- the concentration of resources in academies rather than universities
- excessive specialisation among existing universities
- a shortage of researchers caused by the economic crisis of the nineties
- excessive bureaucratic control over research projects
- limited fluency in English.
Over the next couple of years things might even get a bit worse. QS are considering introducing a sensible form of field normalisation, just for the five main subject groups. This might not happen since they are well aware of the further advantages this will give to English speaking universities, especially Oxbridge and places like Yale and Princeton, that are strong in the humanities and social sciences. But if it did it would not be good for Russian universities. Meanwhile, THE has spoken about doing something about hugely cited multi-authored physics papers and that could drastically affect institutions like MEPhI.
But after that, there are special features in the QS and THE world rankings that could be exploited by Russian universities.
Russia is surrounded by former Soviet countries where Russian is widely used and which could provide large numbers of international research collaborators, an indicator in the THE rankings, and could be a source of international students and faculty, indicators in the THE and QS rankings and a source of respondents to the THE and QS academic surveys.
Russia might also consider tapping the Chinese supply of bright students for STEM subjects. It is likely that the red bourgeoisie will start wondering about the wisdom of sending their heirs to universities that give academic credit for things like walking around with a mattress or not shaving armpit hair and think about a degree in engineering from Moscow State or MEPhI.
Russian universities also appear to have a strong bias towards applied sciences and vocational training that should, if marketed properly, produce high scores in the QS employer survey and the THE Industry Income: Innovation indicator.