RAEX («Expert RA») has prepared the 4th annual ranking of Russian universities

Table 1. Rankings of Russian Universities, 2015
Table 2. Best universities in terms of education quality
Table 3. Best universities in terms of employer demand for alumni
Table 4. Best universities in terms of R&D activity
Table 5. Volume of budget attracted for the research and development has increased by almost 20 %
Table 6. Student coverage by teaching staff decreases
Table 7. Articles of scientific and research universities become less cited
Table 8. Members of university staff increased frequency of publishing articles in scientific journals
Table 9. Foreign students are choosing universities from «5–100» program

Rating agency RAEX («Expert RA») has prepared the 4th annual ranking of Russian universities (see Table 1. Russian universities ranking 2015). During the preparation of this ranking various statistical indicators were used and massive surveys have been carried out among 17,4 thousands of respondents: employers, representatives of academic and scientific circles, students and graduates.

The Lomonosov Moscow State University occupies the first place in this ranking, same as last year, as this university has created the best conditions for receiving high quality education (see table 2) and maintains the highest level of research and development activities (see table 4).

The leaders of the ranking demonstrate stable and high results: third year in a row the composition of the top-20 best Russian universities is stable. This includes 11 universities from the capital region, St. Petersburg State and Polytechnic universities, two universities from Tomsk (TPU and TSU), two universities from Novosibirsk (NSU and NSTU), as well as three federal universities – Ural, Siberian and Kazan (Volga district).

The three leaders of the ranking include the National Research Nuclear University “MEPhI” for the first time, as it has surpassed the Bauman Moscow State Technical University. The main justification for this change was success of NRNU MEPhI” in strengthening international integration, which is evidenced by rapid increase of joint two-diploma programs with foreign universities (from 26 to 37), as well as increased attractiveness for applicants (for example: the share of enrolled winners of student competitions has increased from 1,2 to 2,5%). Besides that, “MEPhI” managed to improve many scientific indicators, in particular to reach unprecedentedly high number of articles citations per member of staff (average annual value of this indicator – 6.2) which exceeds the result of the closest competitors (Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and NSU) more than twice.

The Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas demonstrated the best dynamic among the top-20 universities – this university increased its position in the ranking by 4 steps in one year and in 2015 reached the 16th place. The main driver of this university’s growth was improvement of the conditions for receiving high quality education. The university has maintained high level of student coverage by full-time teaching staff while the majority of ranking participants, including top-20, have significantly deteriorated their scores according to this parameter. Besides that, the demand for Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas graduates by employers has increased.

Among the universities whose positions in the ranking have decreased are the National Research University "MPEI" (19th place in 2015 against 14th place in 2014) and the Novosibirsk State Technical University (20th place in 2015 against 16th place previously). The result of MPEI was mainly affected by decrease of demand by applicants: decrease in the share of enrolled winners of student competitions (from 1,4 to 0,7%), decrease of the unified state exam score of students accepted on budget financed places (from 69,5 to 64,3), as well as sharp decrease in the cost of paid education fees (from 152 to 112 thousands roubles).

The position of the Novosibirsk State Technical University was affected by decrease in the intensity of cooperation with employers: the share of students studying at the expense of employers has decreased (from 7,8 to 1,0%), as well as the share of students enrolled by the results of targeted selection for the first full-time study year (from 6,5 to 4,8%). Besides that, the indicator of teaching staff ratio per 100 students significantly deteriorated – from 10,1 to 7,4 (decrease of 26%).

Popularity of technical universities gradually increases

The graduates of technical universities compared to the economic universities are still more demanded by the employers (see table 3) and this is not matched by the choices of university applicants, who prefer to study economics and management. The average cost of tuition fee during the first year of studies in technical universities is 105 thousands roubles, while in economic – 200 thousands roubles. Among universities with the highest tuition fees on BSc and specialist programs non-technical universities dominate and the most expensive education is in Moscow State Institute of International Relations and National Research University Higher School of Economics (see graph 1).

It shall be highlighted, that the leading economic universities nowadays are preparing the largest number of graduates who become top-managers of the largest Russian companies. On the boards of companies from the “Expert-400” list the Lomonosov Moscow State University, the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and the Public Administration and Plekhanov Russian University of Economics dominate by the number of graduates (see graph 2).

