WENR, May/June 2004: Russia & The Commonwealth of Independent States
University Severs YUKOS Ties
Russian State Humanities University in Moscow, one of the country’s top institutions, will sever ties with the YUKOS oil company, which has given the institution more than US$85 million, unless it receives a guarantee of academic independence. The university says its decision was based on YUKOS’s interference in the running of the university. Suspicions that it was because the head of the oil company, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, had been arrested, and other senior managers — including the university’s previous rector — had been put on a wanted list by Russian state prosecutors, are not accurate, said the university.
YUKOS and the university agreed to the sponsorship deal in 2003. The pact gave the oil company, which contributes one-third of the university’s operating costs, full financial control over the university and its 35 regional affiliates. It has been widely reported that the new rector of the university, Leonid Nevzlin, had come under pressure from the Education Ministry to stop taking YUKOS cash. Nevzlin denies the rumors, insisting the decision to sever ties was not politically motivated and was made before Khodorkovsky’s arrest in October. The oil company had forbidden the university to rent out its buildings and had tried to restrict some of the programs and affiliated institutions it ran, he said.
— The Times Higher Education Supplement
Feb. 20, 2004
Free Education Hoped to Lure Future Professionals to Rural Regions
In Soviet times, university graduates were assigned to particular jobs. Now, however, Russia must use different means to lure aspiring teaches, doctors, engineers and agricultural experts to the rural regions that are suffering from an acute shortage of essential workers.
To that end, the government will launch a US$190,000 pilot program in five state universities in central Russia and the Volga region later this year. The program aims to attract up to 5,000 students willing to sign contracts agreeing to work for three years in essential industries after graduation in return for free education. Education Ministry officials hope the program will begin to address Russia’s lack of young, qualified key professionals in those regions.
— The Times Higher Education Supplement
Feb. 27, 2004
U-Turn on Standardized Admissions
Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko has announced that by 2006, the government will no longer require a standardized examination for students seeking admission to state institutions of higher education. The statement marks a significant policy change, as Fursenko’s predecessor, Vladimir Filippov, consistently advocated such an examination as a way of combating corruption in the admissions process.
April 6, 2004
Satellite Agreement to Advance Provision of Distance Education
Russia’s largest distance-education provider, Modern University for the Humanities (MUH), has entered an agreement with Israeli Gilat Satellite Networks to establish what is described as Russia’s first satellite network for distance learning. The satellite-based network will initially provide Internet access, distance learning and video conferencing to 155 of the university’s 550-plus branches throughout Russia and the former Soviet republic.
Moscow-based MUH is one of the largest universities in the world, with more than 145,000 students. The new Skystar 360E network will eventually provide services to all of the university’s branches. Advocates of the project believe the agreement will help boost the profile of distance learning in Russia, which is still relatively underdeveloped due to a perceived lack of quality, lack of regulation and poor infrastructure. Delivery and installation is expected to be complete and fully functional in time for the beginning of the new school year in September.
— Gilat news release
March 24, 2004
Foreign Education No Longer Welcome
Turkmen state workers who received their diplomas of higher education from schools outside the country after 1993 have received a letter from the government notifying them that their degrees will no longer be recognized in Turkmenistan after June 1. The letter notes they will be dismissed from their jobs as of that date, as well. There will be exceptions, such as if the student was sent abroad under an interstate agreement. The letter of notification implements a general decree passed by the Education Ministry in June 2003.
In a televised speech in 2003, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov explained the motive behind the decree: “There are about 5,000 Turkmen students who are studying abroad,” Niyazov said. “Among them, there are honest, as well as dirty people, too. If we don’t have an agreement with those countries, students should be taught in our country.”
It is unclear why the year 1993 was chosen, or how many people are affected by the decree. But the dismissal of teachers, doctors, engineers and other professionals in Turkmenistan’s state-run economy is expected to be massive. Observers say the move will further erode the country’s social services, increase unemployment and force many members of Turkmenistan’s educated class into permanent exile.
The country’s education system has been in steady decline. Universities accept only about 3,000 students a year, 10 percent of the number before independence in 1991. Education levels are far below international standards, making it more difficult for students to transfer credits to foreign universities. Professors and students who do not have a thorough command of the Turkmen language are also being pushed out of the country’s universities, which now teach almost exclusively in Turkmen.
May 11, 2004
Corruption, Funding Threaten Education
Uzbekistan’s corruption-ridden educational system is a source of widespread discontent among the country’s youth. Steadily decreasing government funding has sharply reduced access to higher education. Today, government grants for university education only cover approximately 38 percent of a student’s total education expenses. Bank loans introduced to help plug the state-funding gap have little appeal for students, given that interest rates run as high as 20 percent. Consequently, university enrollment has significantly declined since 1991. According to a 2003 World Bank report on Uzbekistan, enrollment shrank from 14 percent of Uzbekistan’s university-age group in 1991-1992 to only 6.4 percent in 2000-2001.
Given that approximately 60 percent of Uzbekistan’s 26 million citizens are under the age of 25, the failure to expand educational opportunities and provide better instruction could have a destabilizing effect on Uzbekistan’s development. The Asian Development Bank has made US$100 million available to Uzbekistan from 2002-2004 to address structural problems in the Uzbek education system. However, Uzbek officials have not demonstrated a keen interest in grappling with the issues. An existing educational reform blueprint provides only a vague framework for the publication of new textbooks and the development of new curriculums. At the same time, authorities have shown no desire to relinquish the state’s monopoly on education, and refuse to register private institutions of higher learning.
Uzbekistan’s nongovernmental sector (NGO) had been providing considerable support to education-related projects. Since late 2003, however, the Uzbek government has become increasingly suspicious of NGO activity, calling into question the ability of NGOs to continue funding education-related projects. In recent months, the government has forced NGOs to go through a reregistration process. In mid-April, one key supporter of Uzbek education, the Open Society Institute-Uzbekistan, received notification that it would not be reregistered, effectively forcing it to cease operations.
April 29, 2004