Russia to launch new system of higher education in 2023

The new national system of higher education, designed to replace the Bologna system, will be officially launched in Russia at the beginning of 2023, according to Russian Minister of Science and Higher Education Valery Falkov.

This is the first time a timeframe has been given for when Russia will drop out of the Bologna system, which was set up in 1999 to create a universal standard for higher education across Europe and is recognised in 49 countries.

The move comes at a time of heightened geopolitical tension with the West over the war in Ukraine.

Russia signed up to the system in 2003 and dropped Soviet-era ‘specialist’ degrees in favour of a two-tier system of four-year bachelor degrees and optional two-year postgraduate qualifications in 2009.

Falkov said the Ministry of Science and Higher Education will submit proposals to the State Duma in the first week of October on the format of a new national system this autumn.

“So far, the ministry has formed several working groups, which include university heads and scientists, that will define the goals and principles of the new national system of higher education,” he said.

There is a possibility that the new system will be based on the 2+2+2 concept which provides more flexible opportunities for students to change their educational programme.

The ‘2+2+2’ system implies that the first two years of study will be dedicated to the formation of the fundamental knowledge of a student, that will be equivalent to a bachelor degree, the second two years to profiling (a specialist degree), and the last two years on ‘Magister’ courses for deepening the obtained knowledge.

Under this system, a student will be able to choose the direction of his or her training from the third year of study.

Andrei Fursenko, assistant to the president of Russia, a former Russian minister of science and education and one of the major initiators of the reform, said: “By focusing on two years of training, we can enable a person to change the trajectory in the learning process. The system could be more efficient and flexible. There are now several educational institutions in Russia that are ready to test this initiative.”

A spokesperson for Peter the Great St Petersburg Polytechnic University said any system should be based on the cultural and historical characteristics of the country, but the Bologna system is designed in accordance with well-established Western values and is not suitable for Russia.

Ministry of higher education officials say the new system will increase the popularity of higher education in Russia, which is important amid the rapidly changing demands of the labour market.

The government is confident that the new scheme will be workable for most of the domestic universities and their programmes and courses.

According to Ministry of Science and Higher Education officials, the transition of the domestic universities to the Bologna system, initiated in 2009 and completed in 2013, led to the disappearance of specialties and specific qualifications of graduates.

This, in turn, created certain difficulties in the labour market for them, since the qualification ‘bachelor’ or ‘master’ did not prepare them for specific professions in Russia, with many employers saying they were unhappy with the skill level of university graduates and that they could not offer them good jobs prior to additional training.

The ministry officials say the new system will draw on both the positive Western experience, including for instance the provision of student exchanges and internships, and the national interests of the country.

But there will not be a return to the Soviet system of studying rigidly for five years on a fixed course, without the option of changing course.

Representatives of leading Russian universities believe the transition to the new system will contribute to the strengthening of domestic higher education institutions’ research and educational potential.

Irina Abankina, a professor of the National Research University Higher School of Economics, one of Russia’s most prestigious universities in the field of economics, said the new state initiative was very important.

Abankina said: “Since 2012 a number of serious problems has accumulated in the Russian system of higher education. It is important to expand the specialty in certain areas, primarily in engineering, in technological specialties.

“Now there is a high state demand for engineers as well as technologists who could help solve the problems of import substitution and establish broken supply chains of interaction within business.

“The system should become more flexible, as there could be a bachelor degree and a masters degree and a specialist, that is, all these levels.”

But Egor Yablokov, director of E-kvadrat Consulting and Media and an expert in the field of higher education, said the rejection of the Bologna system would only increase the isolation of Russian universities.

According to him, that will lead to narrowing of paths of Russian university graduates to professional activities and will not allow them to work in today’s post-industrial economy. He added that many young people will prefer to study abroad and not return to Russia after their graduation.