Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Half of Russian University Students ‘Regularly’ Bribe Instructors, Experts Say

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 16 – Up to 50 percent of the students in Russian universities pay bribes to their instructors on a regular basis, and as many as a third of all instructors systematically take them, according to Russian experts who were reacting to a UNESCO report that bribery in Russian higher education now amounts to 150 million US dollars every year.
In some universities, “Novyye izvestiya” reported yesterday, “students can choose between studying or paying while in others, everyone is forced to pay up.” But the paper notes that up to the present, at least, police and prosecutors there find it difficult to enforce laws against bribery in this sector (www.newizv.ru/news/2009-06-15/110364/).
According to the interior ministry’s Department of Economic Security, Russian authorities initiated 597 criminal cases involving bribery in academic institutions last year, even though Prosecutor general Yury Chaika said in May that university instructors are along with militiamen and doctors “the most corrupt professions” in Russia now.
Other experts suggest that corruption in Russian higher education is perhaps even more widespread than even those figures suggest. Yevgeny Arkhipov, the director of the For Human Rights Lawyers Group, told the paper that bribery was “flourishing in half of the universities of the country.”
Elena Panfilova, the head of the Russian section of Transparency International, said that “many Russian families consider higher education as an alternative to giving a bribe for escaping military service. But quite often [their] children are not able to learn, and the parents are forced to pay” bribes to instructors and other educators as well.
And Sergey Komkov, the director of the All-Russian Education Foundation, added that in his view, 50 to 50 percent of the students “give” bribes, and 30 to 40 percent of the instructors “take” them, although the actual figures vary by sector, by higher school, and by region of the country.
According to Komkov, bribery “is most strongly developed” in humanitarian faculties and institutions since “’every instructor decides on his own’” what constitutes a “correct” answer and what does not. But Svetlana Raspopova, a professor at Moscow State University, counters that bribe taking is greater in technical schools since there “special knowledge” is required.
Elena Pakhomova of the All-Russian Center for Public Opinion suggested that among those students willing to pay bribes the most are those enrolled in economic disciplines because for those who need “some sort of a diploma, the economic faculty suits them best of all.” Others pointed to still other disciplines, making any final evaluation of the pattern of bribery difficult.
Students report on various WebPages that they frequently have no choice but to pay bribes in order to get through. One stude4nt at the Moscow Technical University of Communications and Informatics said that she paid up to 5,000 rubles (160 US dollars) for a passing grade – but noted that if students paid at the start of a term, the price was less.
Another student, this one at the Moscow State Mining University, said that where he is “no one even attempts to study.” Instead they pay for getting through “all subjects” with the amounts of the necessary bribes ranging up to 300 Euros (450 US dollars) and being especially high in mathematics.
According to Igor Klyamkin, a sociologist who has investigated university corruption for many years, students and instructors know what bribes are to be given for what outcomes, and both groups know that they have to pay off other staff members, including deans, in order to make this system work.
A major reason bribery is so common, “Novyye Izvestiya” suggests, is that salaries for instructors are quite low and can be kept that way as long as officials ignore the side payments from bribes that their employees are getting, something they appear quite prepared to do, especially since in a large number of cases they are getting such supplements as well.
But this kind of bribery, which as the paper notes is flourishing in other post-Soviet states as well, is perhaps the most dangerous kind of corruption that exists in these countries. While the amount of money involved relatively small compared to other sectors, it is likely to prove especially troublesome in the future.
On the one hand, those who buy their way through university will lack the skills to make the kind of contribution to the economy and society that those forced to study could. And on the other, such people because their credentials and hence expectations will exceed their abilities are likely to become just the kind of dissatisfied cohort extremist politicians will be able to exploit.

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