Kali Hays – Reform or Repression: What’s Behind Russia’s Mysterious College Shutdown?

Russia’s economy has taken a beating lately; the ruble is shaky, Western sanctions are taking a toll, and Putin is, well, he’s Putin. In spite of, or perhaps due to, all this, the country’s Ministry of Education is carrying out a federal plan to close hundreds of universities by the end of next year.

Schools facing the axe are mostly private institutions that the Ministry claims are flailing pseudo-schools that offer no education, keeping Russia from being a competitor in higher education. But some suspect that this may be little more than an attempt to stamp out independent thought—in a country so famed for censorship that the idea of a free press has become an actual joke.

Whatever the truth, developments like this in a country now engaged in a quasi–Cold War with the West bear close scrutiny.


Russia’s avowed goal for this process is to be a real competitor in the field of higher education and attract an international staff and student body. Not so long ago, the country would have expected to see its schools peppered throughout any regarded compilation of top universities—especially graduate schools focused on the hard sciences. This is the country that beat the US in the Space Raceafter all; that has produced 27 Nobel Laureates, most of them in the either physics or chemistry.

In reality, the top of these lists are comprised, almost exclusively, of universities in the United States, the United Kingdom and Western Europe. Even non-Western schools that make it into the top 100, like The University of Hong Kong, are well-known for only hiring teaching staff with masters and PhDs obtained at Western universities.

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