Russia’s quest for world-class education

Russia’s quest for world-class education

Russia recently recognised the necessity of modernising its higher education system. As a result, a new educational project, known as the 5-100 initiative, was announced. The project’s goal is to have five Russian universities enter the top 100 of world university rankings by 2020, enhancing their global competitiveness. The goal, announced by President Vladimir Putin in 2012, is at the same time exciting, challenging and rather ambitious. Since its announcement, universities have been working hard on their road maps for success.

Russia wants to show to the world that its education is still up to the mark and it is looking at all possible ways to do it. One of the most commonly used pieces of evidence for the quality of a university is its position in world rankings. Russian universities do not feature very prominently in the world university rankings that define global perceptions of which universities are ‘world-class’ and which are not. Common solutions to this problem are currently being applied: building partnerships with well-known foreign universities; attracting international researchers and students to conduct research and study in Russia; sending domestic students and academic staff abroad to bring knowledge and experience back to the home country; as well as publishing in top-rated international journals.

Ambitious goals

The government’s educational policy appears to be adequate and aims at positive results. However, this process takes time. Publishing in elite journals is an 18-month process, from the time of submission until the print version is out. Attracting researchers and forming partnerships, too, take time to produce results. The 2020 deadline feels, in many ways, not entirely realistic. More time and effort are needed, and it is important to note that internationalisation strategies that have worked perfectly well elsewhere may not necessarily work in Russia.

Differences in academic culture

It must be said that culture and politics play a significant role in the process of the internationalisation of higher education in Russia. It often seems that international education policies work very differently from education policies here. In Russia, international academic staff would be confronted with a different academic culture. How can you change the culture of a nation that has been forming for thousands of years by simply saying that changes are necessary in order to improve? For example, one of the very important legacies of Soviet times is the gap between research and teaching. Professors at universities are not used to having to conduct research, as they can only teach. In this new scenario, they would have to learn how to collaborate with international colleagues, create meaningful results and stay excellent teachers – a task perhaps too overwhelming for many existing members of academia.

Project Global Education

Some positive changes are already in place. While Russia remains faithful to its principles, it does not want to lag behind the modern world. As such, a new federal educational grant programme called Project Global Education (GEP) was created in 2014. It allows for grant recipients to carry out innovative, cutting edge research in any of the top 150 universities of the world – at Master’s or PhD level. This programme is working. The most important condition is that, after completing the degree programme, students have return to Russia right away. Back in Russia, they are placed in a given organisation where they then work for up to five years, giving back to their home country.

The future of internationalisation is not easy to predict. Russia needs to activate its full potential in order to become competitive in the global educational arena. What is clear is that the country is taking important steps at the moment, learning how to use this potential in order to achieve its ambitious goals.

Irina is currently pursuing her MA at Kent State University, USA, where she is also Programming and Engagement Assistant at the Office of Global Education.