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Moving up: Russian universities in world ranking

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Moving up: Russian universities in world ranking


Svetlana Smetanina

According to surveys, when choosing a place of study, more than half of foreign students are guided by the world rankings of the best universities. This year, 25 Russian universities entered the QS World University Rankings 2019-2020, and most of them improved their positions. Lomonosov Moscow State University became the most successful, having risen by six points at once. However, MSU rector Viktor Sadovnichy is sure that Russian education is undervalued.

The second Russian university in the QS ranking (84th place) is Novosibirsk State University, which occupied the 231st line and overtook St. Petersburg State University by several points (234). The top ten Russian universities included Tomsk State University (268), Bauman Moscow State Technical University (284), Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (302), Higher School of Economics (322), MEPhI Nuclear University (329), Yeltsin Ural Federal University (364) and MGIMO (366).

Lomonosov Moscow State University. Photo credit:

Assessing the results of Russian universities, Zoya Zaitseva, Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at QS, noted their sustainability, positive dynamics and the fact that healthy competition is beneficial for universities. According to her, this year, applications from more than 5,000 universities around the world were considered, and 1000 of them entered the final ranking. Moreover, Western and Eastern Europe showed the largest growth in the number of new universities that were included in the rating.

Zoya Zaitseva explained this success with the “Brexit effect”: the high price tag of British education redirected the flow of foreign students to another part of Europe - for example, to Poland and the Czech Republic. “The proportion of foreign students in British universities for has not increased the past few years, and somewhere it even reduced. And such a change in the educational market gives Russia good chances to strengthen its position,” the expert believes. This is especially true for scientific and technical universities.

Although the Government of Russian Federation adopted an ambitious program designed to significantly increase the number of foreign students in Russia, so far this indicator (the share of foreign students in Russian universities) is far below the global average, which this year has grown by 3%. There are also problems with such criteria as the citation index (not a single Russian university has entered the top 600 for this indicator) and a low share of foreign professorship among the teaching staff. But with the "ratio of the number of teachers to the number of students" indicator, our universities are more than good: seven of them are in the top 50 by this criterion.

However, Rector of Moscow State University Viktor Sadovnichy is sure that in no case should the ratings be the end goal for the university, especially since the data from different ratings often differ greatly in one direction or another. “The main thing is to take care of our reputation in society and serve our mission, and not try to restructure the learning process for the sake of being ranked,” the MSU Rector believes.

Viktor Sadovnichy is showing Vladimir Putin an MSU supercomputer. Photo credit:

That is why Russian Union of Rectors, under the leadership of Viktor Sadovnichy himself, developed the Three University Missions Moscow International University Rankings (MosIUR) two years ago. It assesses not only the contribution of the university to the preparation of students and science, but also the interaction with society. The expert council of this rating includes 25 leading specialists in field of higher education from 11 countries, including Russia, the USA, Great Britain, China and a number of others.

The short-list of the third edition of the Moscow International Ranking includes 1,640 universities from 112 countries. As a result of last year, the first line of this rating was taken by Harvard University, and MSU entered the top 30 with 22nd place. The top 30 also includes 22 universities in the United States, 4 universities in the UK, and one each in Japan, China and Switzerland.

Perhaps over time, this rating will be no less significant than the same QS World University Rankings, which has been published since 2004. Its authors were originally the British weekly Times Higher Education (THE) and the Quacquarelli Symond marketing company, which developed the methodology. But in 2009, THE terminated cooperation with QS and entered into a new agreement with Thomson Reuters. However, Quacquarelli Symond also continued its work in the field of evaluation of world universities.

RUDN students. Photo credit:

This example clearly shows that various ratings regularly appear and disappear in the modern world. And it is hardly reasonable to rely only on one. “We need to participate in 10-12 ratings in order to get a more or less objective picture as a result ,” the Rector of RUDN Vladimir Filippov said. And yet, in his opinion, it is important to focus not only on increasing the number of foreign students, but also to go to different regions of the world. Thus, RUDN has its clusters in Latin America, Africa and the Arab region. Also, according to Filippov, they work well for the promotion of the university and the RUDN Alumni Clubs, established in dozens of countries around the world.

And how much do universities need ratings? According to the Acting Rector of Lobachevsky Nizhny Novgorod State University Kirill Markov, ratings are reference points that give positive feedback. This year, the university entered the top 500 world universities in the natural sciences. In addition, the Rector of NNSU, following the Rector of Moscow State University, also believes that universities should actively participate in the development of their region.

But the main result of the work of Russian universities in the field of international education is the growth of their recognition in the world. If ten years ago only three Russian universities were known in the world, today there are 28 of them.

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