RUSSIA: Duma simplifies foreign degree recognition

The Russian parliament, the State Duma, has adopted a bill which will make it easier for foreign scientists and other academics to work or study in the country by recognising the diplomas of leading foreign universities.

The bill, adopted following a recent order of President Dmitry Mevdev, has simplified the procedure within Russia of recognising the qualifications of major international universities.

According to the State Duma, the new law is expected to help to increase the competitiveness of Russian science and education in the international arena, by simplifying access for foreign experts and scholars who want to continue their education in Russia, with the possibility of further employment here.

The law will come into force on 1 February 2012.

Minister of Education and Science, Andrei Fursenko, said the legislation would contribute to the further innovative development of Russia, "where, so far, the best positions [are held by] our foreign colleagues, or those of our scientists who have experience of working abroad".

Until recently, Russia only recognised the qualifications of universities in countries with which it had direct agreements on mutual qualification recognition.

Among them are most of the former Soviet republics, except the Baltic states, Georgia and Uzbekistan, as well as a number of developing countries. The only leading Western country with a bilateral agreement with Russia is Italy.

Under the terms of the new law, there are plans to primarily recognise the degrees of leading foreign universities, a list of which will soon be drawn up by the education ministry.

There will be several criteria for univerisites to be included in the list: the presence of the university in the top 300 universities in the Academic Ranking of World Universities and the World University Rankings, as well as its location in the territory of one of the G8 countries; and it must not rely solely on private funding but must receive national state funding.

Gregory Balykhin, chair of the Duma committee on education and one the developers of the law, said this is the first time such a law has been approved in Russia.

Currently people with foreign university diplomas and degrees must apply to the Russian Federal Education and Science Supervision Agency for the examination of the compliance of their foreign qualifications with Russian standards. Such a procedure usually takes several months.

The recognition of foreign degrees in Russia will not mean the simultaneous recognition of Russian diplomas in other countries. However the education ministry has not ruled out the possibility that such an arrangement could lead to the signing of intergovernmental agreements on the recognition of Russian qualifications abroad in future.

Leading Russian higher education experts believe that the adoption of the new law could be highly beneficial for the Russia's higher education system.

Boris Zhelezov, head of the department of student exchange and study abroad at the Higher School of Economics, said: "Until recently, foreign scientists invited to Russian universities with the support of the government, were not able to establish their research schools here and conduct full-scale scientific activities in Russia, due to the inability [to recognise] their PhD degrees."

He said academics could work and give lectures without the need for their degrees to be recognised, but could not become tutors for graduate students. This was due to a "rather lengthy and troublesome" procedure associated with the need to translate their dissertations into Russian.

According Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, Russia has bilateral agreements with more than 100 countries. In addition to this, he said, Russia is one of the world's top 10 countries in terms of its number of foreign students, with students from 150 countries.