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Russia’s higher education is getting almost universal, but quality in question

October 13, 2015, 22:07 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© Sergey Savostiyanov/TASS

MOSCOW, October 13. /TASS/. Higher education in Russia is getting almost universal, available to anyone who can afford to pay, but quality in many cases leaves much to be desired, analysts say. There are no end of commercial institutions of higher learning prepared to guarantee enrollment to any applicant, but in the end, though, many graduates are unable to find a job in line with one’s training and education. In the meantime, employers care not so much about graduation honours as about what this or that university leaver is capable of as a professional.

Economists and lawyers account for 50% of the leavers of Russian universities who have failed to find a job during the first twelve months after graduation, the director of a department at Russia’s Education and Science Ministry, Aleksandr Sobolev, has said. "True, they are not graduates of Russia’s top universities. They received instruction at some smaller branches or at minor private institutions of higher learning. In engineering and pedagogics the employment rate is much higher, of course. "Those with certificates of high-tech engineers are employed 90%-100%," Sobolev said.

A number of measures is being taken to improve the quality of legal education and to restore its prestige, he went on to say. Lawyers will soon begin to be trained only at major, basic universities. Legal courses at minor, local branches will be curtailed.

According to the OECD, 54% of Russians aged 24 to 64 have higher education, which is the highest rate in the world. But half of the employees, according to opinion polls, believe that the skills and competence of their current employees falls short of expectations.

"Higher education in Russia is average by world standards, but it is not the worst of all," the director of Continuing Education Economics Center at the Russian presidential academy RANEPA, Tatyana Klyachko, told TASS. "We have not very many good economists or lawyers. The really good ones are hard to come by. And the bad ones are mass-produced because it’s cheap."

Back in the Soviet years, Klyachko recalls, about 25% of those who had entered primary schools eventually applied for universities. The current rate is 75%. And as many as 85%-90% of secondary school leavers go to universities. "Clearly, it is hard to provide good instruction for such a large student audience. There are no curricular nor enough good teachers available," Klyachko said.

Getting higher education is a social norm these days, she remarks. "As many as 85%-90% of employers say they would like to hire people with higher education. At least, such employees are able to write and talk well enough. The surge in the number of those eager to get higher education has been observed ever since 1995. And after 2000 82% of families on the average wished their children to get higher education. In the families where parents have higher education the rate is still higher, 96%."

"Excessive bureaucracy is the worst problem facing higher education these days," the dean of the international business and business administration department at the RANEPA academy, Irina Kolesnikova, has told TASS. "We have to write no end of all sorts of documents and statistical accounts whatever steps we may take. Ever new forms of inspections are invented. We have no time for teaching. Everybody is complaining about that."

"There are too many economists and lawyers to go around, because at a certain point in the past management and law departments were opened at some universities having nothing to do with this field of knowledge at all," Kolesnikova said. "Fundamental overhaul and streamlining is now underway. The situation will surely get better."

Higher education is almost universal, says Kolesnikova. "Quite often this happens at the expense of quality, because some universities are open to all applicants, those who failed to qualify for decent universities. Commercial institutions of higher learning invite everybody. But their graduation certificates do not guarantee anything. They are needed only when a job seeker presents it to a potential employer. Then the potential employee begins to be judged by one’s knowledge and merits."

The roots of higher education problems are to be looked for in school, she believes. The introduction of the Unified State Exam has downgraded the quality of school instruction.

"In fact, school students are being coached, and not taught to think, understand and make independent decisions. The first year in the university has to be spent on getting them out of that school system to help them develop analytical abilities and to expand their outlook."

In general, higher education in Russia is different from the western one stylistically, Kolesnikova believes. "Our teachers also perform the function of upbringing. We take care of our younger generation. In Europe and in the United States children stew in their own juice to a far greater extent, and that is reflected in the instruction process. Students there have to work on their own to a far greater extent. Nobody bothers to spend too much time on informal relations with students and on their concerns. Here, in Russia, talking to a young person’s parents is normal when something is wrong. Abroad it is ruled out. Theirs is a different mentality. The difference is not in the amount of information, but in the attitude to life."

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