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The goal of Project 5-100 is to maximize the competitive position of a group of leading Russian universities in the global research and education market.

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Why Go to Russia for a University Degree

May 15, 2019

Would it surprise you to learn that there are many spots around the world where you can come across a Russian university – or, at least, a Russian university’s representative office? Since 2014 ITMO University has been running one in Brussels, within easy walking distance of the European Parliament and European Commission headquarters, and another in the small Italian town of Arezzo. Far Eastern University (FEFU) has an office apiece in Beijing and Hanoi, while St Petersburg Polytechnic University (SPbPU) has established a presence in Madrid and Shanghai.

But what is a Russian university today?

At hundreds of universities that span Russia from Kaliningrad in the West to Vladivostok in the East there are, as Deputy Minister for Science and Higher Education Marina Borovskaya puts it, elementary particles to accelerate for would-be physicists, ultrafast 5G networks to test and microsatellites to assemble for aspiring engineers, Da Vinci robotic-assisted surgery to perform for trainee physicians and a writing style to hone in student media outlets for embryo journalists.

Russian universities offer wide opportunities for creativity and personal development, through professional workshops and internships, trips and excursions, volunteering activities and social design endeavors, festivals, contests and international competitions.

For those who would like to try their hand at research or do a PhD to improve their career prospects but would prefer to condense their studies into fewer years, Russia’s foremost universities offer Integrated PhD (iPhD) programs, which enable undergraduates to start a PhD (‘candidate of sciences’) thesis while reading for an MA.

Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU) was the groundbreaker, launching two iPhD programs, in Biomedicine and Physics, in 2018, says Nadezhda Polikhina, executive director of the Project 5-100 Office (Project 5-100 is a government-run initiative aimed at making Russia’s top universities more competitive globally). TPU students enrolled in the programs are engaged in conducting pure research, creating smart materials for biomedical applications and designing dosage forms and high-precision drug delivery systems. As experienced young researchers, they will continue these studies on a postgraduate level. This year, National University of Science and Technology MISiS has followed suit with iPhD programs in Biomaterials, Additive Technologies for the Manufacturing Industry and Quantum Materials Science.

Russia’s leading universities offer English-taught MA programs. These run the gamut fr om engineering and nuclear physics to cryptocurrencies and IT security. The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), for instance, has earlier this year announced that it is launching five new Master’s programs, in Digital Transformation; Blockchain; Cyber Security; International Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology; and Industrial Bioinformatics. Importantly, they are all practice-oriented, which means that their graduates have experience and hands-on skills when entering the job market.

National University of Science and Technology MISiS Rector (President) Alevtina Chernikova draws attention to her university’s English-taught Master’s program in Quantum Physics for Advanced Materials Engineering wh ere leading Russian and foreign scientists teach students to design devices for quantum cryptography, develop super- and semiconductor-based electronics for space applications and use quantum physics methods to model and predict the properties of materials.

Alternatively, students can opt to enroll in Russia’s first Arts & Science MA program, which has recently been launched by ITMO University. ITMO’s First Vice Rector (Vice President) Daria Kozlova says that this program, taught in English by invited professors, trains students in skills that they will be able to apply in the emerging fields of contemporary art and science, arts entrepreneurship, museum and exhibition curating, high-tech art and others.

Those who are not attracted to a career either in art or in science have an opportunity to graduate fr om Russian universities as full-fledged entrepreneurs. At present, 71 higher education institutions across the countryaccept students' startups in lieu of traditional theses, and from 2019 this option will be made universally available. Among those that already offer it are several Project 5-100 participants, with MIPT going so far as to require Technology Project Management students to complete a tech startup project as part of their MA thesis. The initiative has also been taken up by FEFU, Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University (IKBFU), ITMO University, TPU and the University of Tyumen (UTMN).

While doing their startup projects, students will learn a lot about corporate finance, accounting, taxation and marketing, which should stand them in good stead when launching new ventures. However, student startups should not be regarded as mere training ground: they are often solid business propositions in their own right. Indeed, some of them have been quite good at raising funds. As FEFU’s Vice President for Development Dmitry Zemtsov points out, the first startup ever accepted by the university as a substitute for a final project (back in 2017), has since become a tenant at the Skolkovo technological park and attracted R10 mln (USD 151 thou.) in investment.

One would certainly like to emulate that success story, you will say, but wh ere does one begin? Nadezhda Polikhina of Project 5-100 has an answer: go to a business incubator at one of Russia’s top universities wh ere your project will be nurtured from concept to maturity. Have a market-winning idea but not the resource or expertise to execute it? Then college-linked startup accelerators may serve your turn, as they provide all-round support to would-be entrepreneurs via workshops, education programs, investor meetings, etc.

If it is an innovative, high-tech business that you are dreaming of building, consider applying at one of Russia’s top universities that have recently started training technology entrepreneurs. In the 2018-2019 academic year 34 universities from 25 Russian cities have added courses in Innovation Economics and Technology Entrepreneurship to their curricula. Boris Novikov, CEO of the Technological Park at St Petersburg Electrotechnical University LETI (ETU LETI), says: “Russian universities’ technological parks can set you on a path to become a second Elon Musk. For students such parks act as bridges between the theory they study, practical R&D and commercialization of their innovations. In a technological park a student gets hands-on experience developing new products, rubs elbows with leading industry experts, makes a meaningful contribution to the success of real-life projects and, last but not least, builds up a strong CV.”

Finally, suppose you have a good mind to study in Russia but do not rule out pursuing a career in another country. Then here is a further tip from Nadezhda Polikhina. Enroll in a double-degree program at one of the 21 Russian universities wh ere they are currently available to earn a degree both from the alma mater and its international partner. Note that Project 5-100 universities have teamed up with leading higher learning institutions from Europe, Asia, North and Latin America. For example, on completing a double-degree program in Mathematics, Physics, Mechanics or ICT at MIPT, you will also be awarded a degree from France’s prestigious École Polytechnique. Under ETU LETI’s dual-degree programs in ICT, Electrical Engineering, Physics and Power Engineering, a graduate will get a degree from a major Finnish educator, Lappeenranta University of Technology. The Higher School of Economics (HSE) has set up double-degree programs in conjunction with premier UK, US, German and French universities, while Novosibirsk State University (NSU) runs one in Economics with Norway’s Nord University.

After all, it may not be such a bad idea to look out that representative office of a Russian university…