World-class university education from Russia

The most prestigious Italian university will teach and assess most of its degree, and all of its postgraduate courses in English from 2014.

Chinese universities have been adding bilingual lectures to curricula to make their students more competitive if they want to seek jobs in foreign companies or banks.

In the Netherlands, professors have complained of Dutch becoming a second-class language. At Maastricht University, all teaching is already in English, apart from Dutch law and some components of the medical course.

Munich's Technical University (TU) already uses English in 30 of its 99 master's courses, and now the board of trustees has followed a recommendation by the university's president to switch to English for most other master's modules by 2020.

English is increasingly becoming the lingua franca for education institutions across the world — from primary schools to universities.

University administrators tend to regard "English as a Medium of Instruction", or EMI, as a facilitator to attracting financially lucrative international students, and as a way to improve an institution's position in global university rankings.

Although institutions believe they can improve both financially and academically as a result of EMI, there are also problem areas, ranging from lectures in English, but exams in other tongues (because of local legal problems with English-only usage); to the English-speaking ability of professors; to issues such as what is actually being assessed: English, or the subject content?

While the ability to use a second language besides English is no longer a requirement to earn a PhD in the United States, and prestigious foreign universities worldwide have gone gaga about degree programs entirely, or almost entirely in English, at least one major university in Russia seems to be bucking the general trend.

Ural Federal University (UrFU), named after Russia's first President B. N. Yeltsin (the university's graduate of 1955), which acts as a research and innovation centre of the Ural region, and which has close cooperation with the Russian Academy of Sciences, is bucking the general trend on EMI emphasis.

At UrFU you can study virtually anything under the sun, except the field of law. While EMI is seen as important to graduate to world-class university status, the UrFU has a different approach, one which is less sensational, but not necessarily less wise.

A major priority is, of course, the internationalisation of education. However, at UrFU the process is genuinely internationalistic.

They have collaborations with various universities and international organisations. Today there are more than 300 agreements with foreign universities. Regular student and teacher exchanges happen, and they have joint projects, scholarships, even scientific laboratories.

Particularly touching is their relationship with Italian universities or atenei.

Italy is actually one of their main strategic partners! Why? Well, Russia has a similar university structure to Italy, they share many common interests with Italians related to the development of integrated training, and they share close cultural ties as well.

Actually UrFU began to collaborate with Italian universities even before the merger of the Ural State Technical University with Ural State University. Back then, they immediately started a partnership with the University and the Polytechnic of Turin.

Moreover, in the past there was an Italian college within UrFU, and this is why they have many students who are fluent in Italian. Currently they have nine operating agreements with Italian universities, with students regularly organising twinning, conferences, and projects. Russian students regularly go to Italy, and vice versa. For example, UrFU and the University of Genoa have presented a joint project for water purification.

To become a world-class university, you need to create new programs of study in English, but the simple translation of the course does not help; a university's entire culture needs to change, in order to facilitate full instruction in English or EMI. The teachers of UrFU are now actively studying English, but this process takes time and effort.

However, the truth is that UrFU is already a world-class university, they have strong ties with Italy through nine agreements, but more than 300 agreements with other foreign universities, in other countries besides Italy, and in probably many different languages.

The recent political-economic developments between Russia and the West are only likely to improve the academic connections, and variety of connections with the world outside of Russia, and within Russia UrFU has close cooperation with the Russian Academy of Sciences with 26 members in the same, and that makes it Russian "Ivy League" material.

In 2013, Ural Federal University entered the list of 15 Russian universities that won in a competitive selection for the right to receive a special subsidy, targeted at enhancing the global competitiveness of the university, and increasing its positions in the international rankings. Since the Roadmap was officially approved in October 2013, it is only a question of time before UrFU enters the top-100 of world universities category, but I think it is there already, so it can only improve with time.

The triumph of English

English spreads as teaching language in universities worldwide

Top university switches master's to English

Italian university switches to English

English language use 'most significant internationalisation trend for HE'

Verso l'università globalizzata

About the University (Ural Federal University)
HMRD Cesidio Tallini [1, 2]
Saint René Descartes University