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PhD Study in Russia - A Guide for 2019

Russia is a study abroad destination like no other, with a proud intellectual tradition and a huge higher education system. Studying a PhD in Russia represents a fantastic opportunity to take advantage of its world-class universities and to immerse yourself in the unique local culture.

This page is a guide to Russian PhD degrees, covering essentials like fees, funding, applications and visas.

PhD opportunities in Russia – what’s on offer for 2019?

There are around a quarter of a million international students in Russia, making it one of the most popular study abroad destinations in the world. This huge country – the largest in the world – spans nine time zones and offers boundless research opportunities for adventurous PhD students.

As the birthplace of legendary novelists like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, as well as renowned scientists Ivan Pavlov and Mikhail Lomonosov (who lends his name to the Lomonosov Moscow State University), Russia has an impressive scholarly heritage for doctoral students to tap into.

Here are a few reasons you should consider Russia for your PhD:

  • Diverse cultures – From the glittering metropolises of Saint Petersburg and Moscow to the frozen tundra of Siberia (and a whole lot more in between!), Russia is a wonderful country home to many different cultures, landscapes and traditions.
  • Affordability – The cost of living in Russia is low, which is good news for PhD students on a tight budget!
  • Scholarships – The Russian government offers around 15,000 scholarships each year to international students, covering tuition fees, a maintenance allowance and accommodation.

PhD Study in Russia - Key Details
Universities 766
Nobel Prize Winners 31
Oldest University Saint Petersburg State University (1724)
International Students 250,658
PhD Length 3-4 years
Representative Fees €3,500
Academic Year September to June

PhD life in Russia

Want to know more about life for international PhD students in Russia? Our detailed guide covers everything from accommodation and living costs to culture and entertainment.

Russian universities

It will come as no surprise that a country as huge as Russia has a higher education sector to match: there are 766 universities in Russia, ranging from big state-funded universities to smaller specialist research institutes. In fact, over half the population in Russia has a university degree!

There are several kinds of university in Russia:

  • Special status university – Moscow State University and Saint Petersburg State University both have ‘special status’, recognising their high standards and contributions to research over the years
  • National research universities – There are 12 universities with this status, which gives them extra budget for research, equipment and teaching
  • Federal universities – These universities are state-funded
  • Academies – These institutions specialise in certain disciplines

Although state-funded universities make up the majority of higher education institution in Russia, there is a growing number of private universities across the country.

Russian university rankings

Russian universities perform well in global rankings tables, with several institutions among the top 500 according to the various leagues.

Top 10 Russian Universities in 2020
University THE 2020 QS 2020 ARWU 2019
Lomonosov Moscow State University =189 84 87
Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology 201-250 =302 401-500
Higher School of Economics 251-300 =322 901-1000
ITMO University 401-500 =436 801-900
National Research Nuclear University MEPhI 401-500 =329 601-700
Novosibirsk State University 501-600 =231 401-500
Peter the Great St Petersburg Polytechnic University 501-600 - -
Tomsk State University 501-600 =268 801-900
Kazan Federal University 601-800 - -
National University of Science and Technology (MISiS) 601-800 =451 801-900
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

Russian university cities

As you’d expect from a country with a population of around 144 million people, Russia is blessed with many distinctive and vibrant cities in which to study a PhD. The capital, Moscow, is a sprawling metropolis with an unparallel sense of history, while Saint Petersburg is generally considered the cultural centre of Russia (and of course has its own fascinating past).

Other popular student cities include Tomsk, Kazan and Novosibirsk, which even has its own ‘academic town’, Akademgorodok.

PhD structure

Russia joined the Bologna Process in 2003, which brought its higher education system more in line with other European countries. This means that university students follow a familiar three-stage cycle of a Bachelors followed by a Masters and then a PhD.

However, Russian universities do use slightly different terminology to describe these stages:

  • Level 1bakalavr (Bachelors) degrees
  • Level 2 – specialist or magistr (Masters) degrees
  • Level 3kandidat nauk (Candidate of Science) and doktor nauk (Doctor of Science) degrees

You’ll notice that there are two level 3 qualifications here. The ‘Candidate of Science’ is equivalent to a standard PhD elsewhere in Europe, while the ‘Doctor of Science’ is more similar to a post-doctoral degree.

To keep things simple, this page focuses on the Candidate of Science qualification. If you want to find out more about post-doctoral degrees, please head over to our sister site, FindAPostDoc.com.

Something else to bear in mind when looking for a PhD in Russia is that they are sometimes referred to as ‘post-graduate’ (or postgraduate) qualifications. Masters degrees aren’t usually described as postgraduate qualifications in Russia.

