Russians to consider pulling out of Bologna Process

Russia will consider gradual withdrawal from the Bologna educational process in years to come, arguing there has been a lack of positive impact on the national system of higher education, according to recent statements by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and other leading politicians and senior state officials.

Amid the ever-deteriorating Russian relations with the West, many well-known Russian politicians and public persons have called on the state to take measures to halt further use of the Bologna system in the country, expressing serious doubts over its efficacy.

According to them, there is a need to return to some Soviet concepts for the organisation of a system of higher education in the country.

Sergei Stepashin, head of the Association of Lawyers of Russia, and one of Russia’s leading analysts in the field of higher education, said Russia’s accession to the Bologna Process did not bring any positive effects for the country and its higher education sector, but rather led to the loss of the most important advantages of the system of classical Russian and Soviet higher education.

“The [Bologna] system did not result in the automatic recognition of diplomas of graduates of Russian universities in Western universities and countries,” Stepashin said.

He alleged that it had not been able to prevent numerous expulsions of Russian students from high schools and universities abroad, including participants in the Bologna Process, after 24 February 2022 – the day Russia invaded Ukraine.

However, while there have been some calls for expulsions of Russians from universities in the West, University World News has not found any evidence of expulsions being implemented.

Stepashin is seeking a return to the traditional division of the Russian system of higher education into specialist and postgraduate studies.

Similar positions were expressed by MPs, who called on the state to begin the reform of the domestic system of higher education.

In the meantime, the Russian government is aware of these public calls and is considering its response.

Prime Minister Mishustin’s view is that although Russia joined the Bologna system almost 20 years ago, “this system does not take account of some national priorities of the country”.

In a statement on 31 March, he said there was a need to take into account some “national characteristics” in the organisation of a system of higher education in Russia.

Soviet system ‘had strengths’

“The Soviet system of higher education had a number of strengths. In recent years, much has changed, but we need to carefully look at precisely those aspects in the Soviet education system that could be taken,” he said.

Many Russians favour a return to the use of a unified state exam, and specialist degree programmes involving continuous studies for five years, rather than being broken up into bachelor and masters degree programmes, and the return of old courses and curriculums, albeit with adjustments, used in Russian institutions prior to 2003.

The prime minister believes there is a need to move away gradually from use of the Bologna system in Russia and his view is shared by representatives of the Russian university community.

Vladimir Zernov, rector of the Russian New University, a Russian non-profit institution of higher education, said: “The Bologna system is a living organism that requires lots of changes at least once every few years.

“Since the launch of the system, the world has undergone drastic changes. The pandemic has made its own adjustments, including the organisation of student exchanges,” he said, referring to closure of student study abroad exchange programmes in Russia.

“In my opinion, there is a need to design an alternative to the Bologna system, or to conduct its reform given the current realities, realising that everyone wants to develop and to remain competitive.”