Reimagining Russian Higher Education

Could an experiment in progressive education in Siberia help transform Russia’s universities?

  • Victoria Burnside Clapp Yale University
  • Alexandra Kozulina Higher School of Economics
  • Nikki Lohr Middlebury Graduate School of Russian


In Tyumen, a Siberian city located some 1,000 miles east of Moscow, a radical experiment in Russian higher education is taking place. The School of Advanced Studies (SAS) is an institute that is attempting to bring multidisciplinary, liberal arts-influenced education to Russia. Founded in 2017, SAS operates as an autonomous institution within the state-funded University of Tyumen (UTMN). This article will analyze SAS’s current educational model through data and interviews with faculty, administration, and students. It is divided into five parts. The first section offers background information. We explain how SAS was founded, its source of funding, and why liberal education is an outlier in Russia. The middle three sections take a deeper look at the institution from the perspectives of the administration, students, and faculty. We document their observations about the SAS experiment, highlighting their differing views on what they believe the institute’s mission should be. These sections also analyze which elements of the SAS model are working so far and which ones need further development. The final section sums up our findings: how is SAS, a progressive, liberal experiment, able to exist in a traditional, generally inflexible Russian education system? So far, what are the institution’s successes and failures? And finally, is SAS a fluke experiment, or is there potential to create similar institutions throughout Russia?