Foreign degrees to be recognised, to attract foreign and ex-pat talent

Degrees from 210 of the world’s top universities in 25 countries are to be recognised in Russia without requiring additional state evaluation, in a move designed to attract highly skilled professionals and the “world’s best minds” to the country.

A Kremlin decree gave the go-ahead for acceptance of selected foreign degrees in late May, within days of the start of Vladimir Putin’s third term as Russian president.

Published in the government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta, the order gives approval to degrees from some of the world’s best universities, including Stanford, as well as more obscure institutions.

Cambridge, Oxford and York universities in the UK are included, as are Yale and MIT in the United States (as well as the lower-profile Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute).

The majority of approved institutions are North American: 66 in the US and 14 in Canada. UK universities account for 28 of the universities, and 61 are in the rest of Europe. Asian institutions are third, with 11 from China, nine from Japan and three from South Korea making the list.

Australia has eight institutions and Israel, Brazil, New Zealand, Singapore and South Africa are recognised along with the mutual recognition afforded degrees from former Soviet states with the exception of Uzbekistan.

The move should make academic transfers easier, although people holding foreign degrees will still need to go through months of red tape to get their qualifications officially translated and notarised.

“This significantly limits the opportunities for scientific and academic mobility by graduates from Russian schools,” Moscow State Institute of International Relations Vice-dean Alexandra Khudaikulova told Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

The new order, which was signed by former president and now Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, came just after a cabinet reshuffle in which long-time education minister Andrei Fursenko was replaced by his former deputy, Dmitry Livanov, the rector of the National University of Science and Technology.

Livanov is expected to continue many of Fursenko’s policies, including that of further integration of Russian universities into the world system – it was Fursenko who brought Russia into the Bologna process.

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.

By early 2011 the government had already eased migration regimes for skilled expatriates, to encourage the return to Russia of local scientists currently working abroad.

But the country still faced a shortage of the highly skilled professionals needed to implement ambitious state plans to shift the economy onto a more innovative footing.

Medvedev said: “The inflow of foreign professionals to Russia is needed in order to gain experience and to create ground for creativity of domestic scientists.

“Therefore we are ready for unilateral automatic recognition of diplomas and degrees obtained in the world's leading universities. Russia should become an attractive place for the world's best minds.”

The criteria for universities to be included in the list were set down in a bill passed by the Russian state parliament in December.

They include 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. Also, it must not rely solely on private funding but must receive national state funding.