Government to close two in every five universities

The number of Russian universities will be cut by 40% by the end of 2016, according to Minister of Education and Science Dmitry Livanov. In addition, the number of university branches will be slashed by 80% in the same period.

The institutions are being axed under a federal plan for the development of education during 2016 to 2020. Ministry of Education and Science data indicate that at present there are 593 state and 486 private universities, which have 1,376 and 682 branches respectively.

Collectively, the universities cater for seven million students, of whom two million are holding state-funded places at an estimated average cost of US$3,500 per student.

Livanov said the number of universities was five times higher now than during the days of the USSR and was too high: “This is mainly the result of the opening of a huge number of private universities during the 1990s. Unfortunately, the results of our monitoring showed that the quality of education provided by some of them is very poor.

He said that some institutions acted as “offices for the sale of certificates that do not have an established training process and qualified teachers”.

Mostly private universities

The majority of cuts will affect private universities that provide a poor standard of education. This year, quality checks officially started on 10 March, and the results will be submitted to the Education Ministry by 30 May.

An official spokesman for the ministry said it was a possible that some of the closed universities, including their infrastructure and teachers, could be absorbed by other regional universities that would continue to operate.

The institutional rationalisation is part of the government's plan to establish strong federal universities located in the 10 different regions.

Livanov said that at present there were 100-150 “good” private universities whose further development would be supported by the state. At the same time, the cuts would also affect some state-owned universities.

Quality assessments

As part of the plans, up to 100 universities will be subject to quality assessments over the next few months and this may result in some being closed. The process is set to be completed by the middle to the end of 2016.

The latest plans have been welcomed by some of Russia’s leading employers. German Gref, President of Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank which employs about 240,000 workers, said the nation needed a transition to a new model of education.

“At present, the majority of Russian students, teachers and employers are unhappy with the quality of higher education. In the case of employers, about 60% consider the quality of higher education in the country to be inadequate, and in need of improvement,” Gref said.

“Despite this, Russia has the highest percentage of people with higher education degrees, which is 53.5%. During 2000-13, public spending on higher education increased by 21 times. Yet Russian universities have not yet to make it into the top 100 of any major global rankings.”

The government has promised that salaries of teachers in national universities will not be cut, despite the complex financial situation and the already approved cuts in state funding of universities this year.

Michael Alashkevich, director of the Education Ministry’s financial department, says the same provision for salaries will apply to scholarships. They will be paid in full, without any delays, Alashkevich said.