The Federal State Educational standards

The Federal State Educational standards (2012–2013), among other stipulations, require bachelor degree graduates to be able to communicate freely in the academic environment, to be able to participate in international conferences and to be prepared for international exchanges. These activities are all premised on students being able to communicate in a foreign language (preferably English). Having studied the context of Russian Universities, the researchers [16] suggested that a CEFR Level of B2 would be an appropriate target for students at Russian universities. According to Cambridge English, the agency responsible for the content of IELTS, scores of 6.0 and 6.5 on IELTS both fall within the B2 range [17].

Ural Federal University (UrFU), situated on the border between Europe and Asia, is one of the largest universities in Russia with approximately 28,000 students and 2500 academic staff. The university has set a goal of entering the Top-100 in the QS World University Rankings (QS WUR) by 2020. This means that the university has to comply not only with national standards but also with the requirements of QS WUR, and the English language (EL) proficiency of its students and faculty has been given high priority. The facilitation system of English language learning by university faculty has been described in detail in Ref. [18], therefore, academic staff is not the focus of this study.
To evaluate the average English language proficiency level among bachelor degree students in UrFU, the administration made a decision to attract an external authoritative body in the sphere of English language proficiency testing, Cambridge English Language Assessment, who conducted an in-depth study: testing about 1000 bachelor degree students, 100 English language teachers, doing classroom observation, talking to University decision-makers. The results of this study were presented in the Needs analysis report [19], which was specific and context based. The findings relevant to this article are presented below.
Students only learnt English for the first two years of their four-year programme. This meant that they myosin study English in class for a maximum of 216 h, spread over two years of study. The report [19] concluded that this was insufficient as most of the students were hardly able to read in English: “At first glance, UFU\’s stipulation of 216 h of study, supported by 216 h of contact time, does seem broadly in line with UFU\’s stated aim of all UFU undergraduates obtaining a B1 level of language proficiency. However, the CEFR guidelines assume motivated adult learners and discussions with focus groups of teachers suggested that a significant number of students have little or no motivation to study English, seeing immunoglobulins as unnecessary for their future academic or professional success” [19].
The conclusions drawn by the experts aligned with the research into English language teaching previously conducted in Russia. An extensive study supported by the British Council was published in 2002 [20], which collected data from more than 100 higher education institutions in Russia with about 5682 respondents. Data were collected from surveys as well as lesson observations. The results relevant to our study are the following: 1) professional training of teachers was mainly formal and due to lack of financial and time resources was based on internal departmental seminars, which focused on language development, methodology, using a computer, etc., with teachers stating that they follow the Russian educational standards only [[20]:41–42]; 2) error correction in the classroom was on spot in 71% of cases [[20]:92]; 3) teacher-centred approach was the main one in the classroom with the teacher – students interaction mode in 44% of cases and student – student interaction mode in only 8% of cases [[20]:94].
As Ural Federal University initiated the benchmarking into its own situation to see if there is any difference between the situation in Russian universities in general and its own, the university officials were ready to start a professional development programme to enhance English language teaching situation in their own context. The report [19] helped to plan the implementation stages with launching a multi-layered teacher professional development stages: 1) sending twelve teachers to Cambridge English Language Assessment for a two-week professional development course, 2) conducting an in-house teacher training course for those who did not go abroad, 3) running preparation courses for a Teaching Knowledge Test, 4) getting authorization for a CELTA course in UrFU and 5) training own EL teachers in CELTA. All of these were supported and financed by UrFU.