Threat to cull elite Project 5-100 universities blocked

The Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Olga Golodets, has ruled out any imminent adoption of a proposal by the Minister of Education and Science, Olga Vasilyeva, to remove funding from 15 out of 21 institutions in the Project 5-100 elite universities programme to concentrate on six institutions.

A spokesperson for the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office told University World News that for the time being the programme will remain unchanged, but that could change after the presidential elections in Russia in March 2018 and in the case of a budget deficit in 2018.

Golodets, who is also chairperson of the Project 5-100 Council, issued a statement on Thursday, saying: “All of the 21 universities participating in the programme will continue to be participants. The formula presupposes that all of the universities will be funded.”

“And soon, on the 27-28 of October, the members of the international council, which will evaluate the progress of each of the universities, will meet. We have noticeable positive change, and I think that they will be duly recognised and appreciated.”

As reported by University World News, Vasilyeva had told a 4 October meeting of university rectors from institutions participating in the project that the remaining RUB30 billion (US$521 million) in funds for the programme should be concentrated on six institutions in order to improve the chances of it securing its objectives by 2020.

She said: "These higher education institutions should enter the world top-100 universities, in accordance with the order of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin [issued in] May 2012.”

The deputy prime minister repeatedly tried to stop Vasilyeva from discussing the matter at the meeting. But after she left the meeting, Vasilyeva told rectors there was no alternative if the president’s objectives were to be met.

However, Vasilyeva appears to have overstepped her authority, as the Ministry of Education and Science cannot make such a decision on its own. The 5-100 initiative is under the direct governance of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Russian Federation, which has power over the Ministry of Education and Science.

In an email exchange with University World News on Thursday, Andrei Volkov, deputy chairman of the Project 5-100 Council, said: “In order to change the design of the project, for example by cutting the number of universities, there should be a consensus between the Ministry of Education and Science, the Cabinet of Ministers, and the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation. As of now, there is no unanimity in this particular matter.”

Vassilyeva’s proposal created dismay among the university leaders who were highly critical of her narrow interpretation of the mission of the project, believing that global competitiveness requires supporting a broader base than just six institutions in a country of Russia’s size.

Volkov told University World News that the minister’s proposal, if for any reason it did go through, would have negative effects on the whole system of higher education, as it would “undermine confidence in the sustainability of political decisions”.

He said the project’s influence is strong and goes well beyond the 21 institutions involved, encouraging universities which are members to change their models and strategies and this “inspires other universities”.

“Cutting the number of participants will send a strong negative message, but the most innovative and forward-thinking universities – some of them are among the six suggested by the Minister Vasilyeva, others are not – will continue to develop and grow. It is the process that cannot be stopped.”

Previously, as reported in Russia’s Vedomosti, Isak Frumin, the scientific director of the Education Development Institute at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, said: "The letter of the decree is five universities in the first hundred, but the spirit is the increase of the global competitiveness of the higher education system."

He said to achieve five universities in the top 100, you need to have 10 in the top 200 and 20 more in the top 300.

According to a report in Russia Indicator, Yaroslav Kuzminov, head of the Higher School of Economics, supported the deputy prime minister’s view that Russian universities are moving quickly up the rankings and more than six institutions had a chance of making it into the top 100.

"If we look at the quality of the promotion of Russian universities and, for example, Chinese universities at the stage that corresponded to the first three years of the first Chinese project, we will see that Russian universities are growing about twice as fast in the ratings," he said.

Ranking positions

In this year’s QS World University Rankings, published in June, Russian universities maintained the progress they recorded last year, with Lomonosov Moscow State University re-entering the top 100 after an absence of several years. Russia’s top five universities (one in the top 100, two in the top 300 and two in the top 400) all rose more than 10 places, and 14 of the 24 ranked institutions were up on last year.

In the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, published in September, Lomonosov Moscow State University was ranked 195th, down from equal 188th last year. Russia also had one university in the top 300, two in the top 400, and four in the top 500.

In the 2017 Academic Ranking of World Universities, released in August, Russia had one university in the top 100, Lomonosov Moscow State University (93rd), plus Saint Petersburg State University (301-400) and Novosibirsk State University (401-500) in the top 500.