As was the case under the Soviet regime, education in Russia is predominantly provided by the state and is regulated by the Federal Ministry of Education through a nationwide curriculum and examinations. Several education reforms have occurred since 1991, resulting in a partial privatization of the educational sector. While in the 1990s education reform was a result of the need to depoliticize and to de-ideologize education, Russia’s main challenge after the year 2000 was the need to compete on the world stage and to integrate into the global education system by adopting rules and practices established in other countries, especially those of the European Union.
   While the early Bolshevik government set a series of inspirational and truly democratic principles and practices—it was the first government in Russian history to establish free education for all citizens—under Joseph Stalin, Soviet education became a major political battleground, with the subjugation of knowledge for the sake of ideology and the dismissal of teachers and professors becoming a regular occurrence. Consequently, the purpose of the education reform introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s as part of the perestroika and uskoreniie> (acceleration) processes was to improve the education system by removing excessive politicization and ideologization. Gorbachev also attempted to lessen the power of the entrenched nomenklatura>, who had long wielded total control over the curriculum, as well as sports, culture, and recreation centers. Gorbachev’s education reform was well publicized and hotly debated in the media. One of the immediate outcomes of perestroika was the 1990 law “On Freedom of Religion,” which meant that by permitting religious education, the state gave educational institutions greater freedom to develop their own curriculum and teaching practices. The main outcomes of the extensive and heated discussions of the previous decade found their way into the Russian Federation’s 1992 law “On Education,” which authorized three curriculum components for state schools: federal, regional, and local. The first component is compulsory, and successful completion is required to receive a nationally recognized certificate of secondary education. The remainder of the curriculum content is delegated to local authorities. For the first time in the history of Russian/Soviet education, priority was given to effective pedagogy and the personal development of the student, with a secondary focus being placed on the needs of society and state. By delegating some of the power to regional and republican authorities, the Russian state also recognized the equality and independence of all titular and nontitular peoples and their right to further their own cultural, historical, and ethnic traditions. In addition to regulation of the curriculum, the law regulated the financial and practical side of the educational policies: local governments were now responsible for fixing the local budgets, for constructing and maintaining school buildings, and for supplying equipment to schools. At the same time, the federal government reserved the right to monitor the level of academic achievement through examinations and the provision of professional training by means of a state certification agency that was independent of the school administration.
   Russia’s contemporary educational system includes a series of components: preschool education (nurseries and kindergartens); primary and secondary education (elementary, middle, and senior); higher education (four- to five-year degree courses at universities or vocation, technology, or specialized “institutes” and “academies”). Postgraduate education in Russia involves a three- to five-year program resulting in a degree of kandidat, similar to the AngloAmerican PhD.
   In the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), a large number of vocational and technical schools were supported by their respective industries, and a career path was almost guaranteed for the graduates of these establishments. Since 1991, the links between industry and education have been severed due to the collapse of Soviet heavy industry and lack of funds that could be used for training purposes. Working under new market conditions, technical colleges have to compete for applicants, and it has become increasingly difficult to attract Russian youth to certain professions, resulting in the lack of a qualified workforce in certain industries, which are filled with immigrant workers from other former Soviet republics.
   At present, by law, all certificates of secondary education (attestat zrelosti, literally meaning “proof of maturity”), irrespective of the school, region, or program of training, conform to the same standard and are considered to be fully equivalent. The state ensures the quality of education and fairness of grading by holding unified state examinations (edinyi gosudarstvennyi ekzamen). The first such nationwide exams took place in 2007; the purpose of the introduction of these exams was to provide students with a common curriculum, to enable students to use their grades to apply for studies in any Russian university or universities abroad, and to combat corruption in the educational system. Previously each institution of higher education would run its own entry examinations, testing the knowledge of the applicants in specific subjects, resulting in poor quality of the student body, low standards, and widespread bribery.
   Nowadays, students may obtain a degree of higher education in a number of ways. They can apply to state-funded universities and get their education for free (in fact, in addition to free tuition, they will get a small stipend from the state to help them with their living costs), or they can enroll in the same universities, but as fee-paying students (for fee-paying students admission requirements are lower, and they do not receive any financial support from the state). Alternatively, students can choose to study at fully private universities, where fees are paradoxically lower than tuition fees at state-funded universities because they are new institutions only establishing their reputation. The program of education at the university level normally lasts five years and culminates in a degree of higher education (spetsialist). Following the Bologna process, which is aimed at reorganizing and streamlining the system of higher education in Europe, Russia has introduced its own bachelor’s and master’s degrees. At the moment, the bachelor and spetsialist tracks are available to all students; however, it is expected that in 2010 all spetsialist programs will be discontinued. The changes in the curriculum brought about by the Bologna process will not affect funding or management of the university educational system, as these are provided by the state. Coinciding with the start of the Bologna process, the Federal Ministry of Education established federal centers of excellence in teaching and research. Three centers in the north, south, and east of the country have been established so far (Moscow State University did not take part in the program because this university enjoys a special status as it is funded directly from the state budget). Their purpose is to test the transition from the Soviet to European model of teaching and to consolidate the number of discrete educational institutions. The outcome of this reform is still not clear; Russian journalists often complain about the destruction of the Soviet educational system, which previously provided training to all citizens, resulting in almost universal literacy (according to the 2002 census, the literacy rate in Russia was 99.4 percent); however, the old system failed to compete on the global educational market. In 2004 in Russia, state spending for education was 3.6 percent of GDP. Private institutions accounted for 1 percent of preschool education, 0.5 percent of primary and secondary education, and 17 percent of university education. In Russia, women have higher rates of education than men, including university education.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.


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