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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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Middleweights gain ground: insights on mapping the educational power of cities

December 6, 2018

The British market research institute Euromonitor highlights the top 100 cities based on 2017 international arrivals, the research covers over 600 cities. Hong Kong ranks first, Bangkok 2nd place, London 3rd place, New York City (8th), Tokyo (14th), Shanghai (26th), Berlin (36th), Moscow (48th), Beijing (54th), St. Petersburg (59th). All are either megacities, capitals or countrie’s largest cities, but moving away from the heavyweights shows that contrary to popular belief, the world’s very largest cities are not driving global growth alone. One third of worldwide GDP growth is likely to come from middleweight cities. 

In light of rising populations and visitors, including through student mobility and edu-tourism, the demands placed upon city assets and resources will be outstripped believe experts. A common trend is cities since they concentrate R&D, business and studying opportunities and have strong international or interregional connections are becoming attractive destinations for people. Very large cities attract the most talent and inward investment. Yet empowered with universities, which are attracting industries and providing network effects, and often streamlined by the state funding and government-driven initiatives, a middleweight has the skills and talent it needs to feed growth. 

The larger the country, the harder it is to maintain a vast territory of land. Countries such as Canada, China and Russia are dealing with uneven population distribution, varying levels of employment, life quality and salaries on their territories. 

Whether it is an updated curriculum, new legislation, nation projects and initiatives or technological advancements, national education landscape have been long hilly and rough. But often, significant challenge presents an opportunity. While keeping up to speed with competing at the international markets can be a hard task for every regional university in Russia, we cannot ignore the transformative potential of some of them and their host regions, nor their efforts to equip students with the requisite skills to cope with a digital world and to be employable.

In Russia, Moscow and Saint Petersburg are traditionally attracting school graduates with the strongest academic skills. Many of the students from the Siberian region, Far East, South and Extreme North have been moving to the European part of this country, hoping to receive their diplomas in Moscow or Saint Petersburg, or move abroad. Enhancing profiles of regional universities and strengthening quality education across the country has been a big part of national higher education policies. Since 2013 Russian Academic Excellence Project (Project 5-100) has launched, Russian education has set a new best, state allocates more funding, and leading regional universities have emerged as the nation universities who are started to deliver better outcomes for students, strengthen research and yet promote student mobility instead of preventing brain drain. Behind the scenes, rectors were racing to find industry partners, research collaborations, joint contract with universities and honorary professorships, install new management systems and urged for better English-language environment in classes and at campuses. 

The evolution of regional universities tends to bring outcomes, the number of high school graduates with high Unified State Exam (USE) - a series of exams every student must pass after graduation from school to enter a university or a professional college - score applying to the universities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg has decreased within the last 5 years. According to the director of the Saint Petersburg Branch of National Research University" Higher School of Economics" (HSE) Sergey Kadochnikov, at least one third of the high-scored graduates choose regional universities as their studying place, rather than moving to Moscow or Saint Petersburg. 

According to the survey conducted in September 2018 jointly by HSE, Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation, the number of universities with high entry scores has grown since the previous year. The survey studied the results of the enrolment campaigns in 401 universities and 19 regional branches. 

Thereby, another data indicate the trend of shifting education power towards regions and creating balanced national education landscape in 2018, first-year students with the USE score 70+ make over the half of all the applicants enrolled in 162 universities out of 420. There has been an increase by 24 universities compared to last year. The number of the universities with an average admission score of 80+ has grown by 8 over last year and now makes 41. The 90+ top group includes now 7 universities, which is 5 more than in 2017. 

