Russia and Israel have good histories of science and technology.

But, I never saw any Russian and Israeli university in the top 50 list.

Currently, the top Russian university, according to QS World Ranking is, Lomonosov Moscow State University. Its position is 114. This is far worse than China. The top Chinese university Tsinghua has a position of 47. The same problem can be seen in Israeli universities.

Why do Russian and Israeli universities score low in various world rankings?

What is the problem? And, why aren't they trying to improve the situation?

  Russia  |   114  |    196    |      84      |       129       |    48**
  Israel  |   138  |    188    |      70      |       207       |    22**

** this ranking is an exception.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – eykanal
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 12:59
  • Another one: Leiden ranking. There are list, chart, and map views.
    – Daniel
    Commented Oct 5, 2019 at 13:21

8 Answers 8


Why do Russian and Israeli universities score low in various world rankings? What is the problem? And, why aren't they trying to improve the situation?

As a researcher originally from a country in a similar situation (Austria - historically great, Nobel prize winning researchers - now all universities ranked in the far 3-digit range in most rankings), I can try to speculate. Note that, of course, reasons may differ between Russia and Israel, or between institutions, so there may easily just not be the reason for this phenomenon.

  • Most rankings are perceived as garbage. Not scoring highly is not perceived as a big deal that needs changing. Unlike in the US and other places, students generally don't care about rankings, and neither do employers. Hence, historically, the universities simply did not care whether they were top-something or not. I think this was the big reason historically in Austria, but it is slowly beginning to change due to top-down pressure from the government. Note that, even today, local students and employers still don't care about rankings, but foreign students and funding sources do, so there is at least some incentive to do something about it.
  • Most rankings are actually kind of garbage. Many universities outside of the US simply are not as bad as their ranking suggests. Most rankings are either extremely top-heavy in their criteria and hence not very good at distinguishing the 50-best university from the 200-best in a field (e.g., counting Nobel prize winners), or implicitly assume that universities loosely follow the US way of organisation and naming. For instance, my alma mater has historically lost many points in some rankings due to an insanely bad faculty/student ratio. However, this was really mainly due to in Austria only chaired full professors being considered "real" faculty (called "Professorenkollegium"). Hence, the way of counting underestimated the real number of teachers available to students by a factor of 4 or 5. This has, afaik, been fixed by now, but an implicit bias for an US style of organization is still prevalent in many rankings. Further, unlike US universities, there are very little efforts in Austrian universities to tune their numbers for specific rankings. Generally, close to nobody at your average Austrian university has any idea what even the big rankings are looking at.
  • Being historically good does not mean that the universities are still good. Decades of underfunding for research have severely reduced the quality of research that is being produced. Both things above considered, one has to assert that all the "historically great" universities in Austria aren't actually great anymore. Decades of underfunding, neglect by politicians, and questionable hiring practices for professors have certainly led to big, fundamentally detrimental changes to the university culture. At this point, Austrian universities are still pretty good at teaching students, and there is still reasonable research going on, but it would be wrong to assume that any university actually deserves to be considered on the same (research) tier with top English or US schools. I am pretty sure that at least in Russia, long-lasting underfunding will also be a big reason why the schools don't show up more prominently in rankings.
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – eykanal
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 13:00

Despite the absolutely excellent answers already written one huge issue goes unmentioned: Language. Let's examine the different factors accounting the QS ranking for example:

QS Ranking methodology

  • Academic reputation:
    • Determined by a world wide survey, but even in a modern non-Russian eastern European country a researcher is more likely to know English (1200 million speakers) than Russian (260 million, but declining), and for that reason is more likely to read English research coming from US and UK based institutions.
  • Employer reputation:
    • Same story, though to a lesser extent.
  • Faculty/student ratio:
    • Objective.
  • Citations per faculty:
    • Same story, the more accessible a piece of research is, the more likely others will read and cite it.
  • International student ratio:
    • If the spoken language is known by more people, then it's more likely those people will come to study at your place.
  • International staff ratio:
    • Same story.

Some case studies

A case worth looking at is how the Dutch rank in the top 100. The Netherlands only has a population of 16 million, however of those 16 million, 15 million speak English. Additionally - and more importantly - a lot of masters are taught in English, most research (depending on field) is written in English and even in Bachelors English lecturers are accepted (though a lot of institutions have rules limiting the percentage of English classes a student is allowed to have in his bachelor). Result: Six Dutch universities are ranked in the top 100. Compare that to France, a country famous for its protectiveness regarding their language, with a population of 66 million and only two universities in the top 100 (and four in the top 200).

