RUSSIA: Super league of 'federal' universities

A shake-up of Russia's university system will see the establishment of a network of new, high-status 'federal' institutions under Education Ministry plans being considered by lawmakers. The scheme - part of a wide-ranging set of proposals under a Kremlin plan to improve Russia's socio-economic infrastructure - has passed its first reading and will target resources on specialised research universities and encourage wider lifelong vocational learning.

"The network of new universities is intended [to address] strategic problems of innovative development," Education Minister Andrei Fursenko told members of the Russian parliament, the State Duma.

Russia's new 'Ivy League' would receive specially targeted funds to ensure institutions had state-of-the-art information systems and the best qualified staff. Creating specialised higher education-level innovation centres and lifelong training schemes to ensure Russian graduates had opportunities to update their skills throughout their careers are also key to Fursenko's reforms.

A network of new quality assurance systems for state, private and flexible education courses will be introduced to police the new structures.

Two pilot federal universities, established through amalgamation of existing state institutions last year in Rostov-on-Don, southern Russia, and in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, are already developing the model for the higher level institutions.

Federal universities will offer bachelors and masters programmes that work closely with business and scientific research centres. They will be encouraged to develop close links with international universities and science and education schemes, the Education Ministry says.

"Creating the new universities as part of the national [socio-economic] programme will allow the model to be developed throughout other parts of Russia," Fursenko says.

He hopes that by concentrating resources, Russian universities can climb up the league table of world universities, a subject Russian rectors are highly sensitive about. Publication earlier this month of international university league tables by The Times Higher Education placed Moscow State University in 183rd place, below Thai and Indian institutions.

This brought a sharp rebuke from Moscow's rector, Viktor Sadovnichy, who claimed it was based on "flawed" data and ignored the university's high staff-student ratio and the number of international students and teaching staff it attracts.