RUSSIA: Medical school scandal rector fired

The rector of the Russian National Pirogov Research Medical University, Nikolai Volodin, has been fired after an inquiry into student admissions fraud.

On 10 August Tatyana Golikova, Russia's Minister of Health Care and Social Development, authorised Volodin's dismissal after an investigation into medical school admissions found that hundreds of highly qualified but fictional students had been granted government-funded places which were then later quietly sold to real students with poorer grades.

An investigation by the Russian education watchdog Rosobrnadzor discovered that 536 of the 709 people recommended for enrolment at the university could not be found in a federal database of results for the Unified State Exam (USE), the standardised secondary school matriculation certificate introduced two years ago.

Admissions officers at the university also failed to provide inspectors with the personal dossiers of 626 university applicants awarded places.

Russian prosecutors are now considering criminal charges for fraud against the rector and other members of staff at the university.

"A report has been sent to the Russian Investigative Committee to help decide whether to bring a criminal prosecution against the responsible university officials on the charges of 'abuse of office' and 'document forging'," prosecutors said.

The scandal of fake students - dubbed 'Dead Souls' in a reference to 19th century writer Nikolai Gogol's novel that describes the nobility's practice of keeping the records of dead serfs on estate account books - has exposed the corruption that remains widespread in Russia's higher education system, where payment to gain admittance is common practice.

In May a poll of 17,500 Russians by the independent Public Opinion Foundation found that higher education is regarded as the most corrupt sector of public life, second only to traffic police.

University corruption is driven by a number of key factors: the relatively low official salaries university staff earn; the availability of a limited number of state-funded places for students with the highest matriculation grades; and the ease with which bribes can be demanded and fraud concealed.

Alexei Krapukhin, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Students Union, said the parents of some applicants had complained they had been asked to pay up to RUB416,000 (US$14,000) for enrolment of their children in state-funded places at the university.

"It would be cheaper than six years of tuition fees," Krapukhin told the Moscow Times.

The investigation was launched after computer programmer Viktor Semak attempted to "help a friend" enter medical college and then published his findings on the university's online forum.

That followed an earlier report in the Russian edition of Esquire alleging corruption at six top medical schools.

Semak found statistically implausible results for successful applicants, most of whom scored 270 out of a possible 300 in the USE; all had some kind of entitlement - a disability or other condition that put them in a favoured category for enrolment - and all applied close to the deadline and to no other colleges.

The report tipped off education authorities who soon discovered that the students were fake.

At the time Volodin said he was surprised by the findings, which he dismissed as a "technical failure". He removed several members of the university's admissions board but refused to resign.

This news is shocking - such cleansing efforts should be extended to universities in Africa.