The problem of Russian education is not that we have too many professors but they are being paid too little. This is why many of them have to work at several universities at the same time in order to get a reasonable salary.
Minister of Education and Science Dmitry Livanov said the number of state higher educational institutions in Russia must be reduced by 20% over the next two or three years. It is abundantly clear that this position from the new leadership of the ministry is determined by the tasks set before it by President Vladimir Putin. Indeed, the number of such institutions and their affiliates in Russia has exceeded all reasonable limits.
This idea as such is rational, but the package of criteria selected for assessing the effectiveness of universities raises serious doubts. The criteria package is imperfect and contains a number of logic incongruities.
First, if we are being guided by the world’s recognized standards in reforming our education system, why are we using our own criteria? Why such an amateurish approach? We should use criteria that are based on international standards such as, for example, the number of Nobel Prize winners (that we are obviously short of) or the initial average salary of a graduate.
Second, some criteria are suspect, for example the number of research and development projects per teacher. Take, say, the Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas that trains the majority of oil experts and enjoys special respect in this country, and compare it with some provincial institution, for example, the Uryupinsk Pedagogical Institute. Obviously, these two institutions operate under very different research and development conditions. It’s like comparing a jet fighter with a horse-drawn cart.
As for the future of professors at “ineffective” universities, they should not simply be dismissed in the course of the current reform. The problem of Russian education is not that we have too many professors but they are being paid too little. This is why many of them have to work at several universities at the same time in order to get a reasonable salary. Therefore, the state should focus on increasing salaries rather than reducing the number of universities. Yaroslav Kuzminov, Rector of the Higher School of Economics has suggested what he calls an “effective contract” – a simultaneous increase in the quality of work and in the salaries of teachers.
One more problem is funding the reform of higher educational institutions. It seems that our political leaders, those at the Ministry of Education and Science and some university rectors have started toying with the idea of building a Russian Harvard, but for next to nothing. Regrettably, they are doomed to fail. The implementation of all of the planned reforms would require billions of dollars and many, many years of hard work.
That said, the main thing here is not the allocation of funds but incentives for students. How can we get them? The task of higher educational institutions is to produce real professionals who will have no problem finding a paying job upon graduation. But Russia does not have a large and up to date economy, major research projects or a diverse network of laboratories. Why do we train students if they will have no place to work? The quality of education is only about 40 percent dependent on the skills of professors. The remaining 60% is up to a students’ motivation, which is, regrettably, very low in this country.