Russian universities aim to become global research giants — Analysis

A state program that boosts research in order to make scientific breakthroughs is being implemented by over 100 universities. Priority trends are energy and genetics.

In June 2021, Russia’s Ministry of Science and Higher Education called on the country’s universities to participate in the ‘Priority 2030’ academic leadership program. This initiative is intended to promote Russia as a desirable place for scientists and students from abroad, and boost research and education. This program is intended to bring balance to the educational process across all Russian regions. It also aims to ensure that students can realize their potential as scientists.

More than 100 Russian universities were invited to participate in the program, which would see them receive 100 million rubles (or $1.4mn annually). Dozens of applicants applied annually for grants up to one billion rubles ($13.6mn). Valery Falkov from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education said most of these programs have a connection to Arctic research or the energy sector. “There are a lot of strategic projects dedicated to modern genetics, and not only in classic biology, but also in agriculture and medicine,”In September, he spoke out to media.


The Russian State Agrarian University, Moscow was one of the Priority 2030 participants. It is named after Kliment Timiryazev (a world-famous botanist/physiologist). This university received a Research Leadership special development grant. According to its education team’s vision, modern agriculture is facing a major challenge – to provide a growing population with quality food and to preserve nature for future generations at the same time. So, it designed a special development program called ‘Agro-breakthrough 2030’, which consists of four main projects.

The first one, called ‘Agro-science: Global challenges’, is dedicated to gaining new knowledge and technology, plus creating new research fields. Second, it aims to improve the quality of the sector’s professionals and educate future researchers. Third, which is designed to support talented young people more broadly, was created. And the last one, ‘Green Campus’, aims to transform the university by setting up museums and tourist routes to make it more attractive for visitors. 

“While developing Agro-breakthrough 2030, we want to achieve significant results for the agricultural complex for both our country and the whole world,” the university’s rector, Vladimir Trukhachev, said while presenting the program in September.

Agrarian University is opening a lab of genetics selection and biotechnology in an effort to improve its research. This facility was built with the support of Bayer (German pharmaceutical and life science giant). It is fully equipped with modern technology for studying plants at a molecular level and in cellular levels.

Tool to make drugs & vaccines research easier

Another education center, which became a Priority 2030 academic leadership program participant and received a Research Leadership grant of almost a billion rubles, is St. Petersburg’s ITMO University. Previously called LITMO – Leningrad Institute of Precision Mechanics and Optics – the university now leads a wide range of research in telecommunications and sensors, as well as robotic, energy-saving and artificial intelligence technologies.

ITMO’s work is also dedicated to health monitoring, as well as to genetic studies. Its specialists, together with colleagues from Austria, developed the Parallel Rearrangements and Breaks identification toolkit (PaReBrick) – an algorithmic solution for the identification of parallel rearrangements in bacterial populations. Researchers explain the process: “The tool takes a collection of strains represented as a sequence of oriented synteny blocks and a phylogenetic tree as input data. The tool identifies and tests for rearrangements. It also sorts events according to their parallelism score. The tool provides diagrams of the neighbors for each block of interest, allowing the detection of horizontally transferred blocks or their extra copies and the inversions in which copied blocks are involved.”

Scientists believe the PaReBrick tool can be used for medical, evolutionary and molecular studies. You can use it to study the rapid evolution of new bacteria phenotypes and antibiotic resistance mechanisms. This could also be used to develop drugs or vaccines.

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