It is obvious that the Russian system of higher education needs to be reformed. The trouble is that we are stuck in a period of interregnum. On the one hand we have one foot firmly planted in the Soviet past while at the same time we are trying to become a modern industrialized state. That is the reason behind many of our problems, above all in education.
Of course universities should be monitored, but the problem with Russia’s system of higher education is not the average examination marks or the number of R&D projects per teacher, and even less so the number of foreign students enrolled at Russian universities. The latter criterion looks ridiculous for a simple reason: the number of foreign students in Russia has fallen to the bare minimum, and given the current developments in the country and the outlook for its future, we can hardly expect foreign students to be keen to enroll at Russian universities.
The Russian system of higher education is in crisis, and there are many reasons for this. How many of our university teachers are young? You can practically count them on the fingers of one hand. Moreover, the few young teachers we have at our universities are so poorly paid they have to take on second jobs. Salaries are a big problem.
I am a member of two dissertation committees. Theses are defended every year, but the sole purpose of their authors is to enhance their social and professional status by adding a PhD to their names. This is where the academic careers of our young scholars usually end, which explains the lack of “fresh blood” at our universities.
I sometimes think that there will be no one to replace our aging professors when they retire.
Another big problem related to the funding of education is the unsubstantiated claim that Russian universities are being provided with the latest technology, teaching aids and so on. I personally encounter problems on a daily basis whenever I have to use a wall map of the world or bring in my own laptop to show the necessary materials to students.
There is also a major problem with students. I find it very difficult to talk with them, because I speak a language which they don’t understand. Students do not understand the phrases I use during my lectures, phrases that relate to Russian literature and history and sound perfectly natural to me. But this is by far not the worst thing. A great many students do not use or have not learned the simplest punctuation and spelling rules. Many young people from the provinces who pass the Unified State Examination get the chance to enroll at respected Moscow universities, but as a result the teaching community at these universities has to work in an intellectual vacuum created by the professional incompetence of secondary school teachers.
In other words, the survey conducted by the Ministry of Education and Science is wide open to criticism. We don’t need to reform Russia’s universities or reduce their number. What we need to do is think about ways to stop feigning activity, to stop pretending that we have a strong teaching staff when in fact their numbers are rapidly diminishing, and to stop pretending that our students have far-reaching requirements, because these only get them as far as receiving their university diploma. I believe that the main task for the Ministry of Education and Science and the country as a whole is to stop feigning activity.
This brings us to another issue: corruption. Why has the Moscow Institute of Architecture (MARHI) been taken off the list of ineffective universities, while the Russian State University for the Humanities (RSUH) has not? Does this mean that MARHI's rector has better connections at the ministry and higher placed patrons than the rector of RSUH?
That could explain things. But if that is the case, what is the point of dividing Russian universities into effective and ineffective ones?