Never before in Russian history has higher education been as widespread as it is today. While Russian universities opened their doors to students from underprivileged social groups back in 1917, by the end of 1980s, only 25% to 30% of Russians, by optimistic estimates, held university degrees. Yet between 1989 and 2014, their proportion more than doubled, while the number of universities in the country increased accordingly, from 514 in 1991 to 896 in 2015.
Today, 54% of Russians aged 25 to 64 hold university degrees, making Russia, along with Canada, the world’s leading countries in terms of tertiary education attainment. However, access to higher education is uneven across Russian regions. According to HSE experts, failure to study these subnational differences can lead to misinterpretation of processes such as migration, urbanisation and social mobility.
The HSE researchers examined access to higher education in Russia in three aspects: availability of places at universities, affordability and location.
In a broader sense, good access to tertiary education means that anyone who is willing to study for a degree and has the required level of basic education can enrol in university. On average, only a third of Russians aged 17 to 25 have such access, and there are important regional variations.
Graph 1 shows the regional ratios of places available at universities to the number of local residents aged 17 to 25. The highest ratios are observed in the Kursk region (49.6%), Moscow city and region (49.2%), and in the Tomsk region (46.4%). Yet in half of all Russian regions, these ratios are below 28%. The Nenets Autonomous District has no universities and thus the lowest ratio, at 0%, and the ratios are quite low in Dagestan, Altai Republic, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Tuva and the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District.
Source: Report 'Access to Higher Education in Russian Regions'
The researchers also analysed the probability of getting enrolled in a good university, defined as those which admit applicants with an average USE score of above 70.
Graph 2 shows the proportion of first-year undergraduates enrolled in good universities. Their proportion is high in St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region (64.7% of all first-year students), Tomsk (56.9%) and Sverdlovsk (47.2%) regions, and in Moscow city and region (38.1%). In contrast, 29 Russian regions do not have universities in which applicants' average USE scores are higher than 70.
Affordability was calculated based on the cost of tuition plus housing and living expenses; the researchers also took into account the likelihood of getting accommodation in a dormitory. Where the costs are too high, potential students may choose to get a job rather than apply for a degree or move to another region where higher education is more affordable.
Affordability was found to be the highest in St. Petersburg, with plenty of subsidised places at universities, reasonable cost of tuition and availability of dormitory accommodation. In terms of affordability, St. Petersburg is followed by the Amur and Vologda regions. The lowest affordability of tertiary education was observed in Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya.
However, if tuition is the only cost included in the calculation, then Ingushetia and Chechnya have the most affordable universities, alongside Altai, Tuva and Adygea. In turn, regions with the most expensive education include Moscow, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District, Kamchatka, and Tyumen and Nizhny Novgorod regions.
Russia is a country with the world's largest territory, and physical access to universities – which often depends on the size of a particular region – can play a major role in tertiary education enrolment.
While finding a university nearby is easy in Moscow city and region, Ingushetia and Karachaevo-Cherkessia, universities are spread over vast territories and thus far less accessible in the Khabarovsk region, Buryatia, Transbaikalia, and in the Magadan and Sakhalin regions.
Overall, access to higher education in Russia can differ greatly from region to region. Yet very often, how attractive a particular region is and how many universities it has are the main considerations which tip the scales in favour of certain locations, such as Moscow or St. Petersburg.
See the full text of the paper 'Access to Higher Education in Russian Regions" here.