21 October 2017 Register to receive our free newsletter by email each week
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RUSSIA: Rising corruption threatens universities

The level of corruption in Russian universities is steadily growing despite the efforts of local authorities to eradicate it. According to necessarily rough estimates, bribes paid for admission to Russian universities in 2009 totalled $1 billion. This is 40% more than in 2007, with the average bribe rocketing five times higher in just the last two years.

Experts believe that most of the traditional anti-corruption measures currently being implemented in Russia are useless and there is a need to change the whole system.

Over the past two decades the Russian system of higher education has undergone significant changes, resulting in an increased number of public and private universities. At the same time the number of students has also increased.

Although the prestige of higher education declined in the first half of the 1990s, since the beginning of the 2000s it has considerably improved especially for law and economics specialties. But, despite the country's increased demand for higher education, the salaries of university professors remain low.

There is some disparity in information about how much the salaries actually are. Oleg Smolin (pictured above), Deputy Chairman of the State's Duma Committee on Education, said the average salary of university professors was about 17,000 rubles a month (US$600). But according to Andrei Fursenko, the Minister of Education, the rate is much higher, at 50,000 rubles.

Even so, 50,000 rubles is inadequate for the ever-rising cost of living in Russia - and so conditions are created for corruption in the country's universities.

Mark Levin, a professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow who has studied the issue, said corruption in universities took place not only during the entrance examinations but also those at the end of semesters. Levin said some students preferred to pay money to pass examinations and obtain a diploma.

The situation is aggravated further as most such crimes are often difficult to prove, because of a practice widely used to pay for tutoring and pre-study courses. Most tutors are members of the admission committees which can help a student gain a place at the university.

Another factor exacerbating corruption is the gap between the requirements laid down for school-leavers and the standards of applicants required by the universities.

For example, many universities sometimes use tests that go beyond the traditional curriculum, forcing applicants and their parents to pay for admission.

A unified state examination was introduced, with standardised tests for high school graduates replacing the entrance examinations to state universities. This was intended to reduce corruption but analysts believe the corruption flows were not destroyed, simply redirected to the secondary school level.

One way to solve this problem could be strengthening public control of the universities and development of academic solidarity. Nevertheless, most local universities are currently unable to combat corruption effectively.

Fursenko claims corruption exists only in those universities "which do not care about the results of their activities". He says that to defeat corruption "there is a need to tighten control over the quality of the educational activities of such universities".

"If we create a system in which students are interested in obtaining real knowledge, and teachers depend on how well students learn, this will allow the level of corruption to reduce."

I wonder what they call "the efforts of local authorities"? The average student in pretty much any university (with some exceptions) knows the rates for the mid-term or final exam, for the private classes with the professor and all this stuff. Having experienced both, Western and Russian, systems I don't believe anything would ever change in the country in question. Shame, it has a great potential in both, faculty and students.

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