed proposals by human rights groups and British trade unions for the establishment in Qatar of migrant workers’ centres, which would offer advice, support and representation in lieu of a trade union, and compensation for relatives of labourers who died while employed in World Cup-related public works projects.

Going to extremes, Saudi Arabia, amid a push to encourage tourism, launched “rainbow raids” this month on shops selling children’s toys and accessories.

Authorities targeted clothing and toys, including hair clips, pop-its, t-shirts, bows, skirts, hats, and colouring pencils “that contradict the Islamic faith and public morals and promote homosexual colours that target the younger generation,” said a commerce ministry official.

Earlier, the kingdom, like the UAE, banned Lightyear, a Disney and Pixar animated production, because of a same-sex kiss scene, and Disney’s Doctor Strange in the Universe of Madness, in which one character refers to her “two mums.”

The UAE ban appeared to contradict the government’s announcement in late 2021 that it would end the censorship of films. The country’s Media Regulatory Office said it would introduce a 21+ age viewer classification policy instead. However, that wasn’t evident when the office tweeted an image of Lightyear, crossed out with a red line.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly charged that Egyptian police and National Security Agency officers “arbitrarily arrest” LGBT people and “detain them in inhuman conditions, systematically subject them to ill-treatment including torture, and often incite fellow inmates to abuse them.

With the World Cup only months away, Qatar is caught in a Catch-22. In a country where the few gays willing to speak out describe an environment of social and legal discrimination, Qatari authorities would like to see the World Cup finals as an interlude of ‘live and let live.’

Qatari officials have insisted in recent years that LGBT fans would be welcome during the World Cup but would be expected to respect norms that frown on public expressions of affection irrespective of sexual orientation.

Paul Amann, the founder of Liverpool FC’s LGBT supporters’ club Kop Outs, met in 2019 with Qatari World Cup organizers before traveling to Doha with his husband to evaluate the situation.

I’m very satisfied that their approach is to provide an ‘everyone is welcome’ ethos that does include respect, albeit through privacy. I’m not sure if rainbow flags generally will ever be accepted ‘in-country,’ but maybe in stadia,” Mr. Amann said upon his return.

Mr. Aboutreika put Qatar on the spot when he asserted in November 2021 that “our role is to stand up to this phenomenon, homosexuality, because it’s a dangerous ideology and it’s becoming nasty, and people are not ashamed of it anymore. They (the Premier League) will tell you that homosexuality is human rights. No, it is not human rights; in fact, it’s against humanity.”

The Qatari parliament and state-aligned media, imams in Saudi mosques, Saudi diplomats, and Al-Azhar, the citadel of Islamic learning in Cairo, rallied to reiterate Mr. Aboutreika ‘s condemnation despite his allegedly Islamist leanings.

Mr. Aboutreika’s remarks were in response to Australian gay footballer Josh Cavallo who revived the sexuality debate when he declared that he would be afraid to play in the Qatar World Cup because of the Gulf state’s ban on homosexuality and harsh legal penalties ranging from flogging to lengthy prison terms.

One of the few players to discuss his sexuality publicly, Mr. Cavallo expressed his concern a month after coming out as gay. Mr. Cavallo said other footballers had privately expressed similar fears.

What is evident in the sexuality debate is that few people, if any, will be convinced by arguments raised by the opposing side in what amounts to a dialogue of the deaf. Both sides of the divide feel deeply about their positions.

For proponents of LGBT rights, the challenge is to develop strategies that may contribute to change rather than insisting on a path that is more likely to deepen the trench lines than produce results for the people it is really about: the LGBT community.

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New Social Compact

Life-Creating Mind Against Destructive Mindlessness

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By becoming a totalitarian destructive order, capitalism called into question the modern way of thinking based on existential apriorism and the corresponding idea of progress. In that context, humanism with its essential character and its critique of capitalism that departs from the essential criteria were also called into question. By increasingly destroying life on Earth, capitalism abolishes that ontological relativism based on existential certainty. What indeed exists is, thus, determined by capitalist annihilation with its totalitarian character. Nothing is no longer just not being or essential nothingness, but a complete and final perishing of humankind.

