The revision of the Russian government’s programme to develop world-class universities could be a “serious step backwards” for the nation’s higher education system, a vice-rector in the country has warned.
Tagir Aushev, vice-rector for research and strategic development at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), said that a “new university culture is arising” with the implementation of Project 5-100, the government’s initiative to propel five of the country’s universities into the top 100 of international rankings by 2020.
According to news reports, last month Olga Vasilyeva, the recently appointed minister of education and science, cast doubt on the project’s future and said that university mergers would be suspended.
“We are currently suspending any further consolidations of Russian universities for an indefinite period of time. As part of these plans, there is a possibility of the revision of the Project 5-100,” she said.
“The programme involves huge investments in the development of certain local universities; however there is a big question, whether these funds will be repaid. The budget should be spent very carefully.”
Dr Aushev said that MIPT “set ambitious goals and [has] sufficient resources to work on them” thanks to Project 5-100, which launched in 2013, adding that the recent progress the university has made in global rankings would have been “impossible” without the initiative.
The university leapt from the 501-600 band in the 2015-2016 Times Higher Education World University Rankings to the 301-350 band in this year’s list.
The project has also enhanced collaboration between Russia’s universities, Dr Aushev added.
“What is even more important for me is that the project not only allows each university to grow individually, but it develops a new level of cooperation between them,” he said.
“It is more than just 21 universities participating in the project. It is a new group of universities, which interact, exchange students, have common projects and, as a result, develop together.”
He continued that the project has “triggered deep internal transformations in the universities” and a “new university culture is arising now”. He said this includes a new focus on science and an increasingly international outlook.
“Suspending this project would be a serious step backwards,” he said.
Vladimir Vasilyev, the rector of ITMO University, agreed that Russian universities’ “colossal breakthrough” in international rankings could be attributed in part to “support from the Ministry of Education and Science and Project 5-100”, adding that the initiative benefits “the whole of our educational system”, not just the programme’s participants.
University mergers have led to increased quality in education and staff, he continued, and interdisciplinary research “now develops faster”.
However, he said that it is “normal practice” for the government to look to increase the project’s efficiency and predicted that the “nature of the project will remain the same”.
“In essence, we’ve just gone through the first stage of a most serious transformation of our country’s leading universities, and now our colleagues are assessing these results and working out new plans. This doesn’t mean any changes to the project as a whole,” he said.
Russia’s minister of education and science did not provide a comment.