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Russian universities being tested for efficiency

December 25, 2013, 16:33 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© ITAR-TASS/Sergei Karpov

MOSCOW, December 25 (Itar-Tass) - The reform of Russia's higher education system, painful but, if the authorities are to be believed, extremely necessary, continued throughout the outgoing year. Оne of its aims is to detect and close down or overhaul ineffective universities. Experts agree such institutions should be closed, but at the same time many fear the baby may be thrown out with the bathwater.

All universities suspected of inefficiency will be examined next year, said the head of Rosobrnadzor (Federal Education and Science Supervision Agency), Sergey Kravtsov. In an interview in Wednesday’s Izvestia daily he reported the watchdog had already recommended reorganizing 80 percent of the universities’ local branches.

He explained that 2013 checks had resulted in revoking licences from 100 universities. Commenting on the scale of this ‘cleansing’, Kravtsov said it was to some extent a result of Rosobrnadzor’s consistent work and efficiency monitoring launched last August.

“Even though the criteria of the monitoring and checks differ, most universities and branches that had their licences terminated had shown signs of inefficiency as early as 2012,” he said.

On December 13 Education Minister Dmitry Livanov announced the monitoring carried out in cooperation between the ministry and the watchdog found 373 universities and branches inapt. A decision followed to streamline the work of 45 universities and their affiliates. The checks delivered a major blow on commercial universities, with over three hundred considered inefficient among them, whereas only seven state universities found themselves on the black list.

From September 1, 2013, the new law on Russian education makes this efficiency monitoring an annual obligatory procedure for both state and non-state universities. The monitoring is to measure a university’s achievements by six criteria: the average score in the Unified State Exam, the number of foreign students, earnings, area, scientific research and graduates’ employment. Last year, the checks detected 40 inefficient state universities and 81 branches, with even major acclaimed universities.

The checks of careless universities have revealed manifold violations, like no official permission to use the premises, no appropriate conditions available for medical service and food facilities, no sports facilities and libraries, or the teaching personnel's failure to meet the legal requirements.

For state universities reorganization usually implies merger with another, more successful university, while for state universities’ branches it bodes closing. Non-state universities and their branches cannot be closed down as a result of monitoring, but will inevitably face checks and all administrative measures available for the watchdog.

Livanov reassured the students of such universities they would certainly continue education in another university on the same terms; the specialization and financial terms will remain the same.

Following the inspections, the Education Ministry issued two decrees setting the rules of transferring students from those universities whose licences have been annulled or suspended. The ministry has also set up a task group to track these students’ fate. In particular, each region will have a call center due to be launched in January.

The head of the Lomonosov Moscow State University, Viktor Sadovnichy, has welcomed the results of the monitoring. “We think this year a more poised approach was taken. The monitoring system allowed for some adjustments and additions at each stage, and comments by the Russian Rectors Union carried weight,” he said.

According to pundits, Rosobrnadzor pursues fine intentions in its monitoring and tough sanctions have quite decent purposes, such as ridding education of bad quality universities that, in fact, just sell degrees and diplomas. Even so, they warn officials against overdoing it.

State Duma (lower house of parliament) member Vladimir Burmatov (of the United Russia party) hopes last year’s mistakes will be recorded and further corrected. He said that the monitoring campaign closed many successful universities and these cases are now under the Prosecutor-General’s scrutiny.

“I do not think it will go as far as the indiscriminate closing of small non-state universities. More likely we are to see stratification,” the head of the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (PFUR), former minister of education Vladimir Filippov, is quoted as saying by the Novye Izvestia daily. He believes that “major famous universities will not manage the task of labour force training alone”.

The Russian Student Union (RSU) has made a statement against “wholesale sweeps” recently. “Any large-scale campaign to close down branches may result in worse quality of education, poorer financing of state-funded higher education establishments and greater social tension among students,” the RSU warned.

 

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