I will speak as a student and as a professor. I recently spent 5 months lecturing both Masters students and First year Bachelor students, at a leading Moscow university. Now I noted that the students entering University here in Russia are still kids 16 and 17 year olds. They have very little work ethic (not all but most) and most (not all) are rich so they have very little motivation. They are molly coddled by the University administrators and spoon fed. I got the impression that it is more important for the University to have a good pass rate and thus improve their ratings, than actually giving a rigid degree course. The Russian students I taught are a far cry from any students in English speaking countries. They are not taught to self study or do research, all info is expected to be supplied to them and then they are tested according to this, they are not asked questions where they have to apply their minds. This is only my experience on the courses I taught and may not be like this everywhere at other faculties or universities.
I spent a semester at the State University in Petrozavodsk in
Karelia. I can't say that there were huge differences, especially in
terms of classes. Coming from the UK, the biggest shock was the lack
of a Students' Union. There was very little in the way of student
support, and nothing similar to the student cafes, bars and pubs I'd
had back home. Student clubs, societies and sports teams were also
thin on the ground. The vast majority of students were from the local
area and living at home with their parents, so it made some sense-
but I missed the feeling of community. There were also very, very few
international students compared to British universities.
The university experience in Russia differs significantly from that experienced in the US and UK. I have studied in all three places. The biggest difference in Russia is that the majority of professors do not care at all whether the students learn the information at all. Some of them don't even care if they see students cheat during exams. The biggest difference though was the level of plagiarism I witnessed. In the US and UK, this is not tolerated whatsoever. Students in my master's program prepared presentations and essays with information copied from the internet. Exams never tested the ability to think, just whether students could regurgitate enormous amounts of relatively useless information and facts. My experience comes from one of the top 4 law schools in Moscow.
Russian universities have a primary focus on making the student think. Having tough loads of course material, homework, research, University life is challenging, but in a good way. The students are forced to get out of their comfort zones, and the amount of discipline that students are required to show during lectures integrate in a quality learning experience. Russian Universities, however, do not accommodate many student activities, such as sport teams, mascots, student clubs, etc. Students are treated as independent individuals and not kids, like in most universities in the USA. The primary difference, in the end, is the educational program it self. Russian Universities are much stronger in that aspect. And one of the most clear examples can be seen in the fact that while I was a Freshman in an American Univ., I was learning material that I have covered in my 10th year in a Russian Public school.
I spent 10 months studying Political Science at Saint Petersburg Statue University in Russian with Russian students. There were many differences that I had not expected, the biggest of which was probably student support, or rather lack of. It makes a significant difference if you are a foreign student, because you'll more likely expect less guidance that what you are used to. Classes were often big, and there was almost no explanation for what I consider little things, for example when our exams are going to be, how exams are even conducted. Everyone assumes you already know everything. There were many administrative problems that seemed stupid: I was not allowed to use the library until I presented them with a certificate for the period of time I am studying there (that was just one example of many). Also, student clubs and societies were not very accessible to foreign students.