And the same applies when you scroll throughout the entire list: the more people speak the language that is predominant in the institution, the higher it is ranked. Of course this is only a factor and it isn't absolute, because if it were, Chinese (1350 million speakers) institutions would be ranked number 1 (though they have been climbing at a ridiculous speed) and Indian and South American institutions would do significantly better, however even as just a single factor of many, its importance should be underrated.

Russia and Israel

To finish off with the two countries you mentioned: considering Russia has 260 million speakers, I would still expect them to do better, but they have quite a closed off academic culture (I have met Russian researchers that were barely able to speak and read English at all... something I can not even imagine in western Europe even including France). Israel on the other hand I have no idea about (never met any Israeli researchers), but 85% of the 8 million population speaks English and they have three universities in the top 200, which sounds quite reasonable.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – eykanal
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 13:00

Firstly, it has to be noted that overall rankings, by definition, paint a very rough picture due to averaging universities' key performance indicators (KPIs) across a variety of disciplines and fields of study. Since both Russia and Israel have a rich history of scientific achievements mostly in hard sciences (mathematics, physics, etc.), the overall nature of world rankings introduces a significant bias due to considering the above-mentioned whole spectrum of disciplines and fields of study. If you would consider a ranking in a particular discipline or research area, where Russia and Israel traditionally have powerful positions (i.e., computer science), the situation would be significantly different, confirming those positions (as have been already mentioned in some comments above).

Secondly, if you would pay attention to methodology used in, for example, QS, Times and CWUR rankings (see this page, this page and this page, correspondingly), and compare QS and Times indicators with CWUR indicators, you would notice that the former assign a high weight on some factors, which IMHO are quite subjective and biased, whereas the latter represent a much more balanced set of indicators. In particular, I'm talking about assigning 40 percent to academic reputation (QS) and 24 percent to academic reputation and research income (Times), where reputation is determined by surveys (thus, subjective) and research income is unadjusted for geo-economic differences (thus, biased; even the methodology itself labels that indicator "controversial"). On the other hand, the CWUR ranking contains a balanced set of indicators, all of which are objective measures. Therefore, while you call CWUR ranking "an exception", I would argue that it much more fully represents real life situation, whereas QS and Times do not.

Thirdly, there are other country-specific factors, which existing methodologies do not include or adjust for, which bias the results of rankings, which represent the situation very approximately in the first place. I mean such factors, as underfunding (as noted by @xLeitix), administrative issues (i.e., bureaucracy), economical issues (i.e., corruption) and political situation in Russia, which generates more than usual "brain drain" (thus, introducing additional bias) as well as [public] underfunding and geo-political situation in Israel (I'm less familiar with this country's research environment, so this is just my best guess, based on what I know and some common sense/logic).

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – eykanal
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 13:00

Most answers here are good, but theoretical. I will try to complement them from the practical side, in particular tell about Russian universities.

Undoubtedly, all rankings are biased. However, I do not think they are complete junk: the positions correlate with the quality of research and education undergoing within universities.

In fact, it is not true that the government does not care or does not try to improve positions in the ranking. There is an initiative generously funded from budget to have 5 Russian universities in Top100 of world rankings (you can switch to English). Victor Sadovnichy, rector of Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU) repeatedly condemned world rankings for their biases. As a result, in 2011, a formally independent analytical agency from Russia built a ranking where MSU ended up on 5th place surpassing Harvard, Stanford and Cambridge (an article in Russian; the website of the rating itself has been discontinued), which was laughed at.

I will try to decouple the reasons of poor performance in ratings to subjective and objective ones. The former may be characterised as biases, while the latter actually explain the lower quality of research/education.


  • The large weight in the rating is often given to research visibility. Universities in Russia are mostly for teaching, while a lot of research is done at non-teaching institutions (most notably, Russian Academy of Sciences institutes). Even at top universities, many professors are quite unproductive by Western standards. There is no external motivation to conduct quality research and publish, so they just resort to teaching. Many professors work both at a university and a research institution, and specify the latter as an affiliation in their papers, so they don’t count to success of their university.

  • Indeed, many researches publish only in Russian journals, which are not indexed by Scopus and similar bases; thus the papers/citations are not counted. This is partly objective, since the community is smaller, thus the standards of quality are lower. But it is understandable: a lot of researchers matured behind the Iron Curtain. During the second half of XX century the interactions with the Western colleagues were discouraged and often impossible. Now, some of those professors pass this culture to their students. See also @David Mulder’s answer on how language affects rankings.


