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The goal of Project 5-100 is to maximize the competitive position of a group of leading Russian universities in the global research and education market.

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Experts from global university rankings share their vision of possible “points of growth” for Russian institutions of higher education

December 12, 2017

A Moscow – London – Minsk - Astana video link on “Points of Growth in the World University Rankings” has brought together representatives from the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, chancellors of Russian, Belorussian and Kazakhstan institutions of higher education and leading international education experts on the platform of the International News Agency “Rossiya Segodnya “ (RIA Novosti).

World University Rankings set up standards for modern institutions of higher education and the goal of Russian universities is not only to be up to these standards but to start setting up these standards themselves, at a certain stage”, says Lyudmila Ogorodova, Deputy Minister of Education and Science of the Russian Federation in a welcome address to the video link participants.

An important area of the development of Russian universities is making them more internationally competitive. Project 5-100, launched in May 2013, aims at ensuring that by 2020 five Russian institutions of higher education join the top hundred of the world’s top universities.

According to Lyudmila Ogorodova, between 2012 and 2017 Russian universities have considerably extended their presence in the leading world university rankings (including World University Rankings by Subject): in 2012 only 15 institutions of higher education were listed there, but as of 6 December 2017 it increased by more than 2.5 times. As of today 40 Russian universities feature among the best universities in the world university rankings.

In addition, the Deputy Minister highlights the achievements, reflecting improvements in the scores, and strong performance of Russian technical universities in the World University Rankings by subject (which rank the world's top universities in different subjects), describing them as “a clear signal that Russian institutions of higher education are already on the right track, generally moving in the right direction towards achieving their goals”. Russia claims two places in the top 100 list of the Times Higher Education’s latest subject ranking for the physical sciences. Two Russian universities feature in the world's 100 top universities for physics: MPTI (Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology – 48th place) and the MEPhI (National Research Nuclear University MEPhI : 89th place), both are Project 5- 100 participants. Another four universities were ranked among the world's top 200: MGU (Moscow State University), NGU (Novosibirsk State University), TPU (Tomsk Polytechnic University) and SPbSU (St. Petersburg State University).

Apparently the launch of Project 5 – 100 has attracted the attention of Russian universities both in terms of rankings themselves and university development models”, stresses the Deputy Minister.

Moving away from excess academic baggage and getting priorities right

With regard to possible “points of growth” for Russian universities THE's director of data and analytics Duncan Ross, indicates that it is essential for Russia that world university rankings should take into account scientific research conducted as part of joint international mega science projects. Another “point of growth”, in his view, lies in the development of certain subject areas.

In particular, as stated by John Green, life fellow of the University of Cambridge, over the last three years Cambridge has significantly improved its position by identifying and assessing its strengths, choosing a clear path, focusing resources on specific scientific areas and restructuring scientific departments. According to the expert, universities should identify their most efficient scientific areas; keep up with its researchers so that everyone understands the development strategy.

Over the last 10 years almost all Russian universities have improved their positions and shown continuous growth”, says Zoya Zaitseva, QS regional director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia . She also notes that Russian universities are traditionally strong in certain areas but in the past it was only known in Russia whereas now the world is learning more and more about research conducted by Russian scientists.

At the same time, she shares the opinion of her colleagues about the need to get rid of excess scientific baggage. “If in the 27 years of its existence a research laboratory has achieved no results, it should be closed down. No resources should be wasted on something that does not yield results”, stresses Zoya Zaitseva.

Generous funding

Alexander Avakyants, CEO of China Campus Network Russia, expresses an opinion that Russia could take a leaf out of China’s book in terms of priority higher education funding.

In his words, over the last 7 years China’s universities have made a breakthrough in the world university rankings: “a huge number of Chinese universities have appeared in all popular rankings, for instance, in 2010 QS world university rankings listed only 10 Chinese universities whereas by 2018 their number has gone up to 30”. China is investing heavily in the development of higher education which is part of the country’s overall strategy: in 2016 state expenditure amounted to 3.9 trillion yuan, which is almost 39 trillion rubles”, said the expert. In addition, in his words, China is actively using a priority funding system focussing on certain university clusters to ensure they climb in the rankings.

To this end special projects have been implemented: Project 985 and Project 211. Now a new “Double World Class” project has been adopted in China that focuses not only on university clusters but also on promoting certain subjects. China has selected 456 priority areas as part of this project.

Promoting the country’s brand

The CEO of China Campus Network Russia also states that China is actively strengthening its performance indicators, including the International Student Ratio metric: in 2016 the number of foreign students amounted to 440 thousand, the aim for 2020 is 500 thousand foreign students. He believes that this is achieved largely due to the fact that China is promoting the country’s entire brand on the international market rather than its individual universities. “Russia can draw on this experience by focusing on promoting Russia’s brand as a whole and the country’s unique advantages”, stresses the expert.

Furthermore, in his view, another potential “point of growth” is cooperation between universities and businesses that will lead to an increase in employment rates. “Chinese universities closely cooperate with companies, and on top of that, Chinese universities set up companies of their own. For example, Fundan University has more than 10 hospitals of its own”, he added.

Incentives for English language publications

Dr Nadim Mahassen, President of the Centre for World University Rankings believes that Russian universities should prioritise their publications, create incentives for publications in English, and improve their quality so that they appear more often in Web of Science and Scopus databases.

The specifics of the Russian school of higher education consists in the fact that Russia has a lot of highly specialised universities that are finding it hard to compete with large traditional universities in international rankings”, noted Dr Nadim Mahassen. The international expert believes that under the circumstances, one of the possible successful scenarios would be bringing universities together, as it has happened in France in recent years.