“SGIA is Your Window on the World”

“SGIA is Your Window on the World”

5 May 2023

Following the Open Doors Day on April 21, 2023, the team of our website decided to interview the Dean of the School of Government and International Affairs (SGIA) Dr. Alexander Bobrov, who outlined the advantages of enrolling in MGIMO’s English-language undergraduate and graduate programs.  SGIA is by far the most international School of our University that admits holders of various international and national secondary education diplomas (IB, A-Level, SAT, GCSE/iGCSE and others).

MGIMO University, and namely SGIA, offers programs taught fully in English. They are attended by students from abroad as well as from Russia. What are these programs?

We offer two main programs: Bachelor of Arts in International Relations (“Government, International Politics and Law”), and Bachelor of Arts in Economics (“International Business and Finance”). This year, we are also planning to launch a master’s degree program: Master of Arts in International Relations (International Diplomacy and Political Regional Studies”).

Who are they designed for?

They are designed with a view to bringing together secondary school graduates from all over the world, who have international (for example, IB, A-Level, GCSE/IGCSE, SAT, AP) or national diplomas of secondary education and are able to prove their language skills by presenting relevant language certificates (IELTS, TOEFL, FCE, etc.), if their language of studies was other than English. Among SGIA’s current and former students are people from over 50 countries of the world, that’s why we are rightfully considered the MGIMO’s most international school.

International community:

What is the comparative advantage of MGIMO programs taught in English over foreign universities?

Answering your question, I would like to invoke QS World University Rankings: MGIMO University’s programs in Politics and International Relations are ranked 34th, which is the highest ranking among all universities of the so-called “non-Western” world. In other words, we are a worthy alternative to the most famous Ivy League universities, many of which we outperform. Some might say that being 34th in the list is not a big deal! But I will tell them this:

First, we must understand that despite the fact that many rankings can be very politicized, even the most biased judges note the highest quality of our education, recognizing the objective prestige of the MGIMO diploma.

Secondly, the highest positions in the rankings can be often given to universities that become leaders thanks to one single indicator. For example, the number of alumni who are Nobel laureates. Indeed, we don’t have such yet. But the most famous world leaders are traditionally granted MGIMO Honorary Doctorate degrees, while our most talented alumni become heads of states, governments, foreign ministers, heads of other national ministries and agencies, secretaries-general of international organizations, influential businessmen, executive directors of large transnational corporations, presidents of the largest media outlets, etc. Not all universities that are ranked higher have something similar to boast about.

Finally, the financial aspect is no less important: Providing the education of the same quality, our programs are 2–5 times cheaper than their analogies in American or European universities.

Is there anything unique about MGIMO University?

Actually, Our University takes pride in its unique language learning opportunities and its uncompromising commitment to linguistic excellence. We hold a Guinness World Record Title for the largest number of languages taught at any academic institution. No other university in the world offers courses in 53 languages. To be more specific, here at SGIA, the training is organized in the following way: all major-related subjects are taught in English, whereas the so-called main, or first, foreign language to be studied from scratch, as a rule, is Russian. However, we offer our students to choose any language literally “à la carte” as their second or even third foreign languages. As a result, our language training and the respective cross-cultural communication abounds with very unusual stories. For instance, we once had a Latin American student who asked to study Chinese. There was a Russian-speaking student who studied in Europe and wanted to take a course in Arabic. Conversely, it is needless to say that almost all international students coming from abroad logically strive to study Russian as a foreign language.

Are the second and third languages also taught in English?

We try to consider the case of each student individually. It is the motto of our relatively small (compared to other Russophone faculties of MGIMO-University) School, if you like. We strive to provide all-round personal support to each student throughout their studies at SGIA: From the moment of writing their first letter to our email bac@inno.mgimo.ru to the graduation ceremony. As you can guess, this applies not only to the study of foreign languages, but even to English, as for those who come from a non-English-speaking environment and do not have enough skills to write in English complex bachelor’s and master’s papers, we offer an intensive module entitled “English for Special Purposes” (including such courses as “Academic Writing”, “Art of Pubic Speaking”, “Critical Reading”, etc.). The main goal is to teach students to write any research papers in English and feel at ease in any English-speaking environment.

Are the languages taught only by Russian lecturers? Are there any foreign specialists?

Many of our language departments have lecturers who are native speakers. At the same time, foreign instructors teach us not only their mother tongue, but also international relations and other major-related subjects. Moreover, from time to time we either invite famous professors from all over the world to deliver keynote adresses at the premises of our University or arrange the so-called “exchange” online-lectures. For example, I have recently given an online lecture to students of Edmund A.Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University (USA), and before that we had a lecture by their professor Jill Dougherty. It is always a unique exchange of knowledge and experience.

You are ranked 34th in the world for the quality of teaching international relations, but what about programs in economics? What is their peculiarity?

The main goal of our economic training is to teach students to understand how the world works from a political point of view so that they can correctly apply their knowledge in the field of economics and finance. Now, it is very in demand in business, which for a long time existed captivated by Western-centric theories, often saying that all companies in a market economy follow the same pattern of development as the American enterprises in the 20th century. Modern international economic relations show that any country and its national economy are characterized by a unique set of various parameters that must be properly analyzed for a successful entry into its domestic market.

