Russian private universities face big fall in student numbers

The number of students studying in private universities and for-profit departments of state-owned universities in Russia may significantly decline this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic consequences, which have already led to a significant decline in the well-being of local citizens. This is according to recent statements made by representatives of some leading Russian universities and local analysts in the field of higher education.

According to Natalia Pochinok, head of the Russian State Social University, one of Russia’s leading higher education institutions in the field of humanities and social sciences, this year there will be about 30% fewer fee-paying students in its departments.

Pochinok said: “Wage cuts and the difficult economic situation have affected everyone, without exception.” Today there is a price regulator: when the cost of tuition is calculated on the basis of target costs.

Some universities have reduced tuition fees during the pandemic, but Pochinok said that “even with reduced fees, it is still a huge amount for many Russian families in the current situation”.

This issue, including with regard to those who are already studying on a paid basis, must be resolved carefully, taking into account the financial situation of families, with the possibility of the provision being paid for in instalments and by deferred payment, Pochinok said.

Similarly, Sergei Zengin, head of the Krasnodar State Institute of Culture, a leading Russian university in the field of arts, said his university administration expects that the number of students who come to the university on a paid basis this year will be significantly lower compared to previous years, and that will apply to both domestic and foreign students.

Experts of Izvestia, one of Russia’s leading pro-governmental business papers, also predict a reduction in the number of applicants to study at leading domestic universities in the vast Russian provinces, including Siberia, the Far East and Southern Russia.

They attribute this trend to the high living costs associated with studying in universities located in any of large cities in the regions of Russia, among them Vladivostok, Krasnodar, and Novosibirsk.

Another reason for applicants deciding to stay at home this year is the significantly tightened competition for state-funded places in the majority of Russian higher education institutions, particularly those in the top 50 leading domestic universities.

Still, despite the concerns of representatives of the Russian university community over the current situation, the government remains generally optimistic.

According to some sources in the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, the drop in students studying at private universities could be related to the recently conducted optimisation of the entire system of higher education in Russia, which led to the closure of inefficient private universities and an increase in the number of state-funded places in some leading domestic state universities.

In the meantime, as some independent Russian analysts in the field of higher education have also warned, in addition to falling student numbers this year, there is a serious threat of a reduction in the number of teachers in domestic universities.

That will become part of the trend, noted since 2013, in which the number of teachers in Russian universities has declined by almost 90,000, according to the Russian Ministry of Education and Science.