Although it is changing rapidly, the Russian educational system still more closely resembles the European model than the American. The system guides students early in their academic careers into their particular disciplines, where they study a pre-set, standard curriculum together in a group (группа). The university groups students by department, then by major or sub-department, for the five undergraduate years of study. For example, one might belong to the class of ’17, Political Economy major, sub-department Canadian economics.
Within each department or факультет there are several subsections, or кафедры. These are the operative units in the Russian educational system. Choosing a факультет and кафедра at a Russian institution is akin to declaring a major in the U.S. Students’ lives revolve around their кафедры. The departments assign advisers and a группа within their respective кафедры and also arrange dorm rooms and stipends. Typically, after the second year, students enrolled in a particular кафедра choose a major or desired specialization on which their studies become focused for the final three years. For example, the History факультет may comprise the following majors, or кафедры: ancient history, history of foreign countries, and Russian history of various periods.
Also contrary to the American system, Russians do not choose their courses, nor do they “cross enroll” in other departments at their university. History students, if they study sociology or a foreign language as a part of their program, do so within the History department. They are not allowed to enroll in another department at their university to study these subjects. For all intents and purposes, that would be akin to enrolling in another university.
For School in Russia students, the majority of course work proceeds under the auspices of an RFL (Russian as a Foreign Language) кафедра, an equivalent university subdivision serving as such, and/or in special courses designed by the School in Russia and the host university for your program. We also encourage students to enroll, whenever practicable, in regular or “mainstream” courses offered in other university departments (see “Regular University Courses” below). In these regular courses, students attend classes with their Russian peers and are normally held responsible for the same material.