Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Demographic Decline Threatens Russia’s Universities, Fursenko Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 5 – Russia’s demographic decline, something that has already had an impact on its draft pool and workforce, is now hitting its higher educational institutions, with the number of secondary school graduates and hence potential university students which stood at 1.3 million in 2006 currently projected to fall to 700,000 over the next two years.
That means, Education and Science Minister Andrey Fursenko said on Ekho Moskvy this week, that “three or four years from now, there will be half as many students [in the country’s higher educational institutions] as there are now,” a decline that is forcing these institutions to be less selective and to cut staff (www.vz.ru/news/2010/1/3/363754.html).
“Today,” Fursenko continued, “the situation is such that we not so much are selecting people as searching for people whom we can accept. This is connected with demography; it is changing catastrophically in a negative direction.” And that in turn, the minister said, will have an ever growing impact on a variety of things.
The education minister added that when he has spoken about this trend, he “has the feeling that no one is listening to [him]. More than that,” he went on, “representatives of the Duma opposition had raised the question suggesting that Fursenko [for some reason] wants to reduce the number of students.”
“I say,” he noted, “that I do not want to reduce them; I do not consider this necessary. But we simply [cannot] clown [secondary] school graduates.” And now that the numbers of those are falling so fast, “it is very complicated to find strong [candidates] for admission.” Indeed, in some cases, it is hard to find enough students to fill the seats available.
The shortage of available applicants means, Fursenko went on to say, that only a few of the students – 15-20 percent overall and 30 percent in the best schools – are “really” engaged in studying. If in the past, higher education was for only a limited number of people, “today into [post-secondary] schools are going not only those who can but even those who don’t want to.”
But the problem of students is just the beginning, the minister pointed out. When there are not enough students, “there is no work for instructors.” And when both the size of the student body and of the teaching staff is cut, that inevitably have a negative impact on the country’s future by depriving it of the trained people Russia needs.
At the conclusion of his appearance on the Moscow station, Fursenko stressed that “today the main problem is to find what may turn out to be not a large number of genuinely motivated people who will be capable of defining their future.” That won’t be easy, and it is yet another way that Russia’s demographic decline is having an impact on the future.

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