Russian doctoral degrees

The route to becoming a Candidate of Science is often referred to as the aspirantura, with prospective PhD students known as aspirants.

The aspiranta typically involves a combination of the following elements of a doctoral studies programme:

  • Lectures and seminars
  • Pedagogical courses
  • Research
  • Writing and presenting a dissertation, then defend it in front of a committee

The PhD can be studied of a full-time or a part-time basis, but can’t take longer than three or four years, respectively.

Supervisors

Once you’ve begun the aspirantura, you’ll be appointed a supervisor (you don’t usually contact your prospective supervisor during the application process like in other countries).

This supervisor will fulfil the duties of a tutor, helping you create a study plan and making sure you’re on the right track with your research.

Assessment and examination

The aspirantura is a rigorous academic process and you’ll be expected to take examinations in several subjects over the course of your PhD. You may also be tested on your skills in Philosophy and a foreign language.

The dissertation is a key part of becoming a Candidate of Science in Russia. This important piece of work will be assessed based on the originality of the contribution it makes to your academic discipline, as well as the strength of your research.

Like in other countries, you’ll usually have to pass a kind of viva before graduating. In Russia, this takes the form of a public defence in front of a Dissertation Council of around 20 people.

You’ll present your findings and take part in a discussion, after which the council will vote on whether your thesis is up to scratch. If at least two thirds of those present give your dissertation a pass, you’ll be successful in your journey to becoming a Candidate of Science!

Fees and funding

PhD fees in Russia vary widely according to the course and university. The average is around €3,500 per year, but tuition fees can be as low as €1,780 or as high as €5,780.

Russian government scholarships

The Russian government offers around 15,000 scholarships to international students at state universities each year, covering the costs of tuition fees, providing a monthly allowance as well as accommodation.

International scholarships are allotted to different countries by quota – you can find out the numbers by contacting your nearest Russian embassy or your preferred university’s international office, who should be able to advise you.

You can begin your application by registering with the official Study in Russia portal, indicating your level of Russian language proficiency and up to six courses you’d like to apply for.

Afterwards you’ll receive an invitation to take part in an interview and a test. Scholarships are awarded on a competitive basis, taking into account your academic background and your performance in the examinations.

Applying for a PhD in Russia

By registering with the Study in Russia portal, you can send applications directly to universities, free of charge.

You’ll need to prepare the following documents as part of your application:

  • A completed online application form
  • A copy of your passport
  • Your Masters degree certificate
  • Medical certificates showing that you’re HIV-negative and disease-free

If your initial application is successful, you’ll be invited to take part in the competitive selection process for a government scholarship.

The final step is to apply for a student visa (more on that below) and then begin your journey to Russia.

Student visas

Once you’ve received a letter of acceptance from your university of choice, you’ll need to begin your application for a Russian student visa (unless you’re from a visa-exempt country).

Who needs a visa for Russia?

If you’re from one of the following countries, you won’t need a Russian visa:

  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Belarus
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Moldova
  • Tajikistan
  • Ukraine
  • Uzbekistan

Nationals of all other countries will need to apply for a student visa before they arrive in Russia.

Applying for a visa

You should apply for a student visa at your local Russian embassy or consulate, bringing with you the following documents:

  • Your passport (and a copy of its front page)
  • Your university’s letter of acceptance
  • A completed visa application form
  • A medical certificate showing that you’re HIV-negative and disease-free
  • A passport-sized photo

This student visa is only valid for three months initially – after this time period you need to apply for a visa extension at the local immigration authorities. The extension will be valid for another year and will need to be renewed on an annual basis.

Health insurance

When you arrive in Russia, you should buy a voluntary health insurance (VHI) policy. This is because the Russian healthcare system only provides emergency treatment free of charge and international healthcare insurance plans are unsuitable for a long-term stay in Russia.

Your university’s international office will normally be able to help you apply for a VHI. The minimum price for private health insurance for foreigners in Russia is around €1,380.

Next steps

After graduating with a Russian PhD, you’ll be well-placed to put your skills to practice in any number of fields, from research and academia to the professional sectors.

Can I work in Russia after my PhD?

Russia has fairly strict conditions for international students hoping to remain in the country after their studies have finished. You can find out more about the process for acquiring a work visa or permit on the Study in Russia website

Find a PhD in Russia

Decided that Russia is the right destination for your PhD? Why not get started browsing some Russian PhDs? Alternatively, you can look at our other guides to PhD study abroad.

Last updated - 01/11/2019

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