One in five universities will be forced to close or merge, minister says

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a reorganisation of state universities that will lead to some closures.

Dimitry Livanov, the minister of education and science, said that one in five universities could be shut down or forced to merge over the next two or three years.

Putin said: “There is a need to identify inefficient universities by the end of the current year. At the same time the programme of restructuring, including through mergers with strong universities, should be developed and approved prior to May 2013.”

He said the implementation of these plans would take place within a draft law, On Education, which is to be submitted by the government to the State Duma – the lower house of parliament – on 7 August.

In the meantime, the government has already started to prepare for the implementation of Putin’s order.

According to Livanov, there are plans to cut up to a fifth of domestic universities and about 30% to 35% of university branches. Russia has some 600 universities, with more than 1,400 branches.

Livanaov is already under fire from student representatives over his recently announced plan to cut the number of state-funded places in Russian universities by half.

The minister said that identification of inefficient universities and branches would be based on the results of state monitoring of their activities, which would be completed by the end of the current year.

Universities’ activities will be evaluated based on several criteria, including the quality of admissions procedures, research and development activities, and the competitiveness of their graduates in the labour market.

Early next year the ministry will prepare proposals on optimising the network of state universities.

The closures will take place during 2013-14, after which the government will start the process of consolidating the remaining universities to create powerful research and scientific centres.

The cost of the exercise has not been disclosed, but according to some sources close to the Russian government, it is estimated at billions of rubles.

Most higher education experts have cautiously accepted the new state initiatives.

But Artyom Khromov, chair of the Russian Students’ Union, warned that the merging of universities could result in massive lay-offs of teaching stuff and leasing of premises to commercial organisations.

“This proposal is controversial,” he said. “We support the process of closing inefficient universities, but are concerned that this restructuring could be used by some people to make money. The merger process should take place for the sake of science, not business interests.”

Some analysts believe the plan may increase the risk of corruption.

According to Vladimir Rimsky, head of the ‘Indem’ Sociology Fund, final decisions will mainly depend on relations between university administrations and state officials who will be directly responsible for closures and reorganisation.

“Those universities which have bad relations with authorities will have a higher chance of being closed. In contrast, those higher education institutions which have well established relations with the state will continue to operate, even if their academic performance is poor.”