Government steps up funding for elite universities

The Russian government is stepping up its funding of the 5-100 programme aimed at getting five universities into the global top 100 in international rankings, conceding that it has faced significant challenges due to underfunding and budget cuts.

As a result, funding of the promotion of Russian universities in the global arena will grow from RUB34.8 billion (US$599 million) to RUB43.5 billion (US$749 million) during the period 2018-20, according to a recent draft decree, prepared by the Ministry of Education and Science.

The aim is to increase the competitiveness of Russian universities in the global market and amounts to recognition of the substantial challenges they face.

Currently, the 5-100 programme involves the participation of 21 universities. Its main goal is entering five national universities into the world’s top 100 universities as ranked by QS, Times Higher Education and the Academic Ranking of World Universities or ARWU.

So far, only Moscow State University has been included in the rankings of QS and ARWU, but it is not part of the 5-100 programme. The government is unhappy with the implementation of the programme so far, conceding that it is suffering from inadequate funding, and has responded by reaching into its coffers to provide more funds.

Olga Vasilieva, the Russian education and science minister, said: “The 5-100 project is heavily underfunded. In addition, due to the economic crisis in Russia, its budget was reduced by 6% last year. However, the government will do everything possible to increase its funding.”

According to the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, the increase in funding is as a result of the need to support scientific projects and research and development studies at domestic universities and keep "the world's leading scientists" within their teaching staff.

A spokesperson for the department of higher education in the ministry said many leading scientists working at domestic universities regularly receive very attractive proposals from the administrations of some Western universities to continue their work abroad.

In addition to enjoying better financial conditions, Russian scientists and professors may find working in these universities, many of which are in leading positions in the global rankings, more prestigious than in domestic higher education institutions.

However, it is hoped that the provision of additional funding will help to raise the salaries of domestic scientists and speed up implementation of the entire project.

Among the other goals of the programme are technical re-equipment; improvement in cooperation with foreign universities; increased promotion of Russian universities in leading foreign media, as well as recruitment of foreign students.

In the meantime, despite its ambitious targets, the programme has been criticised by some leading Russian officials and members of the Russian national parliament or State Duma.

Widening the gap

Oleg Smolin, first deputy chairman of the State Duma Committee on Education and Science, said the increase in funding for the 5-100 programme widens the gap between the budgets of Russian universities.

He said the programme “lacks medical and agricultural universities” – although it does include one medical university – and that the overall budget of the 5-100 programme “is still too small to allow Russian universities to compete with the world’s leading higher education institutions in the international arena”.

The approach to the distribution of additional subsidies between universities that participate in the programme, will change. It is planned that the amount of state funding provided will depend on special ‘road maps’ that will be submitted by these universities for consideration by the programme and ratification by the Russian government.

Depending on the quality of the ‘road map’, each university will receive a coefficient that will be used in the formula for calculating the allocation of funding. Each year universities will have to report on the implementation of their road map as a condition for receiving further funding.

Philip Altbach, founding director of the Center for International Higher Education, Boston College in the United States, who is a member of the 5-100 programme committee, told University World News that the committee recognises that the problems are substantial but that a number of the participating universities have made “considerable progress in reforming governance, internationalisation, and improving their research output”.


Unlikely to happen, when the Russian government doesn't allow academic freedom!

Christopher MacHurambe on the University World News Facebook page

Well, the current THE top 100 includes Peking University and Tsinghua University.

Milan No on the University World News Facebook page

Yes, but at least they put enormous sums of money into education and sent their students out into the world. Russia is more insular and more controlling than China in this area.

Christopher MacHurambe on the University World News Facebook page