NEXT fall, the impulses of glasnost will extend to higher education - as some 50 Soviet undergraduates will spend an unchaperoned year at 24 American colleges, in the most open exchange of its kind to date. The agreement, signed March 3 at Middlebury College in Vermont between representatives of the Soviet Ministry of Education and a consortium of American colleges (see list on Page 20), provides for 50 Americans to study the following year at several as-yet-unspecified universities and colleges in the Soviet Union.
The Soviet students will arrive in August and spend a month at Middlebury before heading off in pairs to the 24 schools - which are mainly in the Northeast. According to the agree-ment, they will all have American roommates, may not take more than half their courses in one subject area, and will be graded like other students.
``We want them to get a taste of what college is like in America,'' says Middlebury professor Raymond Benson, a former State Department official who has negotiated such cultural exchanges as the Bolshoi's visit to the United States and pianist Vladimir Horowitz's recent concerts in Russia, as well as this student exchange.
``We expect them to participate fully,'' he says. ``They will go out for hockey. If they swim, they can do water sports. They can be in drama and theater. That's the advantage of the year. We can say to them, `Relax, there's plenty of time.'''
In the past, exchange has mainly been one way, with American students studying for up to a year in Moscow or Leningrad. Soviet undergraduates only occasionally visited the US - usually in closely monitored groups of 10 or 20, and rarely for more than three or four weeks.
Students in the new exchange may not be older than age 23 (to accommodate the year of military service most Soviets take, and a five-year college system). At least one-third must be female.
According to Middlebury spokesman Ronald Nief, the makeup of the Soviet delegation that signed the package indicates a Soviet interest in science, computers, and medicine. The delegation includes Vladimir Gusev, pro-rector for science at Voronezh State University, and Vladimir Yarygin, rector of the Moscow Second Medical Institute.
Dr. Yarygin told the Monitor the Soviet group will contain ``a broad mixture - technicians, natural scientists, those working in medical sciences, arts, and language.''
``It's a useful thing at this time, with the problems of coexistence we face,'' he added.
The exchange was proposed in Moscow a year ago by a delegation of college presidents led by Alice Ilchman of Sarah Lawrence, David Fraser of Swarthmore, and Olin Robison of Middlebury. The Soviets immediately asked for a formal proposal. In the past, such proposals were attended by foot-dragging and complications over minor details. This time, says Dr. Benson, ``The only pressure was the internal pressure felt by Soviet officials to get on with it - to get an agreement signed.''
Because of the lack of currency exchange, the US schools will pick up the tuition for their Soviet undergraduates; the Soviets will pay for the Americans.
No American students have yet been chosen. American educators are mainly worried about how well the US students will manage with the language, especially in regional schools where only Russian is spoken in the classroom.
A ``first time'' US-USSR college exchange is taking place this year, as six American schools pair up with six Soviet schools for a two-week exchange (see box above) engineered by the New York-based, nonprofit Citizens Exchange Council. Next year, four more pairings will be made.
US-USSR university pairings Lafayette College University of Kishinev Williams College University of Tbilisi Harvard University University of Kiev Stanford University University of Novosibirsk Yale University University of Moscow University of Maine University of Kharkov The 24 Collegiate Consortium schools Amherst Coll. Bates Coll. Bowdoin Coll. Colby Coll. Colgate U Connecticut Coll. Hamilton & Kirkland Haverford Coll. Lafayette Coll. Middlebury Coll. Mount Holyoke Coll. Oberlin Coll. St.Lawrence U Sarah Lawrence Coll. Smith Coll. Swarthmore Coll. Trinity Coll., Conn. Union Coll., N.Y. U of Vermont Vassar Coll. Washington & Lee U Wellesley Coll. Wesleyan U Williams Coll.