Russian universities are ‘poised to compete globally’

Russian universities are poised to emerge from decades of relative obscurity and become a new force in international higher education, experts in international ranking say at a QS global summit in Moscow on achieving university excellence.

Increasing research publication in English, government support for greater academic freedom and international links and the emergence of an influential lobby group – Russia's 5-100 – are opening up the "hidden gems" of Russian higher education, Nunzio Quacquarelli, CEO and founder of London-based international ranking firm QS, says.

“There are all sorts of pockets of excellence that are not always known internationally – and the tendency of Russian academics not to publish in English has been a factor holding back the international development of Russian higher education," he told University World News.

"Now the Russian government wants Russian universities to be globally recognised – and I would say that this internationalisation process is almost inevitable."

Speaking at the QS Worldwide Second Annual Strategic Summit for the Advancement of University Excellence, hosted by Moscow's Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN), Quacquarelli added that a sharp increase in the use of English by Russian academics and university staff was driving an increase in publication of Russian research in international journals.

That process would feed into international rankings and increase the visibility of Russian higher education.

"I suspect there will also be an increase in the interest of international students in high-quality higher education opportunities at low costs," he said, adding that, "Russia has hidden gems in higher education… Under communism and later, knowledge was developed and maintained as a domestic good not to be shared – nuclear engineering, metals, alloys, oil and gas… Russia has some of the leading research in the world and its academy of sciences has always been a centre of excellence."

Mandy Mok, CEO of QS Branding and Conferences, QS Asia, said: "Russia is home to many fine universities that deserve a much higher profile internationally. Higher education is experiencing rapid change – one of the largest in the past 10-15 has been the rise of Asian universities in global rankings and the next 10-15 years may well be marked by the rise of Russian and Central [Asian] universities."

Vladimir Filippov, rector of RUDN in Moscow, echoed such comments in an opening address at the conference on Tuesday.

A popular and influential figure in Russian academia, Filippov, who served as a minister of education for more than six years, has long headed the university, founded in 1960, steering it through the tumultuous changes in Russia since the 1990s.

Speaking in English, he told 450 delegates from more than 27 countries, representing 1,128 higher education institutions, that Russian government backing would ensure greater visibility for Russian higher education worldwide in the coming years.

"The development of the export potential of the Russian education system is now an [official government] aim – and that includes the promotion of Russian education as a brand in the international market," he said.

As the only 'multi-profile' university in Russia – embracing everything from the humanities to science, technology and engineering – RUDN attracts students from more than 150 countries worldwide under a mission statement that reads "uniting people of different cultures by knowledge [to] create world leaders", he added.

In line with the new national priority on developing Russian higher education as a global brand, RUDN was aiming to double the number of foreign teachers over the next two years from 4.5% of faculty to 10.2% and double the number of international students on, for example, lifelong learning programmes from 2,000 today.

As part of the drive to broaden the reach of Russian higher education, the university has signed cooperation agreements with more than 250 universities worldwide, Filippov said.

"We are expanding RUDN regional clusters in Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and North Africa and the countries of the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States]. Engaging with other universities and governments and working with employment associations to increase employability of graduates" is core to the university's international mission, he added.

Filippov told University World News that recent ministerial reforms – separating off responsibility for universities from the general education ministry to a new higher education and science ministry – would help speed up Russia's new drive to connect to the wider world of higher education.

"I am sure the creation of a new ministry will help leading Russian universities to advance in the rankings," he said.

"Russian education is becoming more open – in the 1990s students from 100 countries studied at RUDN, today that figure is 155 and 38% of our students are from overseas. Currently Russia provides scholarships for 150,000 foreign students and there are plans to make Russian education even more open to the world with as many as 700,000 foreign students studying in Russia by 2025."