The new Russia Direct report deals with the most pressing issues facing the current system of higher education in Russia and provides an overview of steps required to change the system for the better.

The laboratory at the National University of Science and Technology MISiS, Moscow, Russia. Photo: TASS

The recent dismissal of Russian Education Minister Dmitry Livanov and the appointment of a new official – Olga Vasilyeva – to his position raised questions about the future of the country’s education system and its higher education institutions in particular.

According to some experts, the former minister actually tried to reform the rigid structure that Russia has been using since the Soviet period, but failed. Neither society nor the system was ready to accept and understands these reforms.

Today one cannot predict how the process of modernization in Russian universities – especially within the framework of the National Technology Initiative (NTI) – might turn out with the new, more conservative minister.

One thing is clear – universities, with their long tradition and history of scientific achievements, will have to adapt to the changing economic environment and find a way to use Western practices to work together with business. This, in turn, will allow Russia to boost its position within global technology markets in the future, which is the aim of the government-supported NTI.

How could Moscow accomplish this and what problems will it have to address? The answers to these questions are presented in the new Russia Direct report – “From University 1.0 to 4.0,” which explores how to nurture innovation and entrepreneurship in Russian academia.

The report offers a detailed overview of how to transform Russian universities to ensure their key role in developing the knowledge economy and explains the differences between different models for university development (from University 1.0 to University 4.0).

Russian Venture Company’s Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alexandra Engovatova of Lomonosov Moscow State University argue that the key advantage of universities as bridges between science and business is that they act as “global, open, and dynamic platforms that ensure success of the joint work of researchers, managers and engineers.”

Georgy Laptev, also from Lomonosov Moscow State University, agrees and sees huge potential in transforming Russian higher education institutions. However, he points out that “low demand for innovations from Russian businesses is still a substantial deterrent for Russian universities to transform.” Just as universities should become more open to working with business, companies should find new ways to partner with universities.

Kendrick White, a U.S. entrepreneur and advisor to the rector of the Lobachevsky State University of Nizhny Novgorod, explains why Russia is lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of developing an innovation-driven economy and argues that the authorities in Russia should do more to encourage change by expanding their time horizon and creating more favorable conditions for science and research.

“Russia could change the entire planet with its discoveries. So, the government has to take a longer-term horizon to review the successes and failures of different programs,” he writes.

Loren Graham, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and author of the book “Lonely Ideas,” echoes this view. In an interview with Russia Direct’s editor-in-chief Pavel Koshkin, he not only looks into the things that need to change in Russia, but also explains why the challenges facing Russia in being able to innovate its universities are so daunting.

What can the history of American universities teach Russia? Which Russian universities have the most promise to become innovation centers? Find out in our new report.