Alma Mater for IT specialists: 5 reasons to get IT education in Russia

Here is an interesting article by Forbes Education Russia on education in Russian generally, and IT education specifically.

By Alexey Maleev, Forbes Education Contributor director for distance learning programs at MIPT, head of the coaching staff of the Russian national informatics team and originator of the RuCode festival

Proginal publication date: 7 October 2020

Original source: Forbes Education

The notion that the Russian IT industry is less developed than the Western one is now beginning to become a thing of the past. This, of course, applies not to the size of the market, but to the development of technologies, the general level of specialists, the quality of products and, maybe primarily, to the education. For eight years in a row, Russian students have won gold at ICPC, the largest international programming Olympiad; Russian IT universities regularly appear in the world rankings, and their graduates work in companies all over the world and start their own projects in Silicon Valley. Here are some of the major reasons to study IT in Russia.

1. High level of education

To become a competent specialist it is not necessary to try by all means to win a scholarship at a foreign university. Russia has its own strong educational environment in IT area. It has its roots in the Soviet mathematical school: our students study maths much deeper than in the West. The victories of Russian students at international IT championships are the most eloquent proof of this thesis. In 20 years, Russia has won at ICPC 14 times in a row, and in the Facebook Hacker Cup’s entire history of medal count, Russia is ranked first with its five medals. Russian participants of Olympiads are hired by the largest technology companies or launch their own projects: for instance, in 2015, Snapchat bought a Russian startup called Looksery Inc., that was developed by a team of participants of international championships, for $150.000.000. Also, last year Snapchat bought the AI ​​Factory, at the origins of which, among others, was Alexander Mashrabov, multiple finalist of IT contests. Furthermore, Russia has the most developed competitive movement in IT area in the world. We also have many regularly held contests organized by important companies and universities: the Ural Championship (Ural Federal University (UrFU), Ufa State Aviation Technical University (USATU)), Technocup ( Group, Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), Bauman Moscow State Technical University), Yandex Cup, VK Cup, and many others. Educational programs ending in competitions have recently started to become popular – such as RuCode festival (15 leading Russian universities), Moscow Workshops Juniors (MIPT), Summer Computering School (ITMO +). These programs help to improve one’s skills and master new areas.

These initiatives also open up opportunities for career growth, since their organizers and partners are large corporations constantly searching for new specialists. That is a proper upward mobility for young people.

Apart from the victories at Olympiads, international ratings are indicative of the quality of the IT education in Russia. One of the most authoritative amongst them, the British Times Higher Education (THE), last year included two Russian universities – MIPT and ITMO – in top 100 universities in the area of Computer Science, and Moscow State University, St. Petersburg State University and Novosibirsk State University topped the new list of QS (Quacquarelli Symonds, Great Britain) that unites universities of developing Europe and Central Asia. It is not a coincidence that computer science and natural sciences have become the most popular fields of study among foreign students who apply to Russian higher education institutions: 24.3% of foreign students choose to major in these areas.

2. Developed technology ecosystem

An ecosystem related to IT and innovative technologies has been actively developing in Russia in recent years – and not only in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, but also in the regions. Kazan, Novosibirsk, Yakutsk, Samara and a whole number of other cities have turned into authentic IT hubs with technology parks, innovation clusters and a high-grade infrastructure necessary for the development of science and education. The most glaring example is Innopolis in Kazan, with its up to date university and Technopark offering 2.200 workplaces.

Innovative science and technology centers (ISTCs) are actively developing too. Their central notion is to create a close connection between technological business, science, and education.  At the core of such centers there usually is a large university (MSU  (Vorobyovy Gory ISTC), ITMO (ITMO Highpark), MIPT (Phystechpark), NSU (Akademgorodok 2.0)), the students of which have access to all the innovative technological structures: technological parks, modern laboratories, scientific centers, accelerators and business incubators. They learn not only from experienced professors – doctors of sciences, members of the Russian Academy of Sciences, but also from business representatives – employees of large corporations currently working in IT.

