Government plans to cut 10% off university funding

The Russian government will cut its spending on national universities by at least 10% this year. This is a result of the current economic crisis and devaluation of the national currency, the ruble, said Russia’s Deputy Minister of Education and Science, Alexander Povalko.

The government’s plan is for universities to fill the gap created by the planned cuts through allocation of private funds and investments, commercialisation of scientific research, and enrolment of foreign students. At the same time the cost of tuition will also significantly increase.

In a statement, Povalko said total funding provided to Russian universities this year would be cut from RUB259 billion (US$4.2 billion) to RUB233 billion (US$3.8 billion). He said the reduction in state funding would mainly affect the investment programmes of Russian universities, but would not affect existing state orders for student training or other specialised state programmes in higher education.

The government will keep salaries of university teachers at the same level as in 2014 – which were increased by 20% compared to 2013 – and increase student scholarships.

But Povalko said there were no plans to cut federal funding of its ‘Five-100’ programme, which is designed to promote Russian universities in international rankings. He said tuition fees would rise within the range of inflation and the Ministry of Education and Science would start regular monitoring of pricing policy of national universities.

Funding cuts criticised

The state decision to impose funding cuts has sparked criticism from leading Russian universities with Moscow State University, one of Russia’s oldest and most prestigious universities, expressing concern about the effects.

Rector Viktor Sadovnichy said the university had cut its budget for the current year by 10% with spending on all items reduced, including the purchase of new equipment and repairs, and including conducting R&D activities.

“Our administration has already been forced to revise our budget,” Sadovnichy said. “At the same time, though, we do not have plans to raise tuition fees, neither this nor next year. The current crisis in Russia will allow us to increase the number of foreign students because it will be cheaper for them in 2015 than in 2014.”

Sadovnichy said this was mainly due to the devaluation of the ruble, which had declined in value by 95% in relation to the US dollar over the past year. A US dollar now buys 62 rubles compared to 33 rubles a year ago.

Yaroslav Kuzminov, rector of the Higher School of Economics, one of Russia’s leading universities in the field of economics, said that in 2014, state funding of higher and postgraduate education in Russia amounted to RUB537 billion (US$8.7 billion), which was equivalent to 0.7% of Russia’s gross domestic product, or GDP.

But this was significantly lower than funding in the majority of Western countries, where the figure is estimated at 1.2% to 1.5% of national GDP.

According to analysts, the decision to cut spending on higher education resulted mainly from an increase in military expenditure in the federal budget by RUB3.3 trillion (US$53.4 billion) for 2015.