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Commercialisation is top problem facing universities
The top problem facing Russian higher education is commercialisation in the form of growing paid-for educational services that are filling the gap where pubic funding fails to meet increasing demand for education, according to new research among education experts.

The other most serious problems, in descending order, were identified as decreasing availability of education, insufficient financing, bureaucracy, corruption in the educational process, and problems relating to the quality and qualifications of personnel.

The experts surveyed for the research also voiced concern over the pay system for the faculty members.

The research aimed at studying the sphere of education in Russia was conducted at The Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration or RANEPA, a leading university in the area of public policy, public administration and business administration.

The research is based on data from the survey carried out by RANEPA’s Expert Analysis Centre among 277 experts, including top representatives of business, research institutions, human resources departments and public authorities.

The majority of the experts surveyed (239) are members of research organisations: teachers and managers experienced in the development of higher education. More than half of respondents (56%) had worked in the sphere of science and education for more than 15 years, a third of respondents (32%) had 5 to 15 years’ experience in the sector, and 12% had less than 5 years’.

Nikolay Kalmykov, director of the Expert Analysis Centre at RANEPA told University World News that the trend towards commercialisation is being driven by a combination of limited government funding and growing demand for education.

“This has led to an increase of the proportion of paid programmes offered by Russian universities. However, commercialisation affects not only the overall number of state-funded students’ places, but also the specialties chosen by the students and consequently the percentage of specialists in various fields.

“That’s why we should maintain a sufficient number of budget places for some specialties in order to prepare high-qualified specialists for all sectors of the economy.”

Kalmykov said the examples of corrupt practices faced include the use of fictitious university accreditation, falsification of examination results, plagiarism, the buying of research papers and bribery, making fighting corruption a “priority area”.

Priorities

When asked to indicate the development priorities for the Russian education system, most experts (74%) put increasing staff salaries at the top of the list. Other priorities were raising standards among teaching staff (68%), professional development (65%), guaranteed quality of professional educational programmes corresponding with the needs of Russian society (59%) and the development higher education (also 59% votes).

According to Kalmykov, Russia is facing a challenge in trying to adapt educational standards and teaching methods to meet the changing requirements of the labour market.

“The current trend is the use of various innovative learning technologies, including information technology, and teaching methods that are not yet fully integrated into the work of university professors,” he said.

“One of the actual problems to be noted is the dissatisfaction of the professors with the salary level, which also affects the efficiency of teaching.”

The concern about salary levels will raise eyebrows, however, given that substantial rises in pay have been awarded over the past couple of years.

Wages in Russian higher education increased by almost a third (31.9%) in 2013. Between 2014 and mid-2015 the average national salary of teaching staff in Russia rose by 50%, from RUB30,000 (US$457) to more than RUB45,000 (US$685), according to the Rosstat data provided by RANEPA.

Wages in higher education are again set to rise substantially by 2018 in accordance with a presidential order, says Kalmykov, who describes the current levels as “quite good”.

Ambivalence over rankings

A third part of the research focused on levels of trust in international education rankings, which in Russia are becoming an increasingly popular source of information on the basic characteristics of competitiveness of universities and educational programmes.

The majority of the experts rated international rankings in the sphere of higher education as ‘rather objective’ (43%); but nearly as many, some 40% of the respondents, said rankings were ‘not objective’, with the remainder finding the question difficult to answer.

According to RANEPA’s website, it has trained 80% of the country’s regional governors and 60% of federal officials, and more than 40% of Russian MBA graduates receive their degrees from the university.
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