  • As @Aleksandr Blekh noted, most successes of Russian science are connected to hard sciences, while ratings average over subjects. Humanities and social sciences are traditionally weak. This is also understandable given the history of the country: do you need research in market economy or political science if you do not have markets nor working democracy?
  • The science was indeed underfunded for 20 years, thus the brain drain. Even now, when the funding is greater, it is still lower than in the West, and is poorly managed. For example, PhD students generally do not receive a salary (just a stipend around $100 / month), so most bright graduates choose a “real job” (internal brain drain).
  • The universities are state-funded; students generally do not pay for education. The interaction with industry is rare: in the natural-resource based economy, companies do not struggle to innovate. The low demand on quality research from the economy also hurts performance of universities.

Source: recently graduated from MSU.

  • Some good additional practice-based points (+1). BTW, congratulations on graduating. Commented May 30, 2015 at 7:50
  • This answer is what I have been waiting for over the past two days. Thanks for letting us know. I knew there are reasons. BTW, Congratulations on your graduation!
    – Nobody
    Commented May 30, 2015 at 8:22
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    Thanks. @scaaahu I also wonder about Israeli universities. Their research is quite visible in my field (computer science). Probably they are not very open to foreign students as well.
    – user908
    Commented May 30, 2015 at 23:19

What is the problem? And, why aren't they trying to improve the situation?

The plain answer is that it is not a problem and there is no point trying to “improve” the situation.

Each ranking has its purpose and methodology. For instance the well-known Shangai ranking was introduced by China as this country started a cycle of reforms of their educational and research system, taking inspiration on the corresponding systems and USA, esp. taking Harvard as a model of what the best Chinese universities should look like at the end of that cycle of reforms. As a consequence Harvard is consistently first in Shangai ranking – which just means that Harvard remains Harvard – and Chinese universities progress in that ranking – which just means that reforms are accomplishing their purpose. I do not know the details and purposes or other rankings, but I assume they are similar.

There is actually a subtle problem bound to rankings. In countries enjoying a well-developed and healthy academic system but having a poor ranking, it is tempting for some politic responsible to reorganise the academic life to win some places in a ranking. This will produce the desired effect because good material is already here, and the responsible can advertise its good results. However, it is likely that this reorganisation of academic life broke an organisation that used to work well. It is not clear that the, mostly, perceived advantage of a good ranking, is worth the trouble.


The earlier answers were pretty thorough, but I'd like to give an example to illustrate why these surveys have major issues. In my field, mathematics, the Shanghai survey ranks King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia #10, right above MIT which is ranked #11 and well above the University of Chicago at #23. Rest assured, this does not resemble reality; King Abdulaziz University simply does not have a top-notch math department.

Interestingly though this survey rates Moscow State and the Hebrew University #26 and #27 respectively in math. So Israel and Russia aren't being underrated in this particular case.

At any rate, these are pretty good examples of why these rankings should just be considered entertainment and not to be taken too seriously.


My Alma Mater is Cornell, a university that is in the top 20 in most rankings. Then I worked for many years in USP, a Brazilian University. I also worked in a few Danish and French universities. Finally, I visited many universities from the top 100. I cannot believe that Lomonosov Moscow State University or Bauman University could be behind USP. In fact, I cannot understand how these Russian universities could be behind Cornell. However, I will advance two tentative explanations. The first one is that when a Russian publish a paper, it is a very good one, something like a new element in the periodical table, or the properties of graphene. Researchers from Cornell and USP are not so careful with the quality of their publications. The other explanation is language. Russian and French researchers do have a tendency to publish in their languages, and consequently are ignored by the rankings.

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    This answer is making things generalized and purely hypothetical without any evidence. I don't agree at all.
    – Coder
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 21:44
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    Your claim that all Russian papers are "very good, something like a new element in the periodic table" is complete nonsense. Just this evening, it happens that I read a paper by Russian authors. They failed to understand basic undergraduate material. Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 1:16
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    He didn't say all Russian papers are of high quality; he meant to say that generally or on average Russian papers have higher standards of innovation than the Western/American system. While lower standards of exposition I would assume. I tend to agree.
    – Dilworth
    Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 21:39

All very simple (answer is in Russia) :3

first: all publicaton on russian language

two: In my University there is a Department " Russian school of Economics ". Have any of you heard the name of such an economist "Yablochnikov" ?

But all of you, knows "Adam Smith".

  • 4
    Hi, welcome to SE Academia. Please rewrite your answer in a clearer way.
    – Scientist
    Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 14:02

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