Government cuts 40% of state-funded university places

The Russian government is pushing on with plans to cut 40% of state-funded places in domestic universities in 2018 and to cut teaching jobs at state universities.

These plans were first announced about a year ago. However, their implementation was postponed due to signs of the beginning of a recovery of the Russian economy from the economic crisis and the possibility of lifting of at least part of Western sanctions against Russia.

Still, the beginning of a second wave of the financial crisis – fuelled in June by a resumption of the devaluation of the national currency, the ruble, and an awareness that sanctions against Russia would not be lifted soon – has forced the state to return to these plans.

The cuts are the consequence of reduced funding for two programmes, known as ‘Development of Education’ and ‘Development of Science and Technology’.

It is planned that this year up to 500 scientists will be laid off from Russian universities in early 2018. Large job cuts are planned in the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Kurchatov Institute.

Overall, up to 8,300 scientific workers will lose their jobs in Russian universities by 2020, while the share of spending on education in total budget expenditure will fall from 2.75% in 2015 to 2.45% in 2020.

In addition, the government plans to cut spending on research and development activities of Russian universities and reduce funding allocated on the development of their technical base. Finally, funding of graduate scholarships will be halved.

The cuts have already been approved by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Medvedev said: "Amid the current circumstances, it is important to optimise spending allocated for higher education by redistributing funds to the most important areas and by reducing inefficiency.

“At the same time such optimisation should not have a negative impact on socially significant programmes that are being implemented by Russian universities and should not negatively affect those positive changes that have taken place in the Russian system of higher education in recent years.”

That also means that funding cuts will not affect some of Russia’s leading higher education institutions, such as Moscow State University, Saint Petersburg State University, the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Sevastopol National Technical University and some others, which are considered as strategically important for Russia and its national economy.

In contrast, funding of these higher education institutions will be increased by RUB17 billion (US$282 million) during 2018-19. It is planned that this sum will be equally distributed among these universities.

Still, many Russian MPs privately oppose the initiative.

Oleg Smolin, first deputy chairman of the State Duma Committee on Education, said in the majority of foreign countries state-funded places are calculated not on the basis of principle of the number of young people, but of the overall population, which is more correct.

“In addition, we need to take into account the future demographic situation in Russia, with the number of students studying at Russian universities expected to fall by 700,000 [at the beginning of 2018], creating a ratio of 125 students for 10,000 people,” he said.

“And if the proposal of the government is implemented, then the ratio will fall below 120 students per 10,000 people, a very low figure for such a country as Russia.”