3. Close link with business

Since demand in the IT market is growing way faster than supply, the industry constantly lacks workers. This forces large technological companies to continually invest in initiatives that help to nurture new talents. For example, Yandex has a project called Yandex Lyceum that teaches coding to high school students, and a project called Yandex School of Data Analysis, a two-year program in the area of data science, data architecture and machine learning. Both programs are free of charge, but require active participation. For instance, at the Yandex School of Data Analysis one has to devote about 30 hours a week to learning and must pass admission tests. But then, the students gain a large amount of knowledge and upon completing the program they can get a job at Yandex or others large companies. Sberbank (School 21) and group (Technotrack) have their own free of charge educational initiatives dedicated to IT specialties. Also, this autumn Gazprombank is launching its TechnoCamp project – a six to nine month training program, the best graduates of which will be offered employment in the company.

Joint programs of technology companies and leading universities are also beginning to appear: last year, for example MIPT in collaboration with Huawei launched the Huawei Share course on computer vision for third and fourth year undergraduates and graduate students. And this year there has been news about two joint initiatives of this type at once: they belong to National University of Science and Technology (MISIS) in collaboration with Sberbank and Skillbox in collaboration with RANEPA.

Partnership with business helps universities to respond promptly to current market demands and adjust their study programs accordingly. For students, such partnership gives the opportunity to dive into real-life tasks that they will face after being employed and to gain experience in a company during practice and internships. There is yet another advantage – generally, companies working with universities provide students with job opportunities. That is a great start for graduates: right upon graduation they can gain experience in a large company, noticeably grow professionally and upgrade their CVs.

4. Opportunity to get investments

Another reason to study IT in Russia is that it is much easier to launch your own project here, get investments for its development and later on enter the international market with it. That is actually what happened with the international transport service InDriver, which now has more than 50 million customers in 31 countries, or with the developer of MyTona, the world famous mobile games.

According to the Association of Accelerators and Business Incubators of Russia, back in 2018 we had 260 operating business incubators and 103 accelerators, many of which were customized towards technological projects. The largest of them are the IIDF accelerator, Skolkovo Startup Academy, GenerationS, Fintech Lab, Sberbank Accelerator and 500 Startups. They invest in promising initiatives, including student ones. So, just last year, IIDF invested 31.1 million rubles in 13 technological projects. And from next year, students of 40 Russian universities will have the opportunity to work on their own business project and attract investments for it instead of working on a thesis. This is part of the Ministry of Education and Science’s initiative entitled «Startup instead of thesis». This initiative’s goal is to help the development of entrepreneurship in Russia.

5. Admission terms and tuition fees

Finally, getting an IT education in Russia is easier than getting it abroad. Russian study programs cost much less than foreign ones, and applying to a state-funded place is a lot less difficult than winning a scholarship. Also, if you study in Europe, you will have to spend at least € 10.000 a year on accommodation – and for the USA these figures are even higher. The cost of the education itself, if one has no scholarship, may vary: for instance, in Sweden you can pay from € 7.000 to €18.000 for one year of study, in the Netherlands and Denmark – from € 6.000 to € 16.000, in the UK – from €11.000 and more. These costs do not include additional charges. In Russia, the sum is significantly lower: averagely, from €1.000 to €4.000 – and, of course, living costs are far from being so elevated (of course, they also depend on the student’s standards of living).

Also, if you study in Russia, there is no such factor as a language barrier: normally, to apply to a foreign university you need to pass TOEFL or IELTS – and pay for exams and all the eventual attempts to retake them. If your study program is conducted in another language, you will also have to learn it – which means spending time and money on tutors. In addition, you will really have to invest in your language skills, since it is not only your academic success that depends on them, but also your professional development in general. Without a confident level of spoken language, a student can hardly participate in conferences, and can hardly count on getting a good internship or a promising job – while all this experience can be gained in Russia. Still, of course, it is clear that foreign languages ​​are necessary and important, and so is international experience, but all this can be mastered without unnecessary stress.

Published: March 1, 2021. Categories: Robert's Blog.