                It is necessary to create a way of thinking that will enable proper understanding of the ruling tendency of global development and, on the basis of the humanist legacy, establish a broad social movement that will work to prevent the destruction of life. From a historical point of view, the mind acquired self-consciusness from man’s struggle for freedom. Considering the fact that capitalism dramatically threatens the survival of the living world, the contemporary mind can acquire self-consciousness from the struggle of humankind for survival. The criticism of capitalism based on essential relativism should be replaced by a criticism that departs from the existential challenges capitalism poses for humankind. Instead of a dominating destructive mindlessness, which leads to total annihilation, a life-creating mind should be affirmed, a mind that can create a humane world.

                  The life-creating quality as a universal and totalizing principle should become the starting point in the struggle against capitalism. It acquires a concrete historical meaning relative to capitalism as a totalitarian destructive order from the life-creating potential of nature and man. The life-creating quality means bringing to life the life-creating potential of the matter, living nature, man, history, human society… The most important result of the practice of life-creating must be a society that is a community of free and creative people and nature as a cultivated life-creating whole. Capitalism does not animate but rather destroys the life-creating potential of matter, living nature, history… It instrumentalizes and degenerates man’s life-creating powers: they are used to create a „technical world“, where there is no place for either nature or man.

                 The human life-creating quality involves freedom, which means overcoming  sheer naturalness through an active and changing relation to nature and through the creation of a new world. The specific life-creating potentials of man, as the highest form in the evolution of nature, represent a bond between nature and man and are the bases for the evolution of man as a specific natural being. It is about turning man from a sheer natural being into a libertarian being. Through a cultivated life-creating practice, man turns from a generic being into an emancipated life-creating being, which does not only reproduce its life-creating capacity, but creates his own world. In that sense, we should differentiate between the life-creating quality as the creation of sheer life and the life-creating quality as the creation of a humane world. In other words, a difference should be made between naturalistic and historical life-creating principles: the essence of the naturalistic life-creating principle is determinism; the essence of the historical life-creating principle is freedom.

                 The life-creating nature of man, as a natural and human being, can be realized only in nature as a life-creating whole. Man’s  active relation to nature gives a possibility to overcome sheer naturalness, if that means the preservation and development of nature’s life-creating powers. The life-creating principle is the umbilical cord connecting man and nature and turning them into a life-creating whole. Living nature is not mere matter, but, through the life-creating process of evolution, a formed and thus specific matter, which as such forms the basis of the human world as a specific universe. It is organized as a life-creating organic whole that creates higher living forms, which means that it is characterized by a life-creating activism. Man is the highest life-creating form in the evolution of living matter through which nature became a self-conscious, life-creating whole. Man’s libertarian and creative practice is the power which gives matter a historical dimension, which means that through it a meaningless mechanical movement becomes a meaningful historical movement. Man’s universal and creative being, which has limitless self-reproductive potential, represents the basis of the human life-creating principle. Each creative act opens in man a new creative space, and so on, ad infinitum. Man’s becoming a self-conscious historical being, which means a being of the future, is the most important result of the realization of nature’s life-creating potentials, and the ability to create its future is the most authentic expression of the life-creating force of human society.

                Not only does capitalism, as a totalitarian destructive order, destroy history, it also destroys the evolution of living beings, which above all means the evolution of human beings as the highest form of life on the Earth. It is a capitalistically conditioned mutation of man, which amounts to a his degeneration as a natural, creative and social being. Capitalism destroys man’s naturally- and historically-conditioned life-creating potential and reduces him to a technically organized entity, at the same time reducing human society to a mechanical ant colony. Thus, it degenerates and destroys the life-creating potential of living matter accumulated in the human genome over more than three billion years of evolution, as well as man’s creative capabilities, which are the product of historical development and can only be realized within society as a humanized natural community. In essence, capitalism devalues and abolishes man as a humane and natural being. The ever more present thesis that “traditional humankind” has become obsolete and that a race of cyborgs should be created, indicates that man as a human and natural being has become an obstacle to the further development of capitalism and, as such, is an unnecessary being.

