Government plans incentives to lure foreign scientists

The Russian government plans to create conditions for attracting foreign scientists to national universities, with the aim of improving the quality and raising the image of the national system of higher education in the international arena.

Particular attention will be paid to attracting scientists of Russian origin working abroad.

According to state plans, in the long-term the share of foreign scientists among teaching staff of each leading Russian university should not be less than 10%.

Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, said: “The Russian government should create conditions for the attraction of leading foreign scientists to teach at technological faculties of Russian universities. The existing programme of mega grants could be considered as one of the incentives for foreigners to teach in Russian universities.”

According to data from the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, last year about 650 foreign teachers found employment in Russian universities and there is a possibility that this figure may be significantly increased this year.

One of the incentives planned is the provision of pension protection of foreign scientists after retirement.

In addition, the Ministry of Education and Science together with Russian universities plan to design a special work schedule for foreigners in Russian universities, taking into account the high workload of local university teachers, which may exceed 25 hours per week and which is significantly higher than that in Western universities. This will allow foreigners to teach fewer hours.

There are also plans to reduce income tax for foreign scientists working in Russia from the current 17% to 13%.

Demand has increased

According to an official spokesman of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, the demand for work in Russia among foreign scientists has increased significantly in recent years, and one of the reasons for this is the improvement of the positions of Russian universities in international rankings.

This year the Moscow State University came close to the top 100 universities in the global QS World University Rankings, while the number of Russian universities in the top 400 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2015-2016 doubled to four. (The ranking expanded from covering 400 universities to ranking 800 this year and nine other Russian universities appear in the top 800.)

Against this, the UNESCO Science Report, released last week, revealed that scientific output has stagnated in recent years and the average citation rate for articles (0.51) is just half the G20 average. The Russian Federation ranks 29th globally for the number of researchers, according to UNESCO.

To date, several leading Russian universities have already started trying to attract foreign scientists, one of them being the Russian Higher School of Economics, one of Russia’s most prestigious universities in the field of economics and business.

Maria Yudkevich, vice-rector of the Higher School of Economics, said: “The university attracts different foreign specialists from post-doctoral fellows to world-renowned scientists for different periods of time. We are trying to provide not only a good salary, but also other decent conditions for working in Russia such as medical insurance, pension guarantees etc."

She added: “The current Russian legislation does not regulate the provision of particular benefits to foreign scientists working in national universities; however, there is a possibility that such a situation may change already in the coming years.”

According to Vladimir Pligin, chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Construction of the Russian parliament (State Duma), as part of the state plans, the Russian parliament has already started designing a bill that will ease the process of the provision of visas to foreign scientists willing to work in Russian higher education institutions and will provide other benefits.

Since 2009 foreigners have been required to submit a whole pile of papers to gain permission to work in Russian universities. According to state comments, this ensured the protection of the Russian system of higher education from an influx of unqualified teachers. However, there is a possibility that the volume of paperwork with regard to foreigners may be significantly reduced by the end of the current year.