HE reality check for Putin

Nieuws | de redactie
2 september 2011 | Russia is running low on students. Up to 100.000 teachers will be laid off as a consequence of excess capacities at universities, economists predict. Putin remains optimistic and presents himself as the new star of higher education.

Russian universities face troubles filling their classrooms withstudents. Around 8500 out of 484.000 state-funded study places willremain vacant this year. Estimates say that this trend will worsenfurther in the nearer future.

As a consequence, economists expect that 100.000 universityteachers will lose their jobs until 2020. Researchers from theRussian Higher School of Economics (RHSE) say that over half ofprivate universities and local branches of state universities willshut down.

“More than 100 universities are faced with a shortage ofstudents this year. The problem does not lie with low scores earnedby applicants […], but a shortage of applications due todemographic problems,” commented Sergei Fursenko, Russian Ministerof Education.

400.000 fewer high school graduates

Indeed, the number of secondary school graduates has fallen from1,2 million in 2006 to merely 800.000 this year. This is mainlyattributed to the fact that current prospective students were allborn in the early 1990’s when the birth rate collapsed with thefall of the Soviet Union.

Since nothing can be done in the short-run to fix demographics,the Ministry of Education sees no other solution but offer morecomprehensive scholarship programs and employment assistance tostudents.

Whether this view matches reality is questionable. Russia’shigher education sector is rife with corruption scandals anduniversities continue scoring low on competiveness. As a resultincreasing numbers of Russian students opt for studying abroad.

Putin – HE star

The Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, in the meantime,remains highly optimistic about the future of Russian universities.Only recently he spoke at a meeting with university presidents.There, he praised his government which doubled the higher educationbudget to 390 billion rubles (€9,3 billion) within the last 6years.

“Our next steps should be aimed at modernizing the entirenetwork of higher education institutions in Russia, to make it sothat the honorable title of university, academy or institute indeedmean in practice modern quality and ample education, contemporaryeducation,” stated Putin.

To further support his pro-innovation image, Putin announced a12 billion ruble (€287 million) initiative to lure internationaltalent to Russian universities. Current Russian President, DmitriMedvedev, might watch out for Putin’s fresh interest in education.Presidential elections are coming up in 2012 and higher educationand innovation are areas that Medvedev claimed in the past.


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