                  The bridge to the future man has built during his historical existence has begun to crumble. The capitalist propaganda machinery works to prevent man from becoming aware of that process. To make matters worse, capitalistically degenerated lifecreates a type of consciousness that prevents people from realizing the nature of the looming threat against humankind. Capitalism imposes a way of thinking that does not allow man to pursue answers to questionsthat are of vital importance to his survival and freedom. At the same time, the economic downfall of capitalism, which directly threatens the lives of an growing number of people, marginalizes the questions which are of paramount importance to thesurvival of humankind and relativizes their dramatic character. How important is the destruction of forests and the melting of glaciers to a man whose family is dying in poverty? The most fatal consequences come from the fact that the existential challenge posed by capitalism to humankind stands in complete contradiction to the nature of man created by capitalism. That man is a petty bourgeois, who does not feel any responsibility for the survival of the world or for whom the question of survival comes down tothe question of his personal survival. A spontaneous reaction of the atomized petty bourgeois to the increasingly realistic possibility of global annihilation is not to prevent global demise, but rather to find a safe retreat for himself. All the more so as the preservation of the bridge poses a challenge which far surpasses man’s individual powers,  and man, as a lonely individual, feels helplessness before the imminent cataclysm. The most important task of the life-creating mind is to point out the existential importance of sociability and, thus, to increase the need of man for his fellows. Without an emancipated and fighting sociability, man is condemned to a solitary and lethal hopelessness.                                                               

Translated from Serbian by Vesna Todorović (Petrović)

English translation supervisor Mick Collins 

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New Social Compact

Constructivist Methods in Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL)

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Constructivism is an important approach in education, particularly in foreign-language education where the classroom goals are focused on integrating all the components of communicative competence (i.e., grammatical, discourse, functional, sociolinguistic, and strategic). Moreover, with the constructivist approach, foreign-language teaching strategies are designed to engage the learners in the authentic, pragmatic, and functional use of language for meaningful purposes. To get students involved in real-life interpersonal conversations, teaching is done by integrating the four language skills: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Mastery of these skills is essential if the learners are to become accurate and fluent speakers of the second language.

For example, in my Cross-Cultural Conversation classes, the students were paired as conversation partners, one native speaker of English and one English as a Second Language (ESL) student in each group, from the beginning of the semester. Native speakers, who served as small-group conversation mentors, gained experience working with students from a variety of cultural backgrounds and languages while the ESL students were able to practice conversational English and thus improve their speaking, listening, and pronunciation skills in a natural, informal setting. Each group met in person and/or on Zoom for one hour at different times during the week. I joined each session separately. I also engaged some retired faculty members and volunteers in this partnering activity, which also was a great opportunity in terms of community-student gathering and interaction. One student said:

“This class was fantastic! I do not need it for my major, but was very interested in learning about different cultures and talking with English Language Learners each week! Dr. Gul gave us great topics to discuss each week and excellent ideas to watch.”

It was not only the students who praised this application but also the participant retired faculty members:

“I retired from a forty-year career as an academic…and I have never encountered a course quite like this before. It is a highly imaginative concept for a course and poses considerable challenges to the designer of the course for a successful execution. Not only must the student and volunteer be carefully matched, the materials must be judiciously chosen and paced. I am happy to say that Ms. Gul skillfully accomplished these goals.”

What a positive experience it was to be part of…Cross-Cultural Conversation during Fall 2021! As a retired professor…, I enjoyed the opportunity to connect with the campus, and specifically with a current student, by participating as a conversation partner… I commend you for the course design and content, as well as the organization of the Moodle course site. You have created a course that is of tremendous value to our campus and community… And what a gift to any community members, like myself, to be a part of the conversation.

In a constructivist classroom, students ultimately need opportunities to use the language productively outside the classroom. Because such contexts will be unrehearsed, it is important to equip the students with the skills necessary to communicate in those contexts. In that regard, I tried to use topics that are contextual and situational to the ones at that time while I was designing activities and assignments. For example, if it was the week of Thanksgiving or before the Thanksgiving break (as can be predicted before the class begins), then the questions and contents for the week are designed accordingly.

Sometimes, however, the context is an unexpected topic that I quickly embed the context into the weekly program for better and long-lasting learning. For example, students were frustrated with the response to a police-student encounter on campus and the administration held a speak-out event where everyone democratically and freely shared their reactions and feelings with others. I took my students to that speak-out event because we were discussing the issues, such as cultural differences, discrimination, hatred, racism, kindness, understanding, and respectfulness in the Advanced Conversational English course that week. The students had experiences that transcended those included in the course topics, such as speaking openly and freely, and democratically in front of the administration—an activity that is not allowed in the home countries of some of my international students. One international student wrote:

“In this event which is SPEAK OUT was an opportunity for students to discuss bias and discrimination experienced by students in life. I learned how important it is to speak out to each other and know the situation…I was very happy that I could join this event. In my home school we don’t have this kind of event. However, I believe doing ‘speak out’ is a great step to understand and share the feelings.”

These are only a few examples of the constructivist methods that I applied in my classes and had positive experiences, particularly with my ESL students.

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