Moreover, the myth of the primacy of economy over politics remained widespread for a long time in business communities around the world. I am sure that now, in the face of unprecedented sanctions introduced against Russia, no one has any doubt that it is politics that has a decisive impact on the development of economy (rather than vice versa), which is why we offer our students not only purely economic subjects, but also a whole range of historical, political, social, humanitarian and even cultural disciplines. 

Do students of economic programs become single discipline specialist with expertise in specific countries depending on their first language?

Not at all! We also have general humanities subjects. For example, during the course of Contemporary International Relations, our students get fundamental insights about the foreign and domestic policies of the most important centers of gravity of the emerging multipolar world. In addition, one of the features of the School’s curriculum is the emphasis on the so-called concept of content and language integrated learning, when the studying of foreign languages goes hand in hand with the contents of major-related subjects. But there is no doubt that students will receive deeper knowledge about the region in classes devoted to the main foreign language.

In your opinion, why do non-Russian-speaking international students choose SGIA and come to study in Russia?

I will answer this question, taking into account my personal experience of communicating with our students. First of all, they sincerely want to know what Russia is. For them, our country is “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” as Winston Churchill once put it. Some of them have relatives in Russia or know those who emigrated and who shared many stories about our country. For some, our University is a principled alternative to the Western education. And for some, it is a window on the world in case there is no university in their homeland that provides quality training in international relations and diplomacy. I remember one student from the USA who said that he purposefully chose Russia for his studies to understand what were the underlying reasons of the US opposition to the USSR in the Cold War. A young lady from Kazakhstan chose us, since she aspired to a career in international relations and diplomacy, realizing that MGIMO University was the most suitable place.

Did international students show less interest in MGIMO programs taught in English in 2022?

There were practically no changes. Graduates continue to apply and come from all over the world. Today, it is still too early to talk about any specific indicators of admissions in 2023, but, nevertheless, we can state with confidence that the interest in studying in Russia, in general, and at our School, in particular, remains very strong. For example, in 2022, we enrolled 74 applicants from 13 countries, including not only Russians, but also citizens of Armenia, China, India, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Nepal, Peru, Romania, Syria, Turkey, the United States, and even the Philippines.

And this was happening in the context when coming to Russia for many secondary school students presented a certain challenge, primarily psychological one, because at home they heard a lot of bad things about our country. And how pleasant it was to watch how their attitude and perception changed, how myths were debunked, when they crossed the threshold of our University and began to live in such a convenient megalopolis as Moscow! In addition, we should not forget about parents who, due to various objective and subjective reasons, are afraid to send their children here. As a response, I can only say the following: do watch the video from our Open Doors Day nd listen to the wonderful stories of our international students who have undergone a profound transformation from all sorts of worries before going to an unfamiliar country to the genuine pleasure they experience studying at our University.

What are the differences between MGIMO programs taught in English and in Russian?

The only differences are the language of teaching and the fact that at SGIA we have a more individual approach. The quality of training still meets MGIMO’s best standards. In this regard, holders of international certificates (such as IB, A-level, SAT, etc.) should not worry that they will lose the flexibility of their academic trajectory which these secondary school curricula are famous for.

We do not expect our applicants to know the answer to the question “Who do they want to become when they grow up?” right after admission. At this age, it is impossible to know the answer to this existential question, that’s why we fill the curriculum with a variety of subjects that actually represent the “ultimate essence” of MGIMO, since it is these select hallmark disciplines that earned the University its international renown for academic excellence. During four years of studies, the students master a whole plethora of different subjects and later on, during their senior years, they determine their major and further career or academic trajectory.

Who do students become after graduating from SGIA? What are their career prospects?

Our graduates are multi-skilled experts in humanities, competitive on a global scale thanks to training in English as a “lingua franca”, the language of international communication. After graduation, they become accomplished experts ready to work in Russia and abroad in various fields, such as diplomacy, state service, consulting, business, banking, journalism etc. For instance, our graduates work in international organizations of the UN system, national ministries of foreign affairs, TNCs (for example, TotalEnenergies), major international and national banks (namely, the Royal Bank of Canada), global news agencies and media outlets. Moreover, statistics show that over 95% of our graduates find a job or continue their studies at a university of their choice anywhere in the world within the first six months after graduation.

How to get into your School?

First of all, write to us at bac@inno.mgimo.ru to get a clear “road map” of what needs to be done to start your studies in early September this year. However, the most difficult part of admission is traditionally taking the online tests: One in English (for both programs) and one in History (for “Government, Politics and International Law” program) or Mathematics (for “International Business and Finance” program).

Could you tell us more about the entry-exams in mathematics and history?

Speaking about the history exam, it consists in writing an essay to be sent by email on a general issue from the course of world history (for example, the Role of the Roman Empire in the History of Mankind). When checking the essay, we primarily assess the applicant’s ability to process a large amount of humanities knowledge, to see cause-and-effect relationships in historical development, and to clearly express their ideas in English.

As for mathematics, our tasks represent a synthesis of fundamental mathematics (that Russian secondary education is generally renowned for) and applied calculus which is taught in American and European schools. Here we are not talking about formulas and terms, but rather about the ability to think logically, using the tools of the exact sciences. Because for studying, in essence our students need mathematics primarily as a tool for solving specific political and economic problems.

Finally, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the process of entering our School is not some stressful bureaucratic procedure, but a fascinating quest, whose ultimate goal is to awaken the applicants’ interest in obtaining knowledge a few weeks before the start of classes and meeting with such an amazing and incredibly attractive country as Russia.