Nevertheless, it can be noted that there is a slight increase in popularity of technical education: in particular, during the last year the number of foreign students in technical universities has increased by 8%, while in economic universities it has decreased by 9%. Besides that, during the last year the technical universities from top-100 of the ranking have decreased their lag behind the economic universities in terms of education costs: the average tuition fee in economic universities has decreased by 1%, while in technical universities it has increased by 8%.

The funding stalls

The funding of universities per student on average in the top-100 universities has increased by 1% in nominal terms during the past year (from 287 to 290 thousands roubles, taking into account budget and non-budget funds). However, this dynamic is significantly lower than the annual level of inflation in the country, which was 11,4% in 2014.

Some universities have succeeded in attracting funds for the scientific research activities. For example, the majority of ranking participants have managed tp increase significantly the volume or research and development activities (see table 5). However, by the results of 2015 the research and development activities hardly can be seen as a stable “safety cushion” for universities as there are no prerequisites for increase in orders for scientific researches.

The gradual increase in the number of university endowment funds shall be also noted – funds of targeted capital, created from the graduates’ donations. Two years ago among the top-100 Russian universities the endowment funds were established only in 34 universities, while now already in 41. Even though the volumes of funds are still very small compared to the state funding of the top-100 universities (5 bln roubles against 22 bln roubles), the increase in the number of funds can be seen as a positive trend of the Russian higher education system.

Staff: losses are inevitable

Due to the limited availability of financing the most disturbing fact became obvious – decrease in the student coverage by the members of teaching staff. By the results of 2014 ranking the number of teaching staff per 100 students was 8,33 while now it is 8,05 (see table 6). Therefore in the top-100 best universities this undicator has decreased on average by 3,4%. For universities-participants of the program targeted to increase the competitiveness («5–100») this indicator has decreased by 5,4%. The most dramatic decrease in the number of teaching staff per 100 students was evidenced in technical universities (-8,0%), as well as in universities of Moscow and St. Petersburg (-8,1%).

Decrease in such an important indicator can be explained by two reasons. First, the necessity to increase annually the salaries of teaching staff taking into account the average value in the region within the framework of compliance with the “May regulations” of the Russian president. Second, the absence of additional budget funds for solving this problem. Under conditions when the resources are not sufficient while the salaries have to be increased the majority of universities have no other choice besides optimization of teaching staff, which effectively leads to decrease in the volume of remunerations. It is not a coincidence that among the universities with the greatest needs for such optimization are universities in Moscow and St. Petersburg as the average salaries in these regions are significantly higher than on average in the country and it is almost impossible to reach the planned level of salary increase without decreasing the number of staff.

Scientific staff whose salary according to the government order shall be increased more rapidly than for usual teaching staff is in even more disadvantageous position. Due to the imperfect mechanism of scientific staff remunerations many universities, including national and research universities, started to lose staff. A year ago the number of full-time employees in scientific and research universities was on average 196 people, while by the results of the new changes it has decreased to 179 people (decreased by 8,7%). The fact that even participants of the “5-100” program with ambitions to be in front line of international science have not increased the number of staff is equally disturbing (on average 236 people).

International integration by all means

As known, the development plan of “5-100” project’s participants assumes, in particular, increase in the publication activities and citations in accordance with foreign scientometric systems. Decrease in the number of scientific and teaching staff in the leading universities is definitely not in line with this task. A very interesting example;

The average number of publications per one member of scientific and teaching staff has increased in universities-participants of the “5-100” program by 20,7% (average annual number of publications within 5 years interval). However, at the same time the citation per article has decreased by 1,6% (in national research universities even by 6,7%; see tables 7 and 8). This leads to a sad conclusion: under conditions of limited financing and shortage of scientific staff the rush to improve scientometric indicators (this is the target of “5-100” participants) leads to the decrease in the quality of the scientific publications.

The image of universities from Europe and US is traditionally affected by their attractiveness for foreign students. Therefore, the fraction of international students is traditionally taken into account by the global university rankings. This factor was a direct call for increasing the number of foreign students in Russian universities, especially participants of the “5-100” program. During the last year, the share of foreign full-time students in universities-participants of the “5-100” program has increased from 9,1% to 10,6% and in the national research universities from 6,7 to 8,0% (see table 9). However, despite importance of increasing the international integration of universities, it shall be also noted that attraction of foreign students does not have a direct connection to the quality of university’s education. Although, this does not cool down the activeness of universities in attracting foreign students.

Increasing the share or foreigners and increasing the number of publications disregarding their quality leads to conclusion that the desire to look good abroad is a higher priority than the quality of education and solving systemic problems with scientific and teaching staff.