University quality assessment system to be revamped
The initiative opens a new front in the attempts to root out or improve weaker institutions after the official completion of a three-year rationalisation of the national system of higher education, involving a very heavy cull in the number of institutions and their branches, which saw more than 1,100 institutions close.
Under the plans, all Russian universities will be assigned to one of four categories of risk, depending on violations of higher education law and good practice that will be identified by specialists of the Federal Service for Supervision in Education and Science (Rosobrnadzor) during their inspections of universities.
Examples could include violations of admissions rules, lack of title documents for property, lack of conditions for disabled people or lack of information on the website. Rosobrnadzor is currently finishing the designing of criteria for classifying a university to a particular category of risk.
Risk levels will vary from significant to insignificant, depending on the frequency and severity of violations.
Sergey Rukavishnikov, head of the department for supervision and control of universities, said at a meeting at the ministry on 12 February that the transition to a “risk-based control mode” will involve taking a new approach to the assessment of all higher education institutions in Russia.
“Whereas today we carry out scheduled, unscheduled, documentary and on-site inspections of domestic universities, the risk-oriented model will allow us to concentrate on inspections where risks are highest and limit our actions to only preventive measures in situations with lower risks."
High-risk institutions will be given time to address the violations identified, but if they fail to do so they could face closure.
Igor Remorenko, rector of the Moscow State Pedagogical University, said in a press statement that the change in approach is “acutely needed” because the accreditation system for Russian universities has become “outdated” and needs to be adapted to meet the requirements of employers.
He said: "I think that this issue should be on the agenda in 2018, as well as after the presidential elections in Russia and the change of the cabinet of ministers.”
The three-year programme of rationalisation or ‘optimisation’ of higher education has now been completed. The ‘clean-up’ of the system, which was started by the previous minister of education and science Dmitry Livanov, has been completed two years early – Livanov had set a target of 2020 – and has involved cutting the number of universities by 40% and their branches by 80%.
Back in 2015 Livanov said the plan was primarily about reducing the number of non-state higher education institutions that offer poor education. He said there was no threat to the 100-150 good non-state universities in the country. ”However, other higher educational institutions that provide a poor level of education must be closed.”
According to data of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, during the period of 2014 to 2017 the number of universities and their branches in Russia decreased by 1,097, from 2,268 to 1,171. As reported by University World News, the process was suspended in September 2016, but it restarted at the beginning of 2017.
The completion of the ‘optimisation’ programme was confirmed on 12 February by some members of the Russian State Duma who are directly responsible for the development of the system of higher education.
The first deputy chairman of the Education and Science Committee of the Russian State Duma, Gennady Onishchenko, said despite ongoing problems, there had been real progress in this area.
According to the deputy, the problem of assessing the quality of education is now particularly relevant in connection with increasing the involvement of business in education. Various commissions of Rosobrnadzor have started to include representatives from leading Russian companies and corporations, which act as leading employers in Russia.
* The period of stay in Russia has been extended for foreign students until they complete their studies. The new rule, welcomed by university rectors, covers all foreign students, and will enable students to continue their studies on a different level programme without having to go back to their home country to apply for a new visa. It means, for example, that those enrolled on foundation or preparatory courses at state educational institutions who then want to transfer to a different institution to take a degree will be able to stay on in the country until they finish their studies at the next level.