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Russian universities: among the best in Europe

Following February’s highly successful first Reunion at St Petersburg State University (SPbSU), my alma mater where I am President of the Alumni Association, there has been more positive news relating to higher education in Russia. Five Russian institutions now feature among Europe’s top 200 according to the Times Higher Education (THE) rankings. This rise is a significant improvement on recent years and bodes well for the future of the sector in Russia. Higher education institutions in Russia have always had a prestigious heritage built upon years of research and academic endeavour. As they rise through the global rankings, there will be more learning opportunities for the next generation of thought leaders attending these institutions.

Based on the key areas of teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook, the five Russian universities making the TES top grade are: Moscow State University (MGU) (79th place), Peter the Great St Petersburg Polytechnic (111th-equal), Tomsk Polytechnic (131st-equal), Kazan Federal (151st-equal), and National Research Nuclear University MePhl (161st-equal). From my point of view, and not only because of hometown pride, it is surprising not to see SPbSU among these, especially given its consistent ranking within Russia’s top three. However, these tables vary between different ratings bodies. QS, for example, paints quite a different picture of the European hierarchy and (I am pleased to say) has ranked SPbSU among the top two universities in Russia and 119th on the continent in its most recent ranking.

Irrespective of such differences, however, where both TES and QS agree is that Russia’s position has improved significantly in recent years. This is clear when we move from a European to a global analysis of the survey. In 2015, only two Russian institutions made the TES global top 500 (MGU in 196th and Novosibirsk State in 301st-equal); this has increased to seven in the top 500 this year. MGU sits in 161st ahead of the others which also feature in the European ranking, alongside SPbSU and Novosibirsk State in 401st-equal.

Despite these improvements, these institutions must not become complacent, as they are still a long way off achieving 2013’s ‘Project 5-100’ goals of having five institutions in the global top 100 by 2020. Indeed, as RBK noted following the latest TES results, Russia underperforms when its rating is compared to its population and GDP (although this situation improves if GDP per capita is considered). Early last year, TES compared Russian universities to ‘collapsed stars’ making too much of their past glories and, whilst this report sidelined more recent achievements in Russian universities (such as Russia’s world-leading research in the space industry), the overall point is clear: it bodes well for the next generation if Russian universities continue to build upon their recent improvements, and I believe they shall.

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