Russian education authorities have decided to recognize foreign academic diplomas from 210 of the top-ranked universities in the world, including a large number in the United States and Britain. The move is part of a larger effort to hire more foreign professors to work at Russian universities, which the government has encouraged. Until now, in order to get their diplomas recognized by the Russian ministry of education, foreign professors teaching in Russian universities had to translate their dissertations and defend them, in Russian, before a panel of Russian experts.
The move also helps with another recent policy decision: to send thousands of Russian students abroad on government scholarships to earn degrees in critical areas like education management, state and municipal administration, and high-tech disciplines.
The government's decision to recognize degrees from universities abroad will improve conditions for foreign professors working in Russia but only partly, experts say. If an academic did not graduate from a top-ranked institution, he or she will still have to undergo a complicated credential-review process. Besides, without their diplomas recognized by the state, academics neither have a right to participate in the dissertation defenses of their graduate students, nor can they influence faculty decisions and policy; every six months they are required to write hundreds of pages of reports in Russian to describe their research to Russian ministry of education. And some professors say the 210-university list is arbitrary.
For Russian-speaking professors who hold degrees from top-ranked institutions, the automatic recognition releases them from a four- to six-month review process by the ministry required for their research to be approved. But it remains impossible for non-Russian-speaking professors to participate in their graduate students' dissertation defenses, which must always be conducted in Russian.
The idea of using rankings, which are controversial in themselves, as a mechanism to recognize foreign diplomas came directly from President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Putin has said his government will, by investing more in existing institutions and recruiting top talent, develop several more top-ranked universities by 2020. Today only a few Russian universities, including Moscow State and Saint Petersburg State Universities, are considered among the best by some rankings.
"The methodology of selecting universities was simple," said Konstantin V. Severinov, a Rutgers University professor who advises the Russian ministry of education. "The ministry chose 300 top universities from top schools of the Academic Ranking of World Universities, the QS World University Rankings and the Times Higher Education World University Rankings lists and chose the ones that were on all three," he said. "That might look like a baby step forward, but it is a step in the right direction."
Not all foreign professors working in Russia welcome the move. Alexander M. Settles, a professor of management at the Higher School of Economics, one of Russia's most prestigious institutions, earned his doctorate from the University of Delaware, which did not make list. Mr. Settles has been trying to change the system since coming to Russia in 2006. But his diploma is still not recognized, so he cannot take part in any faculty decision-making in his department.
Mr. Settles also argues that lack of foreign-degree recognition is only one of Russian higher education's many problems. Dissertation committees, scientific reviews, and grant-making committees do all of their business solely in Russian. "If Russia wants to belong to the global education market, all the existing barriers to developing an international-quality Ph.D. program and publishing in international journals remain." he said.