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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Education More About Attitudes Than Times

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The final shape of reforms to the country's system of higher education appears to have already been decided. The government has already signed off on draft legislation that calls for universities to switch over gradually from the current system, which is geared toward the preparation of specialists and based on a five-year program, to a two-stage system offering bachelor's and master's degrees.

The aim of the reform is to bring the country's post-secondary education system in line with the Bologna Process, with one of the positive effects being that degrees granted here will more readily be recognized in Europe. As always, the ultimate effect of the reforms will depend on their implementation, but any modernization in university education should help our institutions of higher learning integrate themselves into the modern global and national economies. Bringing the system of education in line with international practice will also help its graduates integrate themselves into international labor markets.

Those behind the changes insist that the current system has outlived its usefulness. They say its main role is helping young men avoid being conscripted for military service, that it bears no relation to contemporary economic conditions, and that it does not allow Russian-educated applicants to compete fairly on the world labor market. According to data from a World Bank study published in 2004, a mere 20 percent of all graduates end up working in their field of specialization.

The people behind the proposed changes hope they will ultimately make the country's education system and the graduates it produces just as competitive as its energy resources and military technology. But they rightfully point to a number of problems that threaten to undermine the benefits involved.

The changes will necessitate a total redesign of the standard textbooks, which will have to be re-worked to reflect the reduction of the term of study from five to four years. The Education and Science Ministry will also have to reach an agreement with the Defense Ministry that will free graduates from military service if they chose to take a short break (two or three years) to gain real work experience between completing their bachelor's degree and enrolling in a master's program.

There are also psychological barriers that will have to be overcome. In a study by the Higher School of Economics published last year, 57 percent of students surveyed planned to stick with the five-year system, 36 percent planned to work toward a master's degree, and a mere 3 percent were interested in receiving a bachelor's degree.

This comment appeared as an editorial in Vedomosti.