Call for Russian 'Russell Group'

October 7, 2005

Russia needs an elite group of universities to maintain high standards as it moves to greater integration with Europe, according to Viktor Sadovichny, rector of Moscow State University.

Professor Sadovichny - whose university celebrates its 250th anniversary this year - said Russia's system of training specialists in five-year diploma programmes must be protected.

Key differences between Europe and Russia should be respected and the quality intrinsic to the country's unique approach to education should not be sacrificed in the rush to integration, he told The Times Higher .

"I welcome the idea of joining and integrating Russian education into the European system, because Europe is already integrated in many other aspects -employment, mobility and currency. It is important to have comparable diplomas and specialisations, but the most important part of the Bologna reforms is about quality improvement.

"Too many people talk about comparable standards and not enough about quality. The quality of higher education must not be compromised and we all know that the quality of education at a lot of Russian universities remains very high," Professor Sadovichny said.

He said there was a need for a Russian "Russell Group" of top universities to ensure that the highest standards and best traditions were maintained.

"We very much want to create an elite echelon of universities and, of course, there is a lot of talk about who would be in such a group," Professor Sadovichny said.

"Rather than a list of universities, we should probably talk about the educational standards these universities should meet. I think Moscow State can be included and perhaps could even be head of this group."

He preferred not to name Russian universities that might be included in such a grouping, but when pressed said that Moscow State and St Petersburg universities regularly appeared on both Russian and international lists of the top-rated colleges.

Professor Sadovichny is a strong critic of the Russian Education Ministry's move to a combined school-leaving and university entrance exam. He argued that leading universities must be allowed to retain control over their admissions.

"We do not accept the unified state exam for entrance to Moscow State - ticking boxes is not enough to demonstrate a student's abilities. Our entrance exams demand four or five different tests, written and verbal, which is a much more serious assessment."

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