Huge Priority 2030 initiative boosts national, regional universities

The Russian government is continuing with the gradual introduction of a huge new state support initiative for universities known as Priority 2030. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has described it as “the biggest university support programme in the history of modern Russia”.

As planned, the initiative will include more than 100 universities that will be selected through competition. Each will receive at least RUB100 million (US$1.35 million) annually until 2030. The total funding for the programme will be at least RUB100 billion.

According to the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, the initiative will involve participation not only by leading institutions but also regional universities of various specialisations. It has said the programme will affect more than half of all Russian students.

Although Priority 2030 was first announced in May 2021, after discussions the government published the criteria for participating in the programme this month, along with procedures for selecting participants and rules for providing grants for universities from the state budget.

Priority 2030 is the successor to the 5-100 project, which was launched to implement a May 2012 decree of President Vladimir Putin, which demanded that by 2020 at least five Russian universities should enter the lists of the top 100 universities in the world of global rankings.

The overall cost of the 5-100 programme is estimated at RUB80 billion (US$1 billion), which was distributed among 21 Russian universities. But at the end of 2020, not a single participant in the 5-100 project had made it into the global top 100 of world university rankings.

The Priority 2030 initiative

The selection of participants in the new programme will be handled by a special state council, created by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education. Applicants will have to submit 10-year development plans.

The university programmes must be aimed at “increasing the contribution of universities to the achievement of national development goals of Russia”, “balanced development of the country” and ensuring the availability of quality higher education in the regions, the government said.

To be selected for the programme, universities must meet four groups of criteria.

Universities should have at least 4,000 full-time students. They should have a budget of at least RUB1 billion. In addition, at least 5% of the university’s income must be provided by research and development.

Universities that meet any two of these three criteria can make commitments to achieve the missing parameter within two years.

There is a further option for universities that meet two criteria, but cannot achieve the third on their own: they must submit plans for re-organisation to the state commission – for example, a merger with another university.

The last group is reserved for five universities of culture and art, where at least 60% of freshmen are enrolled in creative specialties.

Each university in Priority 2030 will receive RUB100 million annually for projects involving the socio-economic development of their region.

In addition, universities can apply for two special grants – for “breakthrough scientific research and the creation of science-intensive products, building up the human resources of the research and development sector”; or, again, for the socio-economic development of their region.

The government has established performance indicators: the number of people trained in additional professional programmes, as well as the number of completed projects as part of development programmes.

It will also take into account the costs of universities for R&D, the amount of attracted funding, the effectiveness of scientific activities, “innovative potential and economic return” from research, quality of education and impact on development of the region.

A spokesman for the ministry commented: “With the help of the new state programme, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education hopes to support regional universities. Thanks to the programme, the gap between universities will be narrowed and opportunities for their transformation into world-class universities will appear.”

In a report on a meeting he had with deputy prime ministers on 17 May 2021, Prime Minister Mishustin said that Priority 2030 funds would be spent “on advanced research and projects aimed at resolving the challenges facing the regions of the Russian Federation”.

“Universities must provide prestigious, high-demand education and develop their knowledge base to enable young scientists to implement their ideas. We need a strong network of regional universities that will educate top-level specialists.”

“It is important for this work to produce visible results,” he said.