Baku, March 19 – An increasing number of Russian students are paying bribes to their instructors for higher grades, often at the insistence of the latter, a practice that not only subverts the educational process but threatens Russia’s future by creating a class of people whose skills do not match their credentials.
Indeed, this practice, one that is widespread in many other former Soviet republics as well, may ultimately entail more serious consequences than the more immediatelhy spectacular cases of corruption in business and government that continue to attract far more attention from the media and academic specialists.
Yesterday, an article in Novyye izvestiya noted that corruption “in the higher educational institutions of the country continues to grow,” with the most frequent form being bribes offered by students to secure entry to those schools or to get passing or higher grades in examinations (http://www.newizv.ru/news/2008-03-18/86643/).
According to officials at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, many of the cases of corruption they have brought in recent times involve students and faculty at educational institutions that, the newspaper said, now have the reputation of being among “the most corruption organizations” in Russia.
A UNESCO study the paper cited reported that students in Russia paid 520 million U.S. dollars in bribes last year, a figure that because it involves a phenomenon almost everyone involved with wants to hide is impossible to confirm and one that may significantly understate the extent of the problem.
And consequently, Novyye izvestiya focuses on a few high profile cases to make its point. Recently, it reported, law enforcement officials arrested the deputy rector of the Vladimir branch of the Russian Academy of State Service, a training academy that is attached to the office of the President of the Russian Federation.
Not only are students offering bribes, the paper said, but many poorly paid faculty members are demanding them. In a recent case in Tyumen, for example, a female student complained that one instructor had demanded a bribe of 2,000 rubles (84 U.S. dollars) to allow her to pass an examination.
Andrei Pilipchuk, a spokesman for the interior ministry, provided a more comprehensive picture of the problem. During the admissions process, he noted, “frequently an instructor will offer the applicant or his parents ‘help in exchange for money,’” an transparent “request” for a bribe.
“The amount of the bribe varies depending on the region and the status of the higher school,” the ministry spokesman continued. “In depressed regions, a student might be asked for about 100,000 rubles (4200 U.S. dollars) for admission and further ‘advancement.’”
But “in economically developed centers” like Moscow, St. Petersburg or Nizhniy Novgorod, he said, “the price for a place may rice to 25,000 [U.S.] dollars” – or more than 600,000 rubles, an astronomical sum far beyond the means of most Russian students or their parents.
Between May and October 2007, Pilipchuk said, the interior ministry opened 391 criminal cases involving bribery in higher educational institutions. And in May 2008, he told the Moscow newspaper, “we intend to conduct yet another anti-corruption operation” in Russian universities.
Sergey Komkov, the head of the All-Russian Educational Foundation, said that the most corrupt sectors of Russian higher education have traditionally been in economics and law, but increasingly, he noted, bribes are required for students in institutes of international relations and in technical faculties as well.
Indeed, he and others told Novyye izvestiya that bribes – offered by students and expected by faculty members – are now so common that students and their parents view them as something “absolutely normal” and that efforts to limit the practice are largely ineffectual.
One of the reasons for that, Komkov argued, is that everyone is becoming more sophisticated. Bribes are no longer handed over in cash but rather transferred to the bank accounts of instructors or given in the form of pre-paid trips abroad. And the bribes are often shared among faculty members, thus ensuring that no one will turn in anyone else.
Not surprisingly, Novyye izvestiya and most other commentaries on this problem typically bemoan the collapse of standards from Soviet times or the lack of serious law enforcement efforts against this particular form of corruption. But a more serious problem is elsewhere.
To the extent that students come to view obtaining a diploma as being more important than getting an education, the Russian Federation and other countries in which such bribery is widespread put their futures at risk because they will have a large group of people who have more or less meaningless degrees.
All too many of such “graduates” will expect good jobs and high pay, but they will not have the skills needed to justify either. They will certainly become angry if they don’t get both. More seriously, their countries will thus suffer especially as the knowledge-based sectors of the economy become more important.
Consequently, bribery in higher education is thus likely to cast a longer and darker shadow on the future of Russia and its neighbors than the larger bribes paid to get approval for government contracts of one kind or another – even though, with rare exceptions, the latter will continue to attract more media attention than the former.