Russia spans from the Eastern plains of Europe to the Orientals of Asia. The country covers 17,075,400 square kilometers, making it the largest country in the world. The official language is Russian, although there are some 100 languages spoken among the 160 ethnic groups registered to be living within Russian borders. This makes Russia an incredibly diverse country, with no one culture to guide your expectations.
Russian higher education is most famous for its superiority within the areas of science and research. It is said that over one quarter of the world’s scientific literature is published in Russian - a surprisingly uniform language despite its enormous spread across country and peoples. It is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Russian Education System
The Russian Education system is largely based on the central European system, and quite similar in its structure. The system is split into four major parts – primary, secondary, higher and postgraduate education. Although the names broadly correspond to the same education types as elsewhere, there are some differences.
Secondary education in Russia is completed in 11 years instead of 12 as in many other countries. Year one to nine are obligatory. After that each student can choose one of several ways to move forward. The certificate of Basic General Education received after year nine can lead on to two more years at secondary school, which gives a Certificate of Complete Secondary Education which in turn makes the student eligible for entry into higher education. Another alternative is to pursue an associate degree at a tradesman school or college lasting three years and generally leading directly on to work.
Russian Higher Education
There are three basic kinds of higher education institutions in Russia. These are Universities, Academies and Institutes. Universities offer a wide spectrum of programs on all levels of education. Academies provide higher education at all levels and conduct a large amount of research – usually specialized in one branch such as science, art or architecture. Institutes are independent parts of universities or academies offering professional education programs.
Russia has more university graduates than any other country in Europe. This is largely due to the government financing all education and higher education including living expenses during the Soviet era. There are some 519 institutions of higher education and 48 universities in Russia. Russia has historically placed much emphasis on science and technology in educations, and most of the government run institutions are specialized within this area. This is also where Russian higher education has its best reputation. To complement these traditional Russian institutions, many private institutions of higher educations have been emerging, often providing education in those areas not traditionally in focus such as economics, business and law.
Degree Structures in Russia
Higher education in Russia normally lasts between four to six years. The first four years of full time university study leads to a Bakalavr (Bachelor) degree. The completion of the course requires a research project and passing the state final exams. The Bachelor degree is awarded in all fields except medicine, where the first stage lasts for six years.
Once students have obtained their Bakalayr degree, they are eligible for entry into a Specialist Diploma and Magistr’s (Master’s) degree program. In Russia, this does not count as postgraduate education, as is the case in most other countries. The master degree is awarded after two years of study whereof one is a year of research including practice, preparation and defending of a thesis. In addition you must also sit the final exams.
Both Bachelor and Master degrees are relatively new. They did not exist in the Soviet system, and were introduced to conform the Russian system toward a more international standard in accordance with the Bologna Process. This change will hopefully mean a greater recognition and acceptance of Russian degrees abroad, which has been a problem for international students in the past and has kept the numbers of international students down.
A Master’s degree qualifies the student to enter postgraduate education. Postgraduate education is obtained at a university or scientific institute and is split in two parts. The first level usually results in a Kandidat nauk degree, which is a Candidate of Sciences. This first level is roughly equivalent to a Ph.D. in the United States.
Further postgraduate education (2-4 years) leads to a Doctor Nauk degree which then leads on to a Doctor degree. The latter is rarely awarded to anyone below 40 as the time between these two degrees is generally around 10 years.
International Students in Russia
As the language of instruction is mainly Russian, most international students in Russia come from Poland and the near Baltic states many of whom previously included in the Soviet Union. Increasingly however, more international students from all over the world are coming to Russia – usually for its superior education in technology and science and its very affordable tuition costs. Chinese students are an especially large group followed by the Near East and North Africa. With the increasing numbers of internationals students, some schools have started programs in English in order to attract more students from abroad. Most of these programs can be found in the two main international hubs of Moscow and St. Petersburg.
As any study abroad period, studying in Russia will require some additional preparation. For more information on the issues of entrance requirements and financing your studies read on.
Russia requires almost all foreigners to hold a valid visa for entry into the country. As a student, the most fitting choice of visa for you will most likely be a student visa. Russian visas are only issued with a letter of invitation from your host – in this case your future university. It may take up to 75 days for you to receive this letter of invitation – so start well ahead of time with your application!
Consult your nearest Russian embassy or consulate for exact information, but generally you will need at least the following:
Academic documentation with notarized translation into Russian.
- For Bachelor studies (BSc/BA): school-leaving certificate
- For Master studies (MSc/MA): Bachelor’s or Specialist’s degree certificate
- For Postgraduate studies (Candidate’s=PhD degree): Master’s or Bachelor’s certificate
Transcript (document showing the subjects you have studied with grades you have received) with a notarized translation into Russian.
Medical certificate and AIDS test result (Test must be taken at an MSU clinic).
The Centre of International Studies Certificate or certificate showing the results of your test of Russian language.
The entrance requirements vary depending on the university and the faculty you are applying to, but are as in most places based on your previous grades, and sometimes and entrance examination and interview. Grades and transcripts must always be translated into Russian and notorized. Russian universities will often require non-native speakers to enroll in a Russian language course at the university before starting their full time studies.
The top universities in Russia are have very competitive entrance requirements based largely on entry exams held each year. All students with a Russian citizenship must apply for studies according to the standard system, regardless of whether they live in Russia or abroad. If you have dual citizenship, you are able to apply as a foreign student using your non-Russian passport. The unified State Examination, similar to the SAT used in the United States will be in use all over the country by 2009, and will largely replace high school final exams and individually administered university admission tests.
If you are applying for advanced degrees (M.A./M.Sc., Ph.D., D.Sc.) you will need to have your previous degree(s) in the same or a very similar field. This requirement is rather strict, especially in comparison to the US or the UK.
Compared to many other countries, the cost of studying in Russia is very low. Most Russian nationals are not required to pay tuition provided they get good results in their course of study. Although international students pay tuition, in comparison to many other places costs are still low. Tuition for degree study can range from $2000 to $8000 per year, with other costs (room & board, books, etc.) ranging from $1500 to $5000 per year, depending on location and spending habits. Also, it is possible for a small quota of international students to have their studies financed through Russian federal fellowships.
As with tuition, housing costs are quite low. It is often necessary however to be prepared for a lower standard than you may be used to at home if you choose to live in university accommodation. The larger cities naturally offer the possibility to rent private accommodation of your own choice.
It is quite common for foreign students to live in home stay accommodation, where you will have your own room in a Russian family home. This costs slightly more than the university dormitories, but will give you a completely different immersion in both the Russian language and Russian culture.
Another alternative is to stay in the university dormitories. Here there are different options, some single rooms but always with shared bath and kitchen. Rooms are basically furnished and it may be worth mentioning that beds are generally very small. Dorms are usually located on campus, meaning you live close to classes, an internet café and sports facilities, which may not always be the case if you live in home stay accommodation. Dorms are full of students at all times, both Russian and international. This gives you the same opportunity for culture immersion as living in a family home, although it is always easy to seek out other English speakers and miss out on a full Russian experience.
A third option is privately rented accommodation. Many former students recommend staying in dorms for a few months first, before moving in to private accommodation. This gives you the opportunity to get to know future room mates and also time to search for an apartment. Good apartments can be hard to find, and may be a matter of luck. You will soon notice that internet listings, especially those in English, will already be taken and it is often worth the deposit of a month’s rent often requested by apartments let through agents.
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