Russian universities benefit from private funding bonanza

Russian big business has significantly ramped up the amount of money it is putting into national universities in recent years, according to the presidents of Russia’s top universities. This chimes with a recent Times Higher Education analysis, which placed Russian universities in 11th place, in terms of money secured from industry per academic. That survey found that the Russian academics secured $36,400 (£22,300) per researcher, up from $25,000 in 2009.

Private investment at the Moscow State University (MSU) has doubled since 2009 and now accounts for about 25% of the university’s RUB19 billion (£352 million) budget. The same trend can be seen at the Higher School of Economics, Russia's most prestigious economics university. Currently the School of Economics’ annual private donations are in the range of RUB1–1.5 billion – around 10% of total funding – and continuing to grow.

A spokesperson for the Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute, Russia’s leading university in the field of engineering, says the increase in private funding in recent years has helped it to develop composite nuclear fuel pellets and high-performance neutron-absorbing materials for nuclear power plants. Among the major private investors in Russia’s university science are financial conglomerates and business groups, such as AFK Systema, as well as oil and gas giants like Lukoil.

According to Michael Tokarev, executive director of the Oil and Gas Center of Moscow State University, Russian oil companies prefer not to invest in basic research, but to buy off the shelf technologies. Lukoil is estimated to be paying $22 million per year to Russian universities for their work.  

IT and high-tech giants, as well as oil and gas producers, are interested in harnessing the intellectual power of Russia’s universities. Andrey Ivanov, chief operating officer of JetBrains, one of the world's leading software firms, says the company invests a significant amount in universities and this is growing each year. ‘There is a clear trend that private business has significantly increase investments in Russian universities,’ he says. ‘We have a special expenditure item in our budget, which involves funding of educational and research projects […] This is a very important component for our business and we will continue to invest in the development of intellectual potential.’

However, while private investment in Russian institutions is still increasing it still lags behind other countries, according to Denis Manturov, Russia’s trade and industry minister. Manturov notes that private money going to Russian universities is currently estimated at no more than 1% of GDP, compared with around 3% in the US and western Europe.

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