WENR, Dec. 2005: Education in the Russian Federation
By WES Staff
The education system of the Russian Federation has undergone significant change since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. During Soviet times, education was highly centralized and state ideology was a major component of the national curriculum. Through the 1990s, educational reform programs have concentrated on eliminating political ideology and moral education from the curriculum so that the learning process is more attuned to the needs of a market-driven economy.
More attention has therefore been devoted to the teaching of professional disciplines such as business, management, law, economics, computer technologies and accounting. Additionally, teaching methods have been addressed in an attempt to move away from the Soviet-style pedagogical methodology of rote learning towards a more student-centered methodology designed to promote critical thinking skills. Inadequate state budgetary allocations have, however, frustrated many of these reform efforts.
In 1992 a structural and philosophical reform agenda was set forth in the Law on Education. The fundamental principle of the 1992 law was the removal of state control from education policy so that schools were more attuned to the needs of the region and the nationalities they were serving. To achieve this, far greater autonomy has been given to local education authorities.
Current reform efforts are outlined in a government-approved document entitled “Concept of the Modernization of the Russian Education for the Period until 2010.” This document provides the framework for all innovations, experiments and education reforms. One of the most important goals has been to develop state standards for basic and secondary education, including federal guidelines on minimum curriculum requirements. Priority has been placed on developing the teaching of foreign languages, economics, and information and communication technologies.
Recent pronouncements from President Vladimir Putin have called for a renewed effort to tackle additional problems that have plagued the education system for more than a decade: low salaries, poor and outdated facilities and teaching materials, and inadequate regulatory mechanisms. In late 2005, the Ministry of Education and Science announced that budgetary allocations for education would be increased from 3.5 percent to 5 percent of GDP suggesting that the desired reforms might have better prospects than in the past.
As with many former Soviet republics and Warsaw Pact countries, no change has been more apparent than the introduction of independent and privately run institutions of higher education, formalized in the 1992 Law on Education, which permits explicitly the operation of private institutions of education. One consequence of expanding and liberalizing the education sector was the almost overnight appearance of many and varied private institutions of higher education. Without the development of the necessary regulatory institutions to check the growth of this new private sector, it has been very difficult to ascertain the quality of education being imparted by a many of these new institutions.
Despite constitutional guarantees of tuition-free higher education, strains on the federal budget over the last 15 years have ensured that full public support for higher education has become impossible at both public and private institutions. Indeed, many public institutions are now dependent on tuition revenues as the second major source of income after state allocations. By 1992, almost 50 percent of students at the tertiary level were estimated to be paying some kind of fees for their education.
The structure of school education in the Russian Federation is based on a 4+5+2 system: four years of primary school, five years of lower secondary school and another two years of upper secondary school. The principal language of instruction is Russian, although students have the right to be taught in their native languages through the nine years of basic compulsory education. The study of Russian is compulsory at all schools accredited by the state.
Higher education is offered at universities, academies, polytechnic institutions (many now renamed as technical universities), institutes, and technical/vocational colleges. Since the passing of the decree “On the Introduction of a Multi-level Structure in the Russian Federation” in 1992, Russia has been operating a parallel system of education at the tertiary level. The old Soviet system, based on a five-year program leading to the Diplom, now exists alongside the new tiered structure which consists of a four-year (three in rare cases) first degree (Bakalavr), followed by a two-year program leading to the Magistr or a one- to two-year program leading to the Diplom Specialista. These structural changes have been emboldened by Russia’s decision in 2003 to reorganize its degree structure in accordance with the Bologna Declaration, under which 45 — mainly European — countries are moving towards creating a common system of degrees and academic standards.
As of 2003, there were 1,304 institutions of higher education. From that number, 685 are state run and 619 are non-state institutions with operating licenses, of which 367 are accredited. By comparison, in 1999 there were 914 higher education institutions, of which 334 were private.
The literacy rate in Russia is nearly 100 percent except in some areas dominated by ethnic minorities, where the rate may be considerably lower. Wide variations in educational attainment exist between urban and rural areas.
VITAL FACTS AND FIGURES
Population: 143,420,309 (July 2005 est.)
Compulsory education begins in the Russian Federation for all children at the age of six or seven and lasts a total of nine years. Prior to 1984, schooling began at the age of seven and the duration of the compulsory period of education was 10 years. As many parents still believe seven to be an appropriate age for children to start formal schooling, they are free to choose whether they want their child to enter the education system at the age of six or seven. The primary portion of the compulsory stage of education lasts four years.
Just over 50 percent of children attend pre-school institutions, although this number has been falling since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, due to demographic, state budgetary and household income reasons. Although relatively small in number, there has been an increase in the number of schools offering contiguous pre-school and primary education programs.
While the vast majority of children are enrolled at state primary schools, several hundred private schools have entered the market over the last few years and educate approximately 1 percent of the total population of primary school students. Pre-school education is largely based on the payment of tuition fees.
Schools operate on a five-day week (some still operate on a six-day week) with the academic year generally lasting from September to May or June. