More Russian universities in world university rankings

A student doing a research at the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI.

A student doing a research at the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI.

Valery Sharifulin/TASS
Russia has bettered its global educational representation, with 22 Russian universities featuring in the 13th edition of the Quacquarelli Symonds annual list of the world's top universities. The number of Russia's educational establishments among the top 400 universities is up from five to eight.

Russia’s representation in world university rankings continues to grow, with the latest QS World University Rankings showing a positive trend for domestic universities, an improvement on last year, when almost a third of Russian universities went down the ranks.

This year’s list has eight Russian universities (instead of five last year) ranked among the world's top 400 universities. The list, published by the British company Quacquarelli Symonds on September 6; has added Moscow Engineering Physics Institute, Tomsk State University and Tomsk Polytechnic University. Lomonosov Moscow State University, holding its 108th position, has again been named the best Russian university.

St. Petersburg State University dropped two places to 258. Novosibirsk State Technical University made the top 500 list for the first time, raising the presence of Russian universities to 22. Of these, 18 have advanced in the rankings from the last year.

Is Project 5-100 efficient?

The authors of the rankings stopped considering scientific articles with a large number of authors (more than 10) in 2015, causing a serious blow to some ranked leading Russian universities. Many of them rolled back to their position of two or three years ago.

When that happened, the state came to the rescue of Russia's leading universities. A special project was devised to promote the best (the Project 5-100), involving 21 universities. A total of 54 billion rubles ($836 million) was allocated for the project from the budget from 2013 to 2015, and 14.5 billion rubles ($224 million) is planned for 2016-2017.

Ben Sowter, head of the QS Intelligence Unit, believes that government support helps participants. Thirteen out of 21 universities supported by Project 5-100 were listed in the rankings, and all 13 either retained or improved their ranking in 2016, he said.

The compilers have, however, warned that Russian universities still have a serious weak spot – research and citations per faculty.

Russia has the lowest rate on this indicator among BRICS countries: 86 percent of the universities have seen their position, for citations per faculty, slip and, as a result, none of them made the top 600 list on this indicator.

Citation problems

The assessment of universities in terms of citations is intended to highlight the “research impact” of any given university – the more often articles produced by a university are cited in other research, the more influential the university is considered to be.

"The Russians are historically very weak on this indicator. It would be a little too optimistic to expect a revolutionary breakthrough here," said Zoya Zaitseva, QS regional director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Zaitseva said compilers of the rankings list abandoned last year's practice of limiting the number of co-authors of the study to 10 organizations, which had an effect on Russian universities’ slump in the ranking. Instead, a system of coefficients was developed to calculate citations of articles according to branches of science.

This system will also not contribute to a swifter rate of achieving goals stated in [President Vladimir Putin's] May decrees, said Lyudmila Solntseva, director of the Ranking Information Centre at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

"The new methodology leaves out articles involving more than 59 organizations in the field of 'Physics & Astronomy,' while, for example, in the field of 'English Language,' the number of organizations should be no more than four," she said.

Given that Russian researchers often work in co-authorship with foreign colleagues, this would have a negative impact on development of cooperation with foreign organizations, Solntseva said.

First published in Russian by Kommersant.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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