Our normal digest of higher education news rarely links national security to university instruction, but in Russia, $2 billion in education funds have been poured into a wind-swept region as part of the country’s bid to push back against Chinese land interests.
The university, which is the result of a merger of several smaller nearby universities, has an ambitious agenda: the Kremlin expects it will join the list of both Russia's and the world's best universities within a decade.
To that end, Far Eastern Federal will specialize in areas like Asian languages, marine biology, nanotechnology, and energy-conserving technologies. It will offer courses in both Russian and English, with many of its Russian professors undergoing required language training.
It hopes to attract top international professors and at least 30,000 students, 11,000 of whom would live on the island. It aims to lure students with local amenities, such as new swimming pools, as well as the promise of financial aid and an international education.
Irredentist antics are usually the wheelhouse of foreign policy or military departments, but as many analysts have noted, the eastern sliver of Siberia that hugs Russia’s Pacific coastline has been eyed by the Chinese government for a possible land grab. The tension between the two countries, and a likely driver in building a large research university complex near Vladivostok, is over resources and demographics. There are six million Russians living in eastern Siberia, while 90 million Chinese reside just south of them along the Amur River. The surfeit of minerals in Russian Siberia has been fueling Chinese economic growth, but Russo-Sino relations have been notoriously frosty.
Employing national resources to develop areas with economic potential is not unique: land-grant universities in the U.S. were established in part to improve worker skill levels in new technologies and agriculture. The location of the universities was often intended to promote growth in the surrounding regions.
Can you think of instances in U.S. history or elsewhere in which universities were built to strengthen borders and repopulate geopolitically sensitive lands?
Photo source: Flickr/ Thomas Claveirole (Russky Island, with Vladivostok in the distance)