WENR, July/August 2004: Russia and The Commonwealth of Independent States
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Regional Mountain University Inaugurated
The University of Central Asia (see WENR Sept/Oct 2002), high in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan, will be the first university specifically for mountain people, serving a population scattered across a vast, isolated area stretching from Afghanistan to China.
Formally inaugurated in July, the university has campus projects progressing in three countries — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Much of the teaching will be via satellite link, potentially putting the Pamir and Karakorum Mountains in touch with classrooms and professors around the world. There is talk, for example, of a hook-up with Harvard Medical School.
The project will receive most of its funding from the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), a philanthropic organization, and will concentrate on programs relevant to the lives of mountain populations. The concerns and educational needs of distant rural populations largely have been ignored by many of the governments of the newly independent states, according to AKDN, which hopes this project will help fill the developmental gap. The first degree-level programs are scheduled to begin in 2007.
July 5, 2004
New School-Leaving Exam Tested
A new examination system was put to the test in June as high school graduates across the country completed what the government hails as a bold new examination program, revolutionizing education and streamlining university entry. Education experts have been critical of authorities for pressing ahead with the untried system, which they claim has led to complications for this year’s school-leavers and which they say is an unsatisfactory measurement of performance.
The new system marks a departure from the old Soviet certificate examination system, and now combines final-year exams with university-entry testing. Three subjects are compulsory — mathematics, Kazakhstan history and Kazak or Russian as a first language — and an elective fourth subject. The exams are no longer oral; rather, they are multiple choice. Authorities hope this will reduce stress on students, as well as reduce opportunities for bribery. As an added measure to prevent cheating, 800 different sets of questions were dispersed.
After a small pilot test in 2003, the test was introduced nationwide in June. Government reactions to the test were glowing; however, reactions from a leading education pressure group, Urpak Bilim, said the new test failed to test knowledge adequately; created more stress than ever due to a rushed introduction, giving inadequate time for students to prepare; and discriminated against students from minority groups, whose first languages may be neither Russian nor Kazak.
— Institute for War and Peace Reporting
June 25, 2004
Degree Programs Lose Accreditation in Quality-Assurance Drive
Education officials have revoked the accreditation of nine higher-education institutions and partially revoked the accreditation of seven others in a move aimed at improving the quality of tertiary education. Until the institutions improve standards, their students will be awarded diplomas that are not certified by the state. The affected schools can still operate and enroll students, however, as their licenses have not been revoked.
The crackdown occurred a week after Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko announced a drive to improve the quality of higher education, and after President Vladimir Putin acknowledged in May that standards in Russia have slipped. Fursenko warned that many colleges and universities across the country should be closed for failing to meet the ministry’s standards. He also warned that further inspections would be focused on private and regional campuses of Moscow universities and colleges. Russia has more than 1,000 institutions of higher education, which, have approximately 2,000 affiliates and branches that officials say often offer education in name only.
Among the nine schools that lost accreditation are the Kaliningrad branch of Moscow International University, the Makhachkala branch of Rostov State University, the Yekaterinburg-based Urals branch of Plekhanov Economic Academy and the St. Petersburg branch of Moscow Management Academy.
— Moscow Times
July 19, 2004
Quality-Assurance Measures Include Oversight Panel
Minister of Education Andrei Fursenko announced in July measures to improve the quality of higher education. The move came shortly after the release of a new study indicating that corruption is growing and, with students clamoring to fill a limited number of seats, the cost of a bribe to get into a top Moscow university rising to more than the cost of all five years of tuition.
Details of the quality-assurance plan include the establishment of a new supervisory committee to check curriculums, quality of teaching and enrollment numbers in universities and colleges nationwide. Inspections will begin in the fall with the aim of reducing the number of substandard institutions. The minister also said that no new colleges would be getting licenses in the near future.
According to a study by an anti-corruption think tank, Indem, students in 2003 paid bribes of US$30,000 to US$40,000 to get into such leading schools as Moscow State Institute of Foreign Relations. Five years of tuition there costs up to US$37,500. The authors warn that large-scale bribe-taking would end up discouraging potential employers from hiring their graduates.
— The Moscow Times
July 12, 2004
Kaliningrad School Bringing Russia Closer to Europe
Russia’s western-most university is looking to prosper from the accession of its former Soviet satellite neighbors to the European Union by acting as a bridge to Europe and helping speed Russian academic modernization.
Kaliningrad State University, in the Baltic enclave ceded from Germany to Stalin at the end of World War II, is considering changing its name to Immanuel Kant University in honor of the philosopher who taught and is buried there. With 38 bilateral treaties with partner universities in Europe and America since the region opened to foreigners in 1992, the university is one of the best connected in Russia. It is involved in a three-year TEMPUS project to introduce curriculum innovation and a European dimension to teaching. That project will see 60 students and a smaller number of staff attend three-month programs hosted by partner universities in Vienna; Turku, Finland; and Galway, Ireland. Partners in the more local Eurofaculty program run by the Council of Baltic Sea States aim to harmonize law and economics teaching with European standards and practices.
— The Times Higher Education Supplement
New Academy Represents Accounting Shift
An autonomous, noncommercial academy of international accounting, co-founded by the Auditing Chamber of the Russian Federation and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, recently was established to train and retrain specialists on international standards.
At the inauguration of the International Accounting Academy, Chairman of the Board Sergei Stepashin said Russia is reforming its system of accounting and switching to international standards. The new system, according to Stepashin, will be introduced nationwide by 2010 in accordance with a Finance Ministry plan, and will help integrate Russian business into the world economy.
July 14, 2004
Foreign Study Undergoes Further Scrutiny
Turkmen authorities are introducing new measures to prevent students from traveling overseas for their university education — unless they have been personally selected by the state. A recent decree (see May/June issue of WENR) rendered all foreign degrees as “incompatible” with the Turkmen education system. Now the government is trying to prevent school-leavers from studying abroad unless officially selected and sanctioned by the state.
Local teachers who help students prepare for foreign universities have been told to stop or face prosecution. In many major cities, several private providers offer programs in such subjects as foreign languages and computer skills, which are part of the application process to study abroad. These are operated by licensed teachers who have left the state education system and are paid by overseas universities eager to attract talented Turkmen students. President Saparmurat Niyazov has now declared these programs illegal, claiming they are run by “conmen” who are trying to trick school-leavers with “false promises” of university places overseas. A ministry official, speaking to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting on condition of anonymity, said the authorities are particularly opposed to school-leavers studying in Russia, where the media have recently berated the Turkmen regime for its treatment of its Russian minority.
— Institute for War and Peace Reporting
July 16, 2004