Russia Is among Top Study Destinations for Young Mongolians
Ragchaa Byambadorj was born in Mongolia, the country which is still mostly covered by unpopulated deserts and steppes, and where about a third of inhabitants continue practising a nomadic lifestyle. The big question is, why would he want to return home after graduating?
Mongolia has the lowest population density in the world, with only 3 million residents. Some 40 per cent of the population have been living in yurts (or gers, as Mongolians call them). For them, ger is not a museum exhibit but their home, the most notable advantage of which is its mobility. Whenever a nomad family wants to move out, all they need is to dismantle their yurt, and they are ready to travel.
Ragchaa did not spend his childhood in a ger district, for he grew in the city. However, the pace of life in his home area is hardly comparable to the one of a metropolis. Erdenet is the second-largest city in the country, but even its population falls short of 100,000 inhabitants. The settlement was founded in 1974 in the region where large deposits of copper had been previously discovered. In the 1980s, most locals were working at the mining facility, producing and refining copper and molybdenum ores. The city itself is an area comprising of five-storey panel buildings built back in the Soviet era. Gers and picturesque steppes and mountains surround the district.
As Ragchaa Byambadorj, a student at Saint-Petersburg Mining University, explains "We, Mongolians, are calling the Erdenetiyn-ovoo deposit a 'Treasure Mountain'. Our local company that has been exploiting the deposit was established with the support of the USSR. And nowadays, Mongolian Copper Corporation is one of the top 10 largest mining enterprises in Asia. By the way, Volodymyr Zelensky's father was one of the specialists who helped with building the plant, thereby the current President of Ukraine grew up in my home city".
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, over half of the specialists working at the MPP were Russians, totalling several thousand people. Today, there are only 200 miners and engineers of Russian origins left. But Russian day-care centres and schools surprisingly remain popular despite the Russians fleeing the country and the fact the institutions are often fee-based.
As the Mongolian student notes, "My parents sent me to study in a Russian school because they generally provide a better study environment. For instance, where I was studying, there were only 20 students in each school grade, while there are typically up to 40 students on average in a Mongolian school class. The good point is that even with overcrowding of local educational institutions and low-quality infrastructure, teaching quality of mathematics, physics, chemistry is very high. It is mostly true for all schools - both for local and Russian ones. As for higher education, engineering background is valued the most in my country – over 60% of school graduates enrol for it. Mongolia came through the abrupt transition from a planned to market economy in the 1990s, ending with a severe crisis. Therefore, our developing country is now in dire need of energy workers, civil engineers, miners — across all economic sectors".
Studying abroad is a popular choice for Mongolian youth. Top study destinations include the US, Japan, Russia, and China. Ragchaa wanted to go see the world, and thus foreign universities were a priority study option for him. American universities were, however, a little too expensive. Chinese institutions seemed a better opportunity - foreigners are allowed to study for free - but only those are admitted who speak Chinese fluently. Besides, Ragchaa's family was against their son moving to China. Then there were only Russia and Japan left, and the young man decided to apply to both a Russian and Japanese universities.
As Ragchaa recalls, "My golden ticket came through participation in the International Academic Olympics in computer sciences and mathematics. As a winner of the contest, I was granted the right for tuition-free education in any of the Russian universities, though limited to engineering specialities only. When I was filling out the papers, I wrote a 'Mining engineer' in the speciality field. Mongolian economy, for the most part, is based on either agriculture or development of mineral resources - not many choices for the future profession then! If one does not want to raise cattle, mining is the only alternative. My father works as a mining engineer, and I also always wanted to work in this industry. St. Petersburg Mining University was a priority choice for me. First, many of its graduates are employed in Mongolia. In fact, Ochirbat Punsalmaagiin, the 1st President of our country, graduated from the Mining University as well. And second, a diploma certificate obtained from this university is valued a lot higher than from the local one, meaning there are more decent work opportunities".
Would he have not been admitted to the Mining University, Ragchaa says he would move to Japan to study. Nevertheless, getting used to living in Russia was not easy either since the Mongolian lifestyle differs from the one in St. Petersburg significantly. As the young lad says, at first university buildings and dormitories more reminded him of museums than of study facilities.
According to Ragchaa, "We are provided here with everything we need for studying and living. Now that we have been forced into distance learning due to the coronavirus pandemic, the university helps us by offering free meals, brought daily to the dorms. It is all organised here in such a way that we would not have to worry about anything but our studies. Regardless, while in my first year, I had had a hard time adapting to the busy schedule. I wanted to meet my friends, watch a movie, see the sights of the city; but there was no time left after studies. Of course, I have already settled in now and have time do more".
About plans for the future.
Ragchaa says he wants to continue education and pursue a Master's Degree once he graduates. Still, this time he would instead apply to an engineering university in China, Japan, or some European country. This way, he wants to get familiar with different scientific schools and other states' innovative solutions. Having completed Master's studies, Ragchaa would return to his homeland and start working at the same company where his father is working. He does not think he will encounter any problems with building a career at home. Moreover, according to estimates, there are enough mineral reserves in the deposit to keep the extraction viable at least until 2060.