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With its magnificent literature, richly expressive language and fascinating history, Russia appeals to a wide variety of interests.

The range and flexibility of the Oxford course provide opportunities for rewarding study which might include, for example, Tolstoy’s and Dostoevsky’s novels, Pushkin’s poetry, or the latest writing from contemporary Russia; the history of the Russian language and its development up to the present day; material from the Russia of Ivan the Terrible or Peter the Great or Stalin; related topics in film, the visual arts and music.

The quality and range of research undertaken by the teaching staff at Oxford was recognised in the award of a top-ranking 5* grade in the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise; the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction was awarded to Dr T.J. Binyon’s authoritative biography of Pushkin in June 2003

Students gain tremendous satisfaction from living and working in Russia and often form lasting friendships there. This experience frequently gives them a considerable edge in the job market when they graduate.

Undergraduate Studies

The following notes are intended to give general guidance. Prospective candidates should also consult the University Prospectus, the booklet ‘Moderna Languages at Oxford’, and individual College prospectuses; most of these documents are also available online.

You would be very welcome to attend College Open Days, as well as Faculty and Sub-Faculty Open Days, if you have the opportunity to do so (see:

The Course

1. Post-A-level:

For those with a good A-level or equivalent standard in Russian (Course A): Russian can be studied at Oxford EITHER on its own; OR in conjunction with another language; OR with another subject (History, Middle Eastern Languages, Philosophy, Classics, English or Linguistics).

The post-A-level Russian course begins with three terms’ introductory study in language (translation from and into Russian, grammar and vocabulary-building), and in literature (intensive study of works by Derzhavin, Pushkin, Lermontov, Blok, Chekhov, Akhmatova and Dovlatov), leading to the Preliminary Examination. If you are studying Russian on its own, you will take additional papers in Film Studies, Polish, and Church Slavonic in the first year. This course includes a compulsory third year abroad; part or the whole of this year may be spent in Russia.

2. Russian for Beginners (Course B):

A Russian for Beginners course (Course B) is now available, making it possible for students who have not had the opportunity to study Russian at school to spend their first year learning the language to a high standard. Eventually, the same Final Honours Course will be followed both by post-A-level students and by those beginning Russian at Oxford.

Please note that:

  • the Russian B course is available only to those applying to read it in combination with another language, in which you already have an A-level or the equivalent standard. Applications cannot be considered for single subject Russian, or for joint courses with History, Middle Eastern Languages, Philosophy, Classics, English or Linguistics.
  • This course is not normally available on deferred entry.

The first year of Beginners’ Russian is devoted to a tailor-made course in intensive language learning, with some introduction to literary study. It is not recommended that students should attempt to learn the language by themselves before embarking on this course. The second year will be spent in Russia, on an eight-month course in Yaroslavl’ designed specifically for Oxford students. This course in Russia is a compulsory feature of the Russian for Beginners course.

Disabled applicants

If you want to apply for Russian for Beginners (Course B) and have a disability for which special provision is needed, please contact us in advance to discuss what arrangements you might need for the year abroad in Russia. We consider the special needs of applicants and students on an individual basis, and do our best to meet them, but in some instances the constraints imposed by the Russian infrastructure and climate may mean that the eight-month course in Yaroslavl’, which is an obligatory component of Course B, is not feasible. In such circumstances colleges are usually willing to consider applications for deferred entry, to allow candidates to gain an appropriate level of Russian in order to take the post-A-level course instead.

3. The Final Honour School:

After the first year, all students continue with intensive language work — in the spoken as well as the written language — but they are also offered a wide choice of subjects, including literature, history of the Russian language, Old Church Slavonic, linguistics, women’s writing and film studies. Undergraduates may, if they choose, present an Extended Essay as part of their work in the Final Honour School, an option which in recent years has led to some highly imaginative projects.

4. Other Slavonic languages:

It is also possible to study Czech (with Slovak) to degree level, in combination with Russian or another modern language, or in a Joint School. Polish is available as a subsidiary from the second year for all candidates taking any language ‘sole’. Complete beginners may be admitted for these languages. Other Slavonic languages are also available, but not to degree level.

The Institution

Oxford is a collegiate university. Teaching in the colleges is based upon small-group or even individual tutorials, though classes are used for some of the language activities. It is advisable to apply to a college which lists a Fellow or a Lecturer in Russian as a member of staff. College Admissions Offices are always ready to answer queries from potential candidates, and you should not hesitate to seek their advice if you have any questions.

There is an active Russian Society, which puts on talks and social events. Since the number of undergraduates studying Russian is 30-40 per year, friendships spring up between people studying the subject at different colleges, as well as between people studying different subjects at the same college.

Library provision for Russian in the University libraries is excellent, and is supplemented by the good collections in many college libraries, and in the Language Centre, which has a Language Laboratory and satellite television.