Russia's regional universities have contributed significantly to this growth. For example, in the Kazan Federal University (KFU) an average admission score was 78,7 this year. Tomsk State University, in turn, saw an admission score increase up to 76, 6. Regional universities have also been seeing an increase in the number of the applicants whose USE score is 100. For example, 70 of such students were admitted this year to the Novosibirsk State University (NSU). At the Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU), 51 people were enrolled with a USE score of 100, and 9 of them are winners of Olympiads. The number of the regions where students with high USE scores make over a half of all the first-year university students almost tripled in 2018, increasing from 4 to 11. These regions are Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Tomsk, Tatarstan, Novosibirsk, Leningrad region, Krasnodar, Sverdlovsk region, the Republic of Bashkortostan, Nizhni Novgorod and the Tyumen region.

The diversity of such higher education institutions gives the possibility to choose the right place students want to acquire Barchelors and Masters across the country with universities that value the quality and density of educational and research excellence given unique learning environment in classrooms students may rarely witness before. 

Talented students in classrooms, new education programs, hiring the best available teaching and research staff, increasing research networks, funding on cutting-edge science and infrastructure, regional universities, especially Project 5-100 universities, have been seeing a nationwide increase in the number of international students. The upturn follows a decade of moderate growth in foreign student enrolment, which now tops 272,000 at Russian universities and educational training programs. 

Foreign university applicants are traditionally drawn towards regions with strong universities and cities with a richer selection of schools. 

According to the QS Best Student Cities Rankings, in Russia, this includes not only Moscow and St. Petersburg. These rankings researching leading urban study destinations for international students, Russia's most international university cities except Saint Petersburg and Moscow are Tomsk, and Novosibirsk. 

“Tomsk features in the top five for affordability in the QS Best Student Cities 2018, with lower living costs than those found in larger Russian cities such as Moscow,” says QS. This city has become one of Russia’s major centres for science and education; it has a large number of universities and scientific research institutes, including Tomsk State University and Tomsk Polytechnic University. Representatives of almost all the CIS countries, and 30 countries outside the CIS, came to study at Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU) this year. Tomsk State University (TSU), in turn, opened its doors to students from 50 countries this year. 

In these rankings, Novosibirsk appears in the top 10 for affordability and is home to one of Russia’s most respected universities, Novosibirsk State University (NSU). NSU is also ranked 52nd among the world's universities with the best student-to-staff ratios by Times Higher Education (THE). This year, NSU is included in the 51-100 band of the QS world university subject rankings in Physics&Astronomy. The university is also ranked 12th in the QS Employer Reputation rankings in this subject area. 

High internationalisation levels in Tomsk and Novosibirsk were also noted by the Times Higher Education. TSU and NSU are listed among the world’s 200 best universities in terms of their exposure to the international research and academic environment. These institutions all have a high proportion of international students and staff, collaborate on research with scholars from across the world and have a strong global reputation to match. 

A profound change is also taking place at the Far East Federal University (FEFU), Ural Federal University (UrFU) and Kazan Federal University (KFU). Foreign students from 74 countries began their studies in FEFU in the 2018/2019 academic year. For comparison, in 2017/2018 the university opened its door to students from 67 countries. Over 60% of all the foreign students in FEFU come from the Asian countries. High attractiveness of the university for the Asian students can be explained by the leading positions FEFU is traditionally taking among the Russian education and research institutions in the region. UrFU is home to over 3000 foreign students from 75 countries. Over 6600 students from 94 countries are currently studying in KFU.

Yet, many foreign students still choose universities in Moscow, because the capital offers amazing opportunities for education and future career. However, an increase of the average admission score at the regional universities along with them featuring in the most prestigious world university rankings and becoming an attractive studying destination for talented students from Russia and beyond signals that the educational gap between this country's regions is narrowing, and cities are creating socially harmonious environments. Every year thousands of students begin medical, technical and physical education in the different regional universities in Russia, which is the best prove of the high quality of the education provided by them. 

Highly complex, extreme and demanding national education environment appears to be replacing with a less dramatic education landscape.

Yet many universities are to be prepared to cope with the speed at which the market and new challenges demand them to change; yet there are many instances of best practice that universities across the region can adopt. This trend shows that we expect universities to make some headway in improving and to identify what is preventing from fulfilling their potential and act to put these aspects right.