Vienna, December 15 – Plans by the Russian education ministry to reduce the number of higher schools in that country by nearly 15 percent over the next three years and the number of research institutes by 20 percent over the same period may leave the Russian Federation less well off in these sectors than it is now because the process is likely to be corrupt, some observers fear.
At the end of November, the Russian Ministry of Education and Science announced plans to reduce the number of higher schools and their branches by approximately 500 out of a current total of 3700 by depriving them of their licenses and to pressure another 1,000 to close for other reasons (www.za-nauku.ru//index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1196&Itemid=31).
No one questions that in Russia and indeed across the former Soviet space, many of the private institutions that have sprung up since 1991 are little more than diploma mills, providing degrees in exchange for money but without offering much in the way of education. And consequently, many thus welcome Moscow’s plan to impose some order on the situation.
In addition to depriving many institutions of licenses or forcing them to close for other reasons, the ministry has announced the creation of a new hierarchy of higher educational institutions: “national” universities in Moscow and St. Petersburg, “federal district” universities in each of them, and research universities.
But Sergey Komkov, the president of the All-Russian Educational Foundation, argues that this process as it goes forward may have exactly the opposite impact that its authors claim: Instead of shutting weak institutions, he says, officials may shut the better ones for what are essentially corrupt reasons (www.annews.ru/news/detail.php?ID=173711).
In order to be employed, he notes, “bureaucrats must offer diplomas, and they do not want to study. For them it is much simpler to purchase a diploma of a fictive higher educational system. [Indeed,] in recent times, many scandals have arisen” because people have credentials which do not reflect any educational attainment.
Moreover, Komkov continues, officials who work in the agencies that accredit schools and may now be involved in closing some of them often profit from the handing out of documents from such “fictive” schools. The educational foundation leader said he had asked law enforcement agencies to look into the matter, but they had said that it wasn’t “their business.”
But, he says, there is evidence backing up his contentions and his fears: in 2006, the Russian procurator general investigated the Russian educational accrediting agency and found that officials there were approving institutions that were handing out “fictive” degrees. But these officials did not suffer: Indeed, one of them rose to be pro-rector of a Moscow institute.
If nothing is done and “if corrupt bureaucrats will be involved in the reductions, normal higher educational institutions may fall ‘under the knife,’” he says, pointing to the case of one that is slated to be closed because the rector was not willing to provide the accrediting authorities with $200,000 in bribes.
The problem Komkov points to almost certainly is going to to become increasingly serious and not only in moral terms in both Russia and throughout the former Soviet space. On the one hand, the value of degrees will be reduced because many who have them never studied and thus do not have the skills their degrees imply.
And on the other – and this is the more politically critical dimension -- there will soon arise as has already happened in several post-Soviet states of a class of people who will expect to gain positions they believe their degrees entitle them to but who will not be able to get or hold such positions on the basis of their real qualifications.
Already today, thanks to the rise of diploma mills in many post-Soviet states and their negative impact on standards in what had been more serious state universities in Soviet times, there are growing numbers of such people, groups who almost inevitably will come to represent a threat to stability, as an intellectual lumpen some unscrupulous politicians are likely to exploit.