Sunday, 22 August 2010

Ukrainian students have many options to study abroad

Many Ukrainians who study abroad come back to do great things in their home country.

When Ukrainians want to study abroad, the biggest hurdle is often securing the necessary funding to cover high tuition and living costs. But there are a few programs – primarily funded by foreign governments – helping bright Ukrainian students not just to pay for a school, but also their living expenses.

Governments and philanthropists behind the programs don’t just do it for charity or stealing the best brains, as some may think. “In any single exchange, we expect it to be a two-way street of learning,” said James Wolfe, press attache at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv. Shortly after World War II, when Senator J. William Fulbright began the American flagship academic exchange, the Fulbright program, “he stated that it might actually be a way to prevent a nuclear war,” said Wolfe.

The U.S. government funds a variety of programs. From high school exchange to post-graduate research, the Educational Advising Center administered by the American Councils for International Education in Kyiv will find the right fit for everyone with a burning desire to study.

Since 1992, over 11,000 students have crossed the ocean for a taste of life abroad, including Andriy Shevchenko, a parliament deputy, and Oleg Riabokon, founder of a top Kyiv law firm, to name just two famous alumni.

Most of the exchange students return and do great things for Ukraine, said Christina Pendzola-Vitovych, country director of the American Councils, which administers the programs in Ukraine.

One program is the Future Leaders Exchange, which has benefited thousands of high school students since it began in 1992.

The program allows ninth and tenth graders to spend a year living with an American host family and study in an American high school. All living and study costs are covered by the U.S. government. In addition, applicants receive a monthly stipend.

“Host families are not getting anything out of the program [in financial terms],” said Pendzola-Vitovich. “What they are getting, though, is an opportunity to learn more about people from other parts of the world.”

For university students, there is a program called Eurasian Undergraduate, better known as UGRAD; and for graduates, there are Edmund Muskie and Fulbright exchanges.

The selection is tough, but the reward is magnificent. After academic, linguistic and psychological tests in Ukraine, winners attend one- to two-year programs at American universities with fees and living expenses covered.

At the end of their stay, they have to come back to Ukraine and continue studying or working without returning to the U.S. for two consecutive years. Fields of study vary from program to program, but the emphasis is placed on areas where Ukraine needs improvement: the economy, human rights and the environment, among others.

“It’s prestigious for universities to be hosting foreign students,” said Pendzola-Vitovych, explaining the motivation behind sponsorships. “They actually put their own money into this as well. It brings up the diversity of their campuses."

The British government’s goodwill program for international students is the Chevening Scholarship. Some 300 applicants compete annually for 6 to 10 scholarships.

Most grants are for postgraduate master’s degree courses lasting up to a year, but the option of a shorter period for study or research is also available.

The programs are targeted at academic high-flyers who have the potential to become Ukraine’s leaders. Interviews and essay tests are carefully structured to weed out professionals without a plan.

“Experience shows not many of [the applicants] know what they want to achieve,” said Natasha Vasylyuk, programs director at British Council, which assesses applicants.

“They want to make a lot of money, but they don’t know how to do it. But this is not right because they have to have a specific plan for the next five years of how they could apply their skills for the benefit of Ukraine.”

Areas of study vary from year to year. Public administration and environmental issues have been high on the list for the last few years.

Law is among popular fields that students want to pursue in the U.K., but their motivation is not always right, Vasylyuk said.

“They come back with a good British education and start working in private firms. It’s not a bad thing, but the idea of this program is to bring the knowledge back to change the country.”

Chevening, unlike Muskie or UGRAD programs, is a self-placement exchange where a candidate have to choose a university on their own.

For a wider range of subjects – from aeronautics to creative arts – there are Erasmus Mundus scholarships. Administered by the European Union, they offer up to 100 master’s and doctorate courses. A successful applicant gets the chance to study in two partner-universities in two different countries.

The Ukrainian government doesn’t send prospective leaders abroad, but there is a private initiative nurturing home talent.

Businessman and philanthropist Victor Pinchuk launched the World Studies program this year, sending 15 undergraduate students to the world’s top universities.

His program partially covers education fees and requires all students to come back and work in Ukraine for five years after their studies.

Opportunities are many, and these programs are all expected to continue well into the future. The U.S. and British governments have robust exchanges with many countries, both rich and poor. “It’s not a question of the country’s economic development,” said Wolfe from the U.S. embassy. It’s a matter of professional and cultural growth, he added.

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