Yassin Al Alaoui, a 24-year-old Moroccan medical student in Ukraine, is one of more than 12,000 of Arab students who chose to study in the eastern European country, now embroiled in war. How did Ukraine become a preferred study destination for so many Arab students, especially in the fields of medicine and engineering?
Al Alaoui and several other students, professors and admissions representatives spoke to Al-Fanar Media about what attracts Arab students to Ukraine.
They cited low costs and easy admission requirements, compared to their home countries.
Al Alaoui is a student at Zaporizhzhia State Medical University, in a region of southeastern Ukraine that Russian troops have shelled. He entered the university three years ago, after failing the entrance exam at more than one Moroccan university. He said he was motivated by his family’s desire for him to become a doctor and live in Europe.
“Easy conditions are what encouraged attracted me to study in Ukraine,” Al Alaoui said. “It is sufficient for an applicant to join the Faculty of Medicine to have studied biology, physics, and chemistry at the secondary level, without requiring specific grades in these subjects.”
“Easy conditions are what attracted me to study in Ukraine. It is sufficient for an applicant to join the Faculty of Medicine to have studied biology, physics, and chemistry at the secondary level, without requiring specific grades in these subjects.”Yassin Al Alaoui
A Moroccan student at Zaporizhzhia State Medical University
He added that he also did not have to pass an entrance exam, as was the case at Moroccan universities.Al Alaoui said he pays about $5,000 annually to a company that helped him get admitted to Zaporizhzhia State Medical University and that represents him before the university in fulfilling his financial obligations. The company, one of many such agencies representing Arab students in Ukraine, also helped him in matters like obtaining legal Ukrainian residency papers.
Ukraine’s Bid to Attract Foreign Students
Ukraine’s further-education strategy is based in part on attracting international students, particularly from India and North Africa, as an income source. Therefore, it facilitates admission procedures to its universities.
In a 2020 census Ukraine’s State Center for International Education said the country was hosting more than 80,000 international students. India was the top sending country, with more than 18,000 students. Morocco, with more than 8,000 students, and Egypt, with about 3,500 students, were also among the top 10 sending countries. Other Arab countries sending students to Ukraine include Tunisia, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq.
Using statistics from the Ukrainian center, the Erudera College News website calculated that international students contributed more than $570 million to Ukraine’s economy in 2019 through tuition and other expenses. It estimated that they contribute more than $3 billion over a typical study period of five or six years.
Hatem Odeh, president of the Palestinian community in Kyiv, told Al-Fanar that the simplified process for registering with a university, paying fees and obtaining visas reflected the Ukrainian government’s decision to invest in education. The fact that most subjects are taught in English and that there is a large international student population also helped achieve this aim.
Companies Help International Students Enrol
Mohamed Hussein, a 42-year-old Egyptian who has lived in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro for more than 15 years, runs a licensed office to facilitate the enrollment of Egyptian students in Ukrainian universities. He said it was difficult for foreign students to get a Ukrainian entry visa or a university enrollment letter without the help of specialised offices like his.
“Our role is to facilitate communication between the student and the university, obtain the acceptance letter, register the study details, and smooth over any difficulties during the students’ course.”Mohamed Hussein
Head of an office that facilitates the enrolment of Egyptian students in Ukraine
Hussein told Al-Fanar Media: “Our role is to facilitate communication between the student and the university, obtain the acceptance letter, register the study details, and smooth over any difficulties during the students’ course.”
There are dozens of Arab offices in Ukrainian cities that help Arab students at the country’s universities, he said. About 60 percent of them operate without an official license, he added.
Mostafa Yousfi, a Tunisian student at the Kyiv National University of Construction and Architecture, said foreign students may still incur high costs “haggling with the offices responsible for obtaining their papers even after they have completed their degrees.”
He said he was forced to pay more than his tuition fees to the office that organised his travel and liaised with the university because of Ukrainian universities’ unofficial decision not to accept foreign students except through such offices.
Recognition of Ukrainian University Degrees
Abdel Rahim Chalfouat, a professor at Morocco’s Hassan II University of Casablanca, told Al-Fanar Media it was difficult to evaluate the contribution that students who studied in Ukraine were making to Morocco or other Arab countries because it was unknown how many returned home.
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“If they return home, these students usually do not enroll in higher education institutions or research bodies, which limits their scientific influence within their countries,” he said.
Chalfouat said European and Arab countries’ recognition of Ukrainian degrees “despite their weaknesses” was also a major reason why so many Arab students went there.
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