Higher Education in Russia


Nowadays the Russian education system is going through a period of massive changes. A number of federal regulatory documents was approved to define the objectives and instruments of the state policy in the field of education. The Decree of the President of the Russian Federation No 599 “On measures for implementation of the state policy in the field of education and science” signed May 7, 2012; the Federal Law No 273 “On education in the Russian Federation” with effect from September 1, 2013; the state programme of the Russian Federation “Education Development” for 2013-2020; the federal programme “Scientific and pedagogical personnel of innovative Russia” for 2014-2020 are among these documents.


According to Rosstat as on 1 January 2012 there are 1046 higher education institutions (HEIs) and 2100 branches (among which 609 state HEIs, and 437 private HEIs) delivering over 36 767 programmes of higher professional education to 6 million students.

Before the beginning of democracy in Russia there were only state HEIs, which were governed by the central managing education body. Since 1993 there has been an avalanche growth of private HEIs (359 new HEIs in 19 years, Fig.1.1). At the same time since 1993 for the period of 19 years the state sector has grown by 61 HEIs, mainly through the establishing of new HEIs and the branches of the existing HEIs, which acquired the status of autonomous HEIs. Thus, the total number of HEIs has increased one-half. The leading role in the process of establishing new branches of HEIs has been played by the state sector: in 1993 there were 200 branches of the state HEIs, in 2008 – 1393, in 2012 – 2100.

There was also a rapid increase in the number of study places: in 1993, total student enrolment was just over 2.5 million; by 2008, it had increased to 7.5 million, mainly as a result of the rapid growth in the number of fee-paying students enrolled in state HEIs. It should be mentioned that during this period the State did not limit the growth of the higher education sector, but rather promoted it by permitting the admittance of fee-paying students to state HEIs, the branching of institutions and the establishment of new ones. The supporting state policy ensured the availability of higher education opportunities in the difficult and unstable economic situation which limited the mobility of Russians and thus prevented them from gaining access to higher education in large cities. The number of students in 2012 decreased by 18% compared to 2009 and dropped to 6 million, which is explained by the demographic situation in the Russian Federation. Small HEIs dominate in the system of education (40% of HEIs have less than 1000 students, in particular, two thirds of HEIs in the private sector have less than 1000 students (32% of HEIs have less than 200 students).
From 2000 to 2012 the number of programmes offered by the Russian HEIs increased from 20 000 to 36 000 mostly due to the newly opened educational programmes in Economics, Law, and Humanities.

In addition to the abovementioned, two more categories have been recently introduced into the Russian higher education system: Federal universities and National Research universities, both with the mission of becoming the driving force of Russian higher education through the development of best practices and models of management, methodology and content of education.
Nine Russian HEIs, that have been granted the status of federal universities, prepare highly qualified professionals for the fields of science, industry and economy most relevant in the regions and federal districts of Russia as stated in their long-term strategic plans of socio-economic development.

Research universities – twenty-nine Russian HEIs acquired this status – are to provide highly qualified professionals for priority fields of science, engineering and high technology.
Two Russian universities, Lomonosov Moscow State University and Saint Petersburg State University, were granted a special status within the Russian higher education system, as well as the right to issue their own diplomas.


There are the following educational levels in the Russia Federation:
1. Pre-school education;
2. Basic (primary, general, and secondary) education;
3. Secondary vocational education and training;
4. Higher professional education: bachelor, specialist, master and post graduate qualifications.

According to Federal Law “On Education in the Russian Federation” 29.12.2012 № 273-FL the following stages of higher education are identified:
- Bachelor — total study duration no less than 4 years;
- Master — total study duration 2 years (the program is available after the completion of the Bachelor degree);
- Specialist — total study duration no less than 5 years;
- Post-graduate studies.

Russian HEIs offer academic programmes at the Bachelor’s, Specialist’s and Master’s levels.
Bachelor degree programmes focus on basic training and courses relevant to the degree programme and the fundamentals of the subject. Bachelor programmes are offered virtually in all fields of study with few exceptions, for example, medicine. Bachelor degree programmes are of general scientific and professional character. Bachelor programmes offered in Russia have a standard duration of four years. Bachelor’s degrees are awarded to students upon successful completion of undergraduate studies. Graduates obtain the Certificate of Bachelor in a related field of study: for example, Bachelor of Economics, Bachelor of Law, etc. Bachelor’s degree holders may enter the workforce immediately and take up jobs requiring applicants to have higher education. Bachelor programme graduates may also pursue a Master’s degree in their major or related study field, or apply to a Master’s degree programme in a different discipline from that of their Bachelor’s degree.

Master degree follows the Bachelor degree level. The length of Master degree programmes delivered by Russian HEIs is two years. Master level programmes offer students a deeper and a wider perspective on related fields of study, and in-depth specialization in their majors.
Bachelor level programmes are more practice-oriented; Master programmes provide students with competencies they will need for their future research or teaching activities.
In spite of the fact that the transition to two-cycle system has been a subject of much controversy in Russia, it is now a fait accompli. A thorough, informal multifaceted preparation of HEIs for the transition is an essential precondition of its efficient implementation and positive outcomes. For example, the new flexible structure of Bachelor level programmes allows rather quick modulating and upgrading as adequate reaction to the rapidly changing production technologies and, consequently, employers’ demands. Master degree programmes are characterized by an even higher degree of flexibility which is aimed at the development of students’ research potential. Therefore, graduates of Bachelor and Master programmes are expected to be well prepared for the changing contemporary labor market or research sector demands and have highly developed professional competencies and adaptive abilities. Of primary importance is the fact that the “Bachelor-Master” system of higher education is widely accepted throughout the world which promotes professional mobility of graduates on the international labor market.

It should be noted that the two-cycle system is not used with regard to approximately one hundred specialties which are listed on a special Register adopted by the Federal Government of Russia. Academic studies in the specified majors lead to the Specialist’s Diploma.
A Specialist Diploma programme is a traditional form of Russian higher education, which comprises basic education with in-depth specialist training in the chosen area. Regular duration of a full-time programme is 5 years, of a distance programme – 6 years.


In the Russian Federation the requirements for the quality of education and training are set at the state level by the Federal State Educational Standards (FSES). The FSES is a set of coordinated state educational standards and requirements binding for all state accredited educational programmes of primary, basic general, secondary, secondary vocational education and higher professional education. FSES shape the contents of education and establish the required quality of the content of education (curricula and syllabi); the teaching and support staff; the information provision of the teaching and research process (modern sources of information and different types of available support – printed and electronic – which correspond to the content of course programs as well as means of information transmission, storage and use); the actual knowledge and skills of graduates (minimum requirements in regard to the level of knowledge and skills of graduates).
The State Educational Standards are developed by leading higher education institutions, representatives of the academic community, and employers, whose work is coordinated by the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation.

Higher educational institutions belonging to the categories “the federal university” or “the national research university”, and also federal state educational institutions of higher education approved by a special Order of the RF President have the right to develop their own educational standards at all levels of higher education. The requirements of such educational standards for the conditions and the learning outcomes of the delivered programmes cannot be below the corresponding requirements of the FSES.

More information on the Federal State Educational Standards in the Russian Federation