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Russians buy into UK exam rigour

British exams are set to boom in Russia where tens of thousands of young business people, teachers and students will be sitting for British professional and competence-based qualifications by the year 2005.

Demand for high quality English language-testing and internationally-recognised finance, business and industrial qualifications is growing as the beleaguered Russian economy strives to access world markets.

Cambridge University English as a Foreign Language exams, professional qualifications in accountancy, finance, securities and engineering are among the courses administered in Russia by the British Council, which represents British education and culture overseas.

Tony Andrews, the council's director in Moscow, said: "One of the fall-outs from Communism is that Russia lacks professionals linked to the international market. Britain is excellently placed to benefit from this need.

"In the past two years we have gone from 800 British exams to 4,600 this year. By the year 2005 we will be running 60,000 British exams in Russia every year. The Russian education system has been based on courses that were not objectively validated. We're talking about competence-based assessment: what an engineer can do, not what piece of paper he has in his pocket."

The British Council set up its first English language teaching centre in St Petersburg two years ago, before opening a Moscow exams centre last year. British qualifications are now offered throughout European Russia and Siberia through the Council's network of eight regional offices.

Maria Skirgailo, the council's exams services manager, says that the biggest demand is for English language qualifications - for students, teachers and employers - but half the forecast increase in British exams will be taken up by professional qualifications.

British qualifications are in demand not only because they are internationally recognised and offer access to high-paying prestige jobs with multinational companies and the larger Russian firms - where knowledge of English is usually a requirement, but because rigorous security standards are adhered to when candidates sit exams.

"The security under which British exams are taken gives them credibility. You cannot bend the rules or charm anyone to give you a better result. The results of exams are absolutely clear. All our exams are taken under strict conditions, using invigilators to ensure the rules are met," Ms Skirgailo said.

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