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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Internet Scholars Make Mark

The hard statistics show that more than half of Russia's Internet users are people between the ages of 19 and 25 f the university years. It's lovely to be young, but complications arise at least twice a year f in midwinter and at the beginning of summer. Instead of hanging out at a night club, day-tripping to the dacha, or strolling with their sweethearts by the river, students have to pass tests, prepare for final exams, and f great Calliope! f write their much-despised term papers, or referaty.

The referat is one of those realities of Soviet higher education that should have been cast into the same grave as the country that gave birth to it.Under pain of expulsion, students must write heavily sourced papers on topics unrelated to their majors or future professions.

Sometimes things reach the point of absurdity. Several departments of St. Petersburg State University's philology school, for instance, don't offer a single literature course during their five-year programs, but every year they make their students write referaty on history, psychology, economics, philosophy and other subjects that are taught for an average of one or two semesters (32 to 64 hours) and vanish from a student's memory as soon as the cherished professorial scribble appears in his zachyotka f the personal gradebook students carry with them in lieu of a computerized grading system.

Students respond in kind. After attending less than half of the lectures, they visit the Internet, find a suitable referat, subject it to a light rewrite, and receive a passing mark.

Every year, during the exam periods, the word "referat" shoots into the top five most popular inquiries on Russian search engines. The supply is there to meet the demand: the biggest collections f and f contain thousands of ready-made essays on all serious topics. The full list of referat sites numbers several dozen addresses, most of which are found at the Rambler site ( under the "Education" heading. If you don't find the appropriate referat, you can send a request to the Educational Services and Referat Exchange (see their link at the Rossiskaya Kollektsiya Referatov site, f for example, "I need a course paper on Kantian philosophy. Camille."

The referat collections appeared on the Internet three or four years ago, having migrated there from Fidonet, where altruism reigns. To this day, many Moscow and Petersburg professors are unaware of the existence of these collections. If they do know they're not letting on f after all, if a referat has been intelligently rewritten, it will be extremely difficult to prove it's taken from the Internet.

Of course, this system of text exchange isn't all-powerful: mistakes are made. For example, someone takes a paper from a collection without informing the site's coordinator, and one and the same professor receives two absolutely identical referaty. Or a student doesn't bother to read the text downloaded from the Internet.

Prompted by vague suspicions, the professor asks a ticklish question: "You've written about the Russian tax system. Tell me what imputed taxation is about?" Silence. A doleful gaze.

Daniil Dougaev is an independent St. Petersburg-based computer journalist who has written widely on the Internet in Russia.