Of the factors contributing to Russia's poor scientific performance (see, for example, A. Gorobets Nature 503, 39; 2013), the plight of the country's university professors stands out.

These professors are poorly paid; most are forced to supplement their earnings with other employment. Their typical annual teaching load of up to 1,000 hours is three to five times higher than that in universities elsewhere, leaving them little time for research or writing up their work. On top of this, professors are now under pressure from Russia's Ministry of Education and Science to publish two or three papers a year in international journals to help their universities to reach the top 200 in global rankings.

By contrast, the world's leading universities do not expect their professors to teach for more than 200–400 hours a year, allowing them enough time for research. They also protect the intellectual property that results from this research, which contributes substantially to university budgets — amounting in some US universities to several billions of dollars a year (roughly the combined research budget for some provinces and republics in the Russian Federation).

A transfer to universities of institutions currently owned by the beleaguered Russian Academy of Sciences (see Nature http://doi.org/p6d) might offer a solution. It would empower university research, help to dissolve Russia's rigid and detrimental education–research divide, and ultimately boost the rankings of Russian universities.