The New Mandatory Russian Exam for Foreign Applicants – Is There Anything to Worry About?


In an interview for the TASS agency, head of the Ministry of Science and Education Olga Vasilieva praised RUDN Rector's proposal to introduce a mandatory Russian examination – much like TOEFL or IELTS certifications that Russian students have to take to study in an English-speaking country. According to Ms. Vasilieva, the new “Russian as a Foreign Language” examination won't be introduced suddenly - young international students who now take pre-university courses would be the first ones to be tested. The Ministry of Science and Education is going to develop the necessary materials and assessment criteria, as well as work on a detailed concept of the examination's procedure.

"As of now, we're one of the few countries that train foreign students for studying at our universities using our national language. The appropriate level of Russian will help them to successfully study on programs of higher education equally with Russian students", - noted the Minister.

According to Natalya Kondrashova, this attention to foreign student's level of Russian is understandable. For instance, it is really important that they have an appropriate level of Russian since the very start of a program, as for them, it is a tool for gaining knowledge - and, in a sense, a tool to "surviving" Russia.

Students of pre-university courses at ITMO University and other similar programs, as well as foreign applicants who didn't take any courses take an exam in Russian to assess whether their skill is enough to study at a Russian university. The appropriate level for Bachelor's programs corresponds to level B1 of the European assessment system.

"Currently, it is only possible to get a National Certification in Russian as a Foreign Language at National Language Testing Centers. Also, the testing is voluntary for foreign applicants. Now we are to expect it to become a mandatory condition for applying to a Russian university. The question is - how much will the requirement change and what will be the universities' role in conducting these examinations", - comments the expert.

Ms. Kondrasheva believes that the risks of Russian universities losing their popularity can be easily averted, if the lecturers for the pre-university courses are timely informed on the examination's procedure and supplied with all the necessary aids and materials. Also, the applicants have to be informed of the changes in advance, as well. This especially has to do with those who don’t plan on taking any courses. If the examination is going to be hard, it is essential for the applicants to understand it and prepare accordingly.

"The other pressing problem is the difference in the level of Russian between applicants from the neighboring states and from other countries. The introduction of the mandatory language testing can disturb the balance between these categories of students. I really hope that this novelty will do more good than bad. Surely, the necessity to take a mandatory exam in Russian will make it harder for a foreign student to enroll at a Russian university, and the language certificate doesn’t guarantee one's successful education.  Still, this certificate will show that the applicant possesses the necessary language skills to study and live in Russia", - concludes the expert.