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What's the difference between a университет and a институт? The former is translated as "university" and the latter as "institute" in both my textbook and on Wiktionary, but there's no explanation of the difference, and the two bring up similar images on Google image search.

If the answer is specific to educational systems in Russophone countries, that's not a problem.

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    Институт may also be a scientific organization for research, not for education. F.e. Институт ядерной физики ( Institute of nuclear physics). – Abakan Feb 12 '17 at 14:39
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In the Soviet Union "Институт" was a single-profile higher education institution. So, for example, if they had all the stuff like math, physics, law, philology, economics etc. they were called "a university" but if only, say, medicine, they were "an institute".

In the first years of modern Russia many former "institutes" chose "to upgrade" themselves and became "universities" (or "academies"), sometimes really getting many new profiles, sometimes not. So there are not too many of them left now. Therefore the term "Институт" (except if not related to a higher education at all) is used in two different meanings: (a) a real single-profile higher education institution as in Soviet times, which is mostly dead now, and (b) any modern university which was "институт" about 20-30 years ago.

  • Just to add: In USSR there was no more than one university per a big city. The names of these universities were simply: Moscow State University, Novosibirsk State University, etc. Other higher education centers were all called institutes followed by, or preceded with specialization. I.e. Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute. Almost all of them were renamed to universities in the 90-s because a) it sounds more prestigious, and b) in western tradition it does not have to be only one university per city. But there were notable exceptions, for example MIPT (МФТИ) remained an institute. – farfareast Feb 16 '17 at 5:40
  • @farfareast In USSR there was no more than one university per a big city Well, at the very least in Moscow, besides МГУ, there was (and still is) Университет Дружбы Народов им. Лумумбы. Though Moscow is always an exception, I admit. – Matt Feb 16 '17 at 8:39
  • FWIW, I think the same thing has happened in Australia. – Andrew Grimm Feb 16 '17 at 9:35
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Институт, академия и университет are different official levels of certification of a higher educational establishment nowadays. First comes институт, then академия and the highest level is университет. Universities are supposed to provide better quality of education and additional educational services and they have more support from the state. They also do more research work.

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