State kicks off plans for world-class universities

The Russian government has started implementing its ambitious plans to boost the country’s leading universities' performance in the international arena. According to Igor Fedyukin, the deputy minister of education, this year 15 universities will receive special state grants and at the initial stage the subsidies will be worth RUB9 billion (US$270 million).

The action is being taken under an existing state programme to develop education from 2013-20 and a special plan to improve leading universities, which was approved by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

The initiative is a response by the government to world rankings of universities. None of Russia’s leading universities appear in the top 100 of the rankings.

The plan includes conducting an independent analysis of the compliance of Russian universities with ranking criteria, as well as the development of ‘road maps’ to promote national universities in the most authoritative rankings – those of Times Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong and QS.

Fedyukin commented: “Entering of at least five Russian universities in the rankings of the world's best universities will become one of the biggest challenges of the national Ministry of Education and Science during the next several years.”

As part of the plans, Fedyukin said, the government would provide special grants to universities. They would need to comply with formulated requirements that would enable them to rise up the rankings.

The 15 universities that will receive the special grants will have to upgrade their management teams and create conditions conducive to attracting top academics from leading Russian and foreign universities, as well as talented young professors, heads of scientific laboratories and famous scientists.

In addition, they will be required to implement joint educational programmes with Russian and foreign universities, as well as take part in research and development projects in cooperation with local and international high-tech companies.

During the first quarter of 2013, an independent audit will be conducted to enable the Ministry of Education and Science to select and approve the list of universities that will be supported to become world-class.

According to Fedyukin, the project also involves considerably increasing funding of research in universities.

Russian universities and students have generally welcomed the new state initiative, but believe that the government has been partly responsible for domestic institutions not being able to compete strongly in international rankings.

Albert Vladimirov, a member of the Russian Union of Rectors, commented: "The Russian university community believes that excessive state intervention initially led to the fact that Russian universities became uncompetitive in the international arena.

“Most of national universities traditionally specialise in educational activities, rather than scientific research, which is contrary to the Western model.”

According to representatives of the scientific community, promoting national universities will be impossible in the absence of decent funding and wages for teaching staff.

Vladimir Belyaev, a political scientist and professor at Kazan State Technical University, one of Russia’s oldest institutions, said: “Universities do not have a fresh approach, due to extremely low salaries of their staff, which do not exceed RUB12,000 (USD$400) per month.

“Young scientists do not want to work for such money, which has resulted in a lack of progress in the Russian scientific community.”