Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Demographic Decline Means Russia’s Universities Can’t Be Selective

Paul Goble

Staunton, July 28 – The collapse of the birthrate in the Russian Federation in the 1990s means that this year universities will not be able to be selective because there will be government-paid places for more than half of those finishing Russian schools, a dramatic indication of the impact of demography on Russia today.
This year, a Russian news agency reports, 840,000 students will graduate from school and will be eligible for the 448,000 places in Russian universities, a sharp contrast with as recent a year as 2006 when there were 1.3 million school graduates but a better figure than the 700,000 school graduates in 2012 (
As a result, says today, “the higher educational institutions of the country will not be able to be selective in their choice of new students and consequently, they will not be able to guarantee work for all the instructors” that these institutions employ at the present time.
Most of the school leavers this year were born in1992-93, the first post-Soviet years in which the Russian birthrate dove to new lows. As a result, the science portal continues, “a unique situation” has arisen: “every second school graduate if he wants to will receive higher education at state expense.”
In most Russian universities, competition for entrance will be minimal, something that will have an impact on the quality of future graduates that that may raise the question as to whether this or that institution should be closed “because of a shortage of students.” That in turn will exacerbate the competition for resources among these universities.
Such shortfalls in the number of potential university students in Russia have already had two major consequences. On the one hand, they have created a new and larger gap between those lower-quality schools, mostly in the regions, which can’t attract students and higher quality institutions in major cities where competition remains intense.
And on the other, it has led the education and science ministry to reallocate the places the government pays for. According to the ministry’s Artemiy Nikitov, Moscow has significantly cut the number of budget places for economics, administration and humanities, and increased them in the areas of information processing and services.
Meanwhile, at the bottom of the educational pyramid, declines in the number of children have led to the consolidation of ever more schools. In the past, most of these schools were in rural areas, and the closure of schools often had the effect of destroying local communities, often consisting of non-Russians.
But now school closings and consolidation efforts have come to the city of Moscow itself, presenting the Russian powers that be with some serious but very different problems. This fall, officials plan to close 65 of the 1500 schools there because of declining enrollments (
Because the schools in the city are not located far from one another, the combination of two or more schools into one has relatively little impact on the community, but the closure of any school raises the question of whether the teachers who had been employed there will find work elsewhere. Not surprisingly, the displaced teachers have been the first to protest.
Education officials in the capital have announced plans to transform the closed schools into pre-school institutions, but some educational specialists have said this is not a good idea. On the one hand, the schools were not built for that; and on the other, recent increases in the birthrate will mean that these buildings will be needed as schools in the future.
That almost certainly is overly optimistic given demographic trends: For the next decade, the number of women in the prime years for giving birth is projected to decline, a development that means the number of children will go down even if the birthrate itself should continue to inch up.
But the appearance of the consolidation problem inside a major Russian city is clear evidence that it is not only the countryside that is facing demographic problems with real-time social and political consequences, and because it is in Moscow, it may serve as wake up call for some of the powers that be about the need to do more to boost the number of new births.

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