Tertiary (University Level) Education

According to a 2005 UNESCO report, more than half of the Russian adult population has attained a tertiary education, which is twice as high as the OECD average.

As of the 2007-2008 academic year, Russia had 8.1 million students enrolled in all forms of tertiary education (including military and police institutions and postgraduate studies). Foreign students accounted for 5.2% of enrollment, half of whom were from other CIS countries. 6.2 million students were enrolled in 658 state-owned and 450 private civilian university-level institutions licensed by the Ministry of Education; total faculty reached 625 thousands in 2005.

The number of state-owned institutions was rising steadily from 514 in 1990 to 655 in 2002 and remains nearly constant since 2002. The number of private institutions, first reported as 193 in 1995, continues to rise. The trend for consolidation began in 2006 when state universities and colleges of Rostov-on-Don, Taganrog and other southern towns were merged into Southern Federal University, based in Rostov-on-Don; a similar conglomerate was formed in Krasnoyarsk as Siberian Federal University; the third one emerged in Vladivostok as Far Eastern Federal University. Moscow State University and Saint Petersburg State University acquired the federal university status in 2007 without further organisational changes.

Andrei Fursenko, Minister of Education, is campaigning for a reduction in number of institutions to weed out diploma mills and substandard colleges; in April 2008 his stance was approved by president Dmitry Medvedev: "This amount, around a thousand universities and two thousands spinoffs, does not exist anywhere else in the world; it may be over the top even for China ... consequences are clear: devaluation of education standard". Even supporters of the reduction like Yevgeny Yasin admit that the move will strengthen consolidation of academia in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Novosibirsk and devastate the provinces, leaving the federal subjects of Russia without colleges for training local school teachers. For a comparison, the United States has a total of 4,495 Title IV-eligible, degree-granting institutions: 2,774 BA/BSc degree institutions and 1,721 AA/ASc degree institutions.
Financial and visa difficulties have historically made it difficult to obtain higher education abroad for young adults in the post-Soviet era.

Traditional model
Historically, civilian tertiary education was divided between a minority of traditional wide curriculum universities and a larger number of narrow specialisation institutes (including art schools). Many of these institutes, such as the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute, and the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography, are concentrated primarily in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Institutes whose graduates are in wide demand throughout Russia, such as medical and teachers' institutes, are spread more evenly across the country. Institutes in geographically specific fields will tend to be situated in areas serving their specialties. Mining and metallurgy institutes are located in ore-rich territories, and maritime and fishing institutes are located in seaport communities.

Medical education originally developed within universities, but was separated from them in 1918 and remains separate as of 2008. Legal education in Russia exists both within universities and as standalone law institutes such as the Academic Law University (Russian: Академический правовой университет, АПУ) founded under the auspices of the Institute of State and Law. In the 1990s many technical institutes and new private schools created their own departments of law; as of 2008, law departments trained around 750 thousands students.

In the 1990s the institutes typically renamed themselves universities, while retaining their historical narrow specialisation. More recently, a number of these new private 'universities' have been renamed back to 'institutes' to reflect their narrower specialization. Thus, for instance, the Academic Law University has recently (2010) been renamed to the Academic Law Institute.

In these institutes, the student's specialisation within a chosen department was fixed upon admission, and moving between different streams within the same department was difficult. Study programmes were (and still are) rigidly fixed for the whole term of study; the students have little choice in planning their academic progress. Mobility between institutions with compatible study programmes was allowed infrequently, usually due to family relocation from town to town.

Unlike the United States or Bologna process model, Russian higher education was traditionally not divided into undergraduate (bachelor's) and graduate (master's) levels. Instead, tertiary education was undertaken in a single stage, typically five or six years in duration, which resulted in a specialist diploma. Specialist diplomas were perceived equal to Western MSc/MA qualification. A specialist graduate needed no further academic qualification to pursue a real-world career, with the exception of some (but not all) branches of medical professions that required a post-graduate residency stage. Military college education lasted four years and was ranked as equivalent to specialist degree.

Move towards Bologna Process
Russia is in the process of migrating from its traditional tertiary education model, incompatible with existing Western academic degrees, to a modernized degree structure in line with the Bologna Process model. (Russia co-signed the Bologna Declaration in 2003.) In October 2007 Russia enacted a law that replaces the traditional five-year model of education with a two-tiered approach: a four-year bachelor (Russian: бакалавр) degree followed by a two-year master's (Russian: магистр, magistr) degree.

The move has been criticised for its merely formal approach: instead of reshaping their curriculum, universities would simply insert a BSc/BA accreditation in the middle of their standard five or six-year programmes. The job market is generally unaware of the change and critics predict that stand-alone BSc/BA diplomas will not be recognised as "real" university education in the foreseeable future, rendering the degree unnecessary and undesirable without further specialisation. Institutions like MFTI or MIFI have practiced a two-tier breakdown of their specialist programmes for decades and switched to Bologna process designations well in advance of the 2007 law, but an absolute majority of their students complete all six years of MSc/MA (formerly specialist) curriculum, regarding BSc/BA stage as useless in real life.

Student mobility among universities has been traditionally discouraged and thus kept at very low level; there are no signs that formal acceptance of the Bologna Process will help students seeking better education. Finally, while the five-year specialist training was previously free to all students, the new MSc/MA stage is not. The shift forces students to pay for what was free to the previous class; the cost is unavoidable because the BSc/BA degree alone is considered useless. Defenders of the Bologna Process argue that the final years of the specialist programme were formal and useless: academic schedules were relaxed and undemanding, allowing students to work elsewhere. Cutting the five-year specialist programme to a four-year BSc/BA will not decrease the actual academic content of most of these programmes.