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The Russian government is set to pay for up to 2,000 of its students per year to attend top universities elsewhere around the world in an effort to produce more scientists and bolster global research collaborations, Nature is reporting.

Students who take advantage of the scholarships, however, will be required to return to Russia to work.

The report notes that new Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to approve the program, which will cost $165 million, by the end of May. Prior to the election, he had pledged to increase funding of science and education.

The Nature article says that “students in all fields of science, technology, medicine, social science and business will be eligible for the grant — as long as they attend one of the top 300 universities in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.”

UW-Madison is among those institutions, checking in at No. 27 in those world rankings. But Ken Cutts, the recruitment and media services manager for UW-Madison’s Office of Admissions, says he isn’t expecting a significant influx of these students and isn’t aware of any plans by the university to lure Russians to town.

UW-Madison’s 2011-12 fall enrollment report indicates there were 37 students from Russia, including 13 undergraduates, attending the university. As a comparison, there were 1,720 students from China, including 894 undergraduates, and 804 from South Korea, including 463 undergraduates.

The number of international students enrolled at colleges and universities across the country jumped by another five percent during the 2010-11 academic year, according to the annual Open Doors report released this past fall. That report indicates there were a record 723,277 international students enrolled at higher education institutions across the country –- a figure that marks a 32 percent increase from a decade ago.

There were 9,248 international students studying in Wisconsin in 2010-11, an increase of 3.9 percent from the previous year. More than half (4,647) of those were studying at UW-Madison. Another 1,102 attended UW-Milwaukee, with Marquette University (509), UW-La Crosse (396) and UW-Eau Claire (228) rounding out the top five state institutions with the highest number of international students.

Of all the foreign students studying in Wisconsin, the Open Doors report notes 29.2 percent are from China, another 12.8 percent call South Korea home, and 9.4 percent are from India.

Luring students from abroad is becoming increasingly big business for universities, in part because they pay out-of-state tuition. Earlier this year, UW-Madison announced plans to open an office in Shanghai in June that’s part of an initiative to promote and facilitate university engagement across East Asia. (For a recent Wisconsin State Journal article highlighting how some UW System campuses pay foreign agencies to help them recruit international students, click here. And to read a 2009 Cap Times article noting the growth of international students on the UW-Madison campus, click here.)

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The Open Doors report notes foreign students and their families spent more than $20 billion in the United States during the 2010-11 academic year, with international student expenditures in Wisconsin estimated at $233.8 million.

Students taking advantage of the new Russian initiative will sign a contract agreeing to return to Russia and work for at least three years after graduation. Those who sign, Nature states, will have their travel and living expenses, tuition and fees covered.

The Nature piece notes “similar schemes have proven effective in other countries. China — now a scientific powerhouse — has benefited considerably from government-sponsored overseas training of hundreds of thousands of students since the 1970s.”

Similarly, Brazil last year announced a plan to award 75,000 scholarships for its students to attend the world's top universities in an effort to train more scientists and engineers. This fall there were 52 students from Brazil on the UW-Madison campus, including 14 undergraduates.

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