Government approves universities for world-class bid

The Russian government has officially approved the list of leading universities that will receive state subsidies this year of RUB592 million (US$20 million) each to help improve their images in the international arena and their positions in global university rankings.

The selection process, which was conducted by the Ministry of Education and was based on an evaluation of universities’ development programmes, led to the listing of several of the country’s leading technical universities.

They include Tomsk Polytechnic University, the Higher School of Economics, Moscow, the Engineering Physics Institute, the Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys and the National Research University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics.

According to state plans, the funding should help at least five domestic universities make the list of the top 100 of the world’s leading universities by 2020, which is in accordance with a directive recently issued by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The government also intends to allocate funds to strengthen the connection between the country’s leading universities and the national defence industry.

It is planned that a portion of the ‘world-class’ funds will be used to promote Russian universities abroad, and to organise tours for Western journalists to Russian universities. There are also plans to create a website profiling top institutions.

According to some of the presidents of Russia’s leading universities, inclusion in the major world rankings is important – but there is also a need to take into account that such ratings sometimes discriminate against Russian universities and are not always objective.

Professor Anatoly Alexandrov, rector of the Bauman Moscow State Technical University – one of Russia’s leading technical universities – said the current rankings do not objectively reflect information about Russian universities.

He said that if correct information was provided about the activities of domestic universities, their positions in the Western rankings would be completely different.

The government also hopes that the provision of funds will help to implement another state goal – modernising the national system of higher education taking into account the interests of the military-industrial complex.

According to Olga Kashirina, general secretary of the Russian Union of Rectors, the government plans to restore the connection between the country’s leading universities and the national defence industry.

This is expected to take place through the formation of so-called ‘scientific squadrons’ in the army, which will seek to include the most talented students serving in the army, as well as the development of senior divisions linked to the military in leading universities.

The provision of the extra state subsidies has sparked criticism from some Russian higher education analysts as well as the Russian Union of Students.

They contend that the government should pay more attention to the development of small, regional universities, many of which are experiencing serious financial difficulties, instead of providing large subsidies to the country’s biggest universities, which are in a strong financial position.