“Before the king’s visit to the university, our rector and minister of education and science had talks with Saudi ministers, their deputies and members of the delegation,” said Vladimir Morozov, an associate professor and vice-rector of human resources at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO).
“They emphasized several times that cooperation in the education sphere is a very important element of bilateral relations,” said Professor Morozov, who organized the award ceremony on Saturday.
“Saudis told us that King Salman is a well-read person. So I believe that besides politics and the economy, Russia and Saudi Arabia should develop humanitarian cooperation in many directions, in education in particular.
“This is an element of public diplomacy; there is a special field — academic diplomacy –– in which our university takes an active part. Currently we do not have many agreements with Saudi Arabia, but we hope that this visit will provide an impetus to develop ties in education.
“We are looking forward to the visit of our Saudi colleagues to MGIMO. Professors of both countries will exchange visits and read lectures for the students. We would like to develop student exchange as well, because we never had such programs with Saudi Arabia. We now cooperate with universities in France, Britain, Germany, the US, China and South Korea. Every year hundreds of students study in other countries. So we would like to work with Saudi Arabia in this direction and sign cooperation agreements with more Saudi universities.”
Morozov said relations between Saudi Arabia and Russia were developing rapidly. “Just the very fact that this visit at the highest level took place demonstrates very good relations between the countries,” he said.
“This was a historic visit, and it shows that relations between our countries are very warm and trustworthy. The sheer number of documents prepared during the past seven months and signed in the presence of King Salman and President Putin reflects very deep contacts between our countries.
“We are sure that these contacts are not just a momentary trend, but have a big future. And we hope that Russia and Saudi Arabia will together discuss the issues of Middle Eastern security, the Syrian crisis in particular, and establish cooperation in this domain.”
There is considerable interest in the Middle East at MGIMO, the professor said. “A center of Arabic language was opened in 2009. We have a specialized Arabic classroom and a top-level school of Arabic studies, which was established back in the USSR. We have a lot of students who study Arabic, because there are many Arabic-speaking countries and the demand on the specialists is high.”
The professor also had advice for Saudi students on which courses they should choose. “The issue of energy efficiency and the ways to get rid of oil export dependence are pertinent not only in Saudi Arabia and Russia, but for many other countries as well,” he said. “Specialists in the energy sector are needed to resolve these issues.
“Because this sector is not limited to oil and gas, it includes economic international ties, engineering, alternative sources of energy. Many countries already produce 5-10 or even up to 20 percent of total electric power using these sources. And this is a worldwide trend. Our country will have to engage in such programs and cooperate with Saudis on developing energy saving technologies, finding alternative sources of energy and increasing their efficiency.
“I do not think that Saudi Arabia needs any revolutionary changes in the system of education; everybody still needs economists and lawyers. The energy sector, no matter whether it is about nuclear, hydro, sun or oil energy, will always need international relations specialists, economists, lawyers and, of course, engineers. Every country and university should decide itself which specialists they need more.”
Mora than 800 people attended Saturday’s honorary degree award ceremony, the professor said, 600 of them students, mainly those who study Arabic or the Middle East in general.
The king was greeted by Russia’s minister of education and science, Olga Vasilyeva, and the rector of the university, Anatoly Torkunov. They chatted for a few minutes, before King Salman was awarded his honorary degree and invited to give a short speech.
“The whole event took about 20 minutes,” Prof Morozov said. “After his speech the King received thunderous applause and greeted the audience by waving his hand.”