First results of the National Research Universities Development program

Since 2009 the government implements a large-scale support of selected universities by giving them on a competitive basis a special status – National Research University (NRU). 29 state universities became research ones during 2009 and 2010.

The Research University status is awarded for 10 years, and during the first 5 years the government funds programs for the universities’ development on condition of 20% of co-funding. Budgetary funds are allowed to be spent on five budget items: the acquisition of academic and scientific equipment, training of teachers and researchers of university faculty, curriculum development, development of information resources and improvement of the system of quality control system of education and research1.

Each university formulated its own development program and established quantitative values for the indicators of meeting goal objectives. The RF Ministry of Education with the participation of several universities determined the composition of the indicators that includes 22 indicators in the following five groups2:
•    success in education activity;
•    performance of research and innovation activity;
•    development of academic potential;
•    international recognition;
•    financial sustainability.

In spring 2011 inspection of the NRU3 development programs was implemented with an emphasis on the first 14 universities that have had more time to achieve any tangible results. The aim of the inspection was to assess how successfully universities implement their declared development programs, what are problematic aspects (both objective and subjective), as well as how adequate current system of indicators is for assessing the NRU’s performance.

It turned out that the NRU prepared report materials in such a way that it was difficult to judge the performance outcome on the development programs. Self-assessment of performance, which NRUs provide in their reports, in most cases, is declarative and does not have a convincing argument. Most NRUs exploit their previous best practices and know-how. All universities, which received the status, have best practices, models and charts, and obtained funding allowed them to further develop them, but in most cases, without the invention of something fundamentally new. Nevertheless, the universities began to produce best practices even working on development programs for a relatively short period.

Since the very concept of a research university involves strong development of science, an important indicator is the participation of the faculty in academic work. For example, in Saint-Petersburg State Mining Institute named after G.V. Plekhanov , up to 70% of faculty is involved in scientific research, the NRU Higher School of Economics - 45%, whereas the average in Russian universities - less than 20%. However, the challenge lies not only in increasing the number of faculty involved in the research, but also in the change of volume and quality of this research. So far, on average for the group of 14 universities, the number of articles indexed in Russian and foreign databases per one faculty member comes to 0.7 (the average for all 29 universities - 0,58), ie there isn’t even one article per one faculty member per year.

The second important aspect of NRU activity, which distinguishes them from other universities - is international cooperation in science and education, recruitment of personnel (both teachers and students) from abroad. In this direction the first 14 NRUs do demonstrate promising results and are very far from the internationally recognized "standards": they have no established system of international cooperation, changing approaches in teaching English begins in a small number of universities, the prospects for increasing the number of foreign students not from the CIS countries is quite illusory, and only a few universities can afford to invite foreign experts.

At the same time, analysis of the NRUs development programs implementation suggests that there are no openly disastrous universities. For those who failed to report on a number of targeted indicators, there is a logical explanation of the result, which does not testify of poor performance of the university. Moreover, the unification of performance indicators regardless of the university profile also represents a disputed decision – it is impossible to compare on a single-measure medical, technical, and classical universities.

Assessment also revealed that the universities’ administration do not have a clear understanding of not only objectives, but also the future steps of the Government directed to develop the system of national research universities. There logically arise, in particular, such issues as: is it possible to review the indicators and their values; will the government policy on NRUs change in case the University changes its organizational-legal form; whether changing external conditions will be taken into account in the assessment of the NRUs activities (such as changes in normative and legal regulation).

Thus, so fare neither the government nor the NRUs have systematic understanding of objectives and ways of development of elite universities, which results in a lot of "zones of uncertainty". This adversely affects the ongoing work of universities and their ability to build long-term plans for their activities.

Please see in detail “Economic and Political Situation in Russia in May 2011”

I.G. Dezhina – Doctor of Economics, leading researcher, Social Economy Department

1 Decree of the RF Government of 13 July 2009 № 550 “On Competitive Selection of the Universities Development Programs, which Obtain Category ‘National Research University’”, and Regulation on the Competitive Selection of the Universities Development Programs, which Obtain Category ‘National Research University’”.
  2 Order of the RF Ministry of Education and Science № 279 of 29 July 2009.
  3 Special expert Commission was set up to assess the NRUs activity (Order of the RF Ministry of Education and Science of 4 February 2011 № 167
“Commission of the Assessment of the Efficient Implementation of the National Research Universities’ Programs”).