RUSSIA: President's alma mater in quality dispute

A row has broken out at St Petersburg State University - the alma mater of ex-President Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev - following the failure of more than a third of students to pass their examinations. Unsuccessful students, who were sent away without any right of appeal, said they had been made scapegoats after the authorities, trying to raise respect for the rule of law, called for higher standards among law graduates.

Since taking over the Kremlin last month, President Medvedev, himself a lawyer, has made it a priority to combat what he calls "legal nihilism" in Russia. A campaign has begun to clean the courts of bribe-taking judges and letters from members of the public, complaining about corruption, have been published on the Kremlin website.

Reporting on the results at St. Petersburg, the daily Kommersant said 83 out of 200 students in the law faculty had failed their state examinations. Some who had received grade 2, the lowest mark, had been expecting to leave with "red diplomas" or distinctions. Among those who failed were students who had paid fees.

Some students complained about problems with the computers on which they had taken their exams while others suggested the examiners had had to meet a new "quota" for failures.
Vice-deacon of the law faculty, Vladimir Lukyanov, said the majority of disappointed students had had problems throughout the course and the exams simply showed their real level of achievement.

A university source who asked not to be named said there were serious staff problems at the university because older professors were retiring while middle-level lecturers were finding it more lucrative to go into the state bureaucracy or business than academe.

Education Minister Andrei Fursenko said recently the teaching of law in Russia was not up to scratch and suggested cutting the number of law courses in institutes of higher education in order to concentrate on the best.

"Today in Russia, over 700,000 students study law but far fewer become real, practising lawyers," he said. "I don't want to offend anybody but if 10 to 15% of those people got a really solid legal education, then that might not be a bad result."