The quality and range of research undertaken by the teaching staff at Oxford was recognised in the top-ranking 5* grade awarded in the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise.

The year abroad in Russia

Spending the whole or part of the year in Russia is a compulsory feature of the Russian for Beginners’ course (Course B), and of the post-A-level course (Course A).

Plenty of advice and information is made available to each student about how to get to Russia, and what to do there. Beginners must attend the compulsory 8-month course; but post-A-level students can choose to go on a language course, study at a Russian university, or find a job. All that matters is that you should immerse yourself in Russian!

Opportunities for contact with Russian speakers in Oxford itself are plentiful. The University Instructor and Lector in Russian are native speakers; and over the past few years many Russian literary and cultural figures have also made visits to the University. The Language Centre provides satellite television from Russia, as well as a full range of language laboratory facilities.


(See the Prospectus for details of applications procedures.)

The Oxford course continues to place an emphasis on literature as an ideal way of enriching your understanding of the country, its language, history and culture. Don’t worry if you have had little or no experience of studying literature before — the first-year course is designed to introduce you to the necessary study skills, as well as to some fascinating texts. But it would be a good idea to try reading a couple of Russian authors in English translation (short stories by Chekhov or Tolstoy are a good place to start), to see whether you enjoy them; and that will give you something to talk about at interview.

If you are contemplating a gap year, it is advisable to consult the Admissions Tutor of the college to which you are considering applying, to make certain that that particular college welcomes deferred entry.

It is occasionally possible to apply for the post A-level course if you have little or no knowledge of Russian at Entrance. You would normally be expected to spend a gap year learning the language, for instance by attending a course in Russia. A small but significant number of applicants have taken up the language in this way, and many have gone on to do very well. Applicants hoping to enter on this basis would be well advised to contact colleges in which they are interested some time in advance of their formal application, in order to discuss their plans.

If you wish to go straight from school to university without a gap year, but have no knowledge of Russian, you should apply for the Russian for Beginners’ course (Course B). You will be asked to take a specially-designed Language Aptitude Test, as well as a Grammar Test in your other language.

Graduate Studies

Oxford is one of the largest and strongest centres for post-graduate research in Russian and other Slavonic Languages in Europe, and benefits from a lively scholarly community of teaching staff, research fellows and postgraduate students. The Sub-faculty’s Russian Professors and Lecturers have expertise in a wide range of areas, including Slavonic Philology, the history and textology of Church Slavonic, eighteenth-century Russian literature and twentieth-century literature and culture. There are also specialists in Czech, Bulgarian, Polish and Serbo-Croat. In the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise Oxford was awarded the top ranking of 5*. In the 2008 RAE 70% of the sub-faculty’s research activity was graded 4* (world-leading) or 3* (internationally excellent) in terms of originality, significance and rigour. It was one of only two UK departments in the field of Russian and Slavonic Studies to achieve over 30% in each of these grades, and was ranked second in the UK both on overall absolute score (quality ranking) and when numbers of assessed staff were taken into account (power ranking). It was particularly commended for its wide range of languages, periods and disciplines, its outstanding library provision and for an environment supportive of world-leading research activity.

Library resources are extremely strong. The Taylor Institution has, for instance, a wide selection of tolstye zhurnaly, as well as early twentieth-century literature and arts journals (Apollon, Vesy, Zolotoe runo) and works by major Russian poets (some signed by the authors). It has rich primary and secondary holdings on the most important Russian, Czech and Polish writers and medieval philology, including Old Church Slavonic and South Slavonic. There is a small but excellent collection of Russian paintings in the Ashmolean Museum, and books on the visual arts are available in the Western Arts Library there. The Bodleian Library has outstanding collections in the field of Russian history.


Current and recent topics of graduate dissertations include:

  • Andrei Platonov
  • Iconoclasm in post-Stalinist culture
  • Self-definition in late Imperial literary academia
  • The spa (kurort) in late Imperial Russia
  • Translations of Biblical texts
  • Representations of the fool in contemporary literature
  • Isaak Babel’
  • Word Order in Russian
  • Eurasianism
  • Vladimir Nabokov
  • Aleksandr Prokhanov and post-Soviet Esotericism
  • Leningrad Poets of the 1960s and 1970s

Conferences and events organised by postgraduates reflect the energy of the postgraduate community. These have included a postgraduate conference ‘Through the Looking-Glass of Russian Culture: Self-Reflection in Russian Literature, History, Arts and Media’(2003). Another postgraduate conference on ‘The History of Education in Russia’ was organised in 2004, and was attended by over 20 paper-givers from France, Germany, Israel, Russia, the USA and Britain. Funds for these conferences were provided by Oxford Faculties and Colleges as well as BASEES.

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