Russia's Project 5-100 Reforms: The Key Stumbling Block For Alt-Right Idealism
The Russian Federation's higher education restructuring reveals a country unrecognisable from populist fantasies.

One of the more remarkable developments in the global politics of the 2010s is the astonishing rise of the alternative right or 'alt-right', an ideological grouping which has become a political kingmaker in a number of Western jurisdictions seemingly overnight. This loose collective is distinguished by a number of features – including considerable skill in the deployment of Internet memes, a deftness mirrored by its relatively weak offline presence – but arguably its most intriguing facet is a firm idealisation of the contemporary Russian polity and society.

In the conception of the alt-right, Russia is viewed as possessing a number of core and desirable modalities which are generally absent from the Western world, including: (i) old-school 'strongman' leadership as exemplified by Vladimir Putin; (ii) respect for traditional family values, which is enshrined in the country's legal code; and (iii) a racially and religiously 'pure' nation that brooks no tolerance with so-called 'multiculturalism'.

When it comes to the first two of these qualities, this perspective is broadly correct, at least factually: it is undeniable that Russia is – broadly speaking – a relatively authoritarian state in which the superlatively wily figure of ex-KGB operative Putin looms large; moreover, classical family values are highly-esteemed in today's Russian Federation, although both a very high divorce rate and a legally-sanctioned propensity towards domestic violence complicate this picture somewhat.

However, the third contention is not merely completely inaccurate – Russia is a state of incredible diversity, including being host to both the continent's only Buddhist-majority republic and one of Europe's largest Islamic populations (which is itself very heterogeneous) – but an examination of the country's higher education reforms reveal a country which is decisively charting a path towards a yet more diverse future. Moreover, the reason for adopting this trajectory exposes much of the alt-right rhetoric concerning the desirability of sameness as functionally illiterate from a results-based standpoint.

The higher education recasting in question can essentially be viewed as a response to a number of recent realisations: (i) the export of tertiary education is a significant source of revenue; (ii) the quality of Russia's universities needs to be upgraded to make them internationally competitive in providing these exports; and (iii) like every other country with serious global ambitions, Russia needs to attract and retain highly-talented individuals from around the world, and not just from its near abroad, to augment its human capital and tax bases.

Accordingly, the Ministry of Education and Science has implemented a number of measures aimed at realising the facilitation of what might be termed the 'Russian Dream': (i) in May 2013, it launched Project 5-100, a programme designed to create at least five universities judged by authoritative indices (such as those produced by Quacquarelli Symonds, TES and the Academic Ranking of World Universities) as being amongst the best 100 institutions of this type in the world; (ii) in June 2017, the ministry announced the related 'Development of the export potential of the Russian education system' initiative, which aims to increase the number of full-time foreign students studying at Russian higher education institutions from the current intake of 200,000 to 310,000 by 2019 and up to 710,000 students by 2025; and (iii) as part of the same 2017 plan, foreign students with the highest grades will be offered fast-track Russian citizenship.   

These reforms represent nothing less than the further and deliberate globalisation of Russian society on a massive scale. And as a strategy for improving Russia's standing in the ranking of nations, it makes perfect sense. After all, successful sports teams, corporations and NGOs do everything they can to hire on the basic of talent rather than irrelevant factors such as the colour of one's passport. In this regard, the Russian government's steps represent nothing more than standard good practice; to do otherwise would lose Russia not merely billions of dollars of export revenues, but guarantee it a less innovative and prosperous future.

However, in the context of alt-right politics, these pragmatic and liberal policies are anathema. In fact, they symbolise everything that the movement detests – migration flows of people, some of whom have 'offensive' skin tones; a citizenship-based (and not ethnically-determined) nationality culture; and perhaps above all, the presumably gut-wrenching sight of demonstrably-talented people with 'funny' names and 'inferior' customs creaming you at your own game, on your own turf. This is nothing less than an alt-right anti-fantasy; notwithstanding Russia's many legendarily beautiful women, the movement may well soon be in need of a new pin-up.