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Russia is rapidly emerging as a destination for foreign students. Read on to discover the attractions of choosing to study in Russia, and for advice on Russia's best universities and student cities.
The country that produced Tolstoy’s War and Peace – an epic novel if ever there was one – is equally epic in its own dimensions. Sprawling across two continents and spanning an incredible eleven time zones, Russia is the largest country in the world by far. Within its vast boundaries lie some of the most luxurious palaces, extensive plateaus, highest mountains, coldest cities, strongest vodkas, best ballet companies, and largest collections of stacking dolls.
If you study in Russia, of course, you’ll get to do more than just sample a few traditional specialities and buy a souvenir fur hat. Studying in Russia represents an opportunity to get to know one of the fastest developing countries worldwide – one of the BRIC nations (alongside Brazil, India and China).
There are more than 880 universities in Russia, and the government is investing heavily in making improvements to the system – Prime Minister Valdimir Putin has spoken about an ‘educational revolution’.
Between 2011 and 2015, 390 billion roubles (US$13.5 billion) has been allocated for upgrading facilities and technical equipment at Russian universities, and improving training for teaching staff.
Further, the country is currently in the process of making its system more compatible with other European countries, having signed up to the Bologna Process. This means many universities in Russia now offer a choice between a four-year bachelor’s degree or a five-year ‘specialist’ degree.
In the QS World University Rankings 2013/14, 18 Russian universities are ranked within the world's top 800. The leader is Lomonosov Moscow State University (120th), followed by Saint Petersburg State University (240=) and Bauman Moscow State Technical University (334=).
See how universities in Russia compare with the other BRICS countries >
Find out more about Russia's top student cities...
Regularly ranked as one of the world’s most expensive cities, and boasting more billionaires than any other city, Moscow is certainly not a cheap option to study in, but definitely an exciting one.
Sure, you can still visit the main tourist spots – the Kremlin, Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral – but as a resident, you’ll find there’s a whole lot more to explore. In fact, from English-style pubs and French bistros to clubs with live bands and bars built for dancing on, Moscow offers pretty much every kind of cuisine, club and cultural experience you could desire. (Yes, that does include an opera-themed restaurant where the staff dress as Puccini characters.)
Lomonosov Moscow State University is Russia’s largest and highest-ranked university, at 120 in the QS World University Rankings 2013/14. Other highly ranked universities in Moscow include Bauman Moscow State Technical University (ranked 334= in the world), Moscow State Institute of International Relations (386), Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (441-450), Peoples' Friendship University of Russia (491-500) and the National Research University – Higher School of Economics (501-550).
Meanwhile Moscow itself appears at a very respectable 37th in the 2012 QS Best Student Cities.
Though sometimes referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’ or ‘Paris of the East’, St Petersburg really deserves to be recognized as one of the world’s most attractive and fascinating cities in its own right.
Like Venice, it’s an island city, built on 42 islands connected by hundreds of bridges, in the mouth of the Neva River. For high culture, St Petersburg is unbeatable – opera, ballet, literary greats, the world’s largest art gallery and more than 500 stunning baroque palaces (if you don’t think baroque palaces are your thing, prepare to be convinced by the Winter Palace).
The list of universities in St Petersburg is headed by St Petersburg State University, one of oldest and most prestigious universities in Russia, ranked at 240= in the QS World University Rankings 2013/14. It offers a selection of English-taught courses and is a popular choice for international students looking to study in St Petersburg. Also featured in the QS rankings is Saint Petersburg Polytechnical University (451-460).
Never heard of Tomsk? You’re not alone. But if you fancy heading deeper into Russia, away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist trail, you could do a lot worse than studying in Tomsk. A small city in the heart of Siberia, Tomsk has a long history of educational excellence, and has established itself as a leader in science and IT innovation.
Today there are six universities in Tomsk, including Tomsk State University and Tomsk Polytechnic University, both ranked in the world's top 600 in the QS World University Rankings 2013/14. An estimated 20% of the Tomsk population are students, and you can expect to hear a wide variety of languages being spoken.
There’s also lots to explore in Tomsk – beyond the labs and libraries lies a charming old town with vibrant arts and music scenes.
The majority of university courses are taught in Russian, so good knowledge of the language is a definite plus! However, some Russian universities offer one-year preparatory courses for international students, which allow you to get up to the required standard very quickly.
Depending on the university and your existing grades, Russian university requirements may also mean taking an entrance exam and/or attend an interview. International applicants may also be required to demonstrate proficiency in Russian or English, depending on which language the course is taught in.
Once you’ve been offered a place to study in Russia, the university will file for a Russian student visa for you. This should take between three and five weeks, and costs about US$40. Anyone planning to stay in the country for more than 90 days is also required to submit the results of a medical examination and HIV test.
A set number of state scholarships are available for foreign students each year, covering tuition fees, accommodation and medical insurance – but not travel or personal expenses.
Those without scholarships are advised to allow anywhere between US$3,000 and US$10,000 per year for fees and living costs, depending on the course and location. It is possible to obtain a work permit in order to take a part-time job, either on the university campus or elsewhere.
The Russian academic year runs from September to June, split into two semesters.
Are you planning to study in Russia? Connect with other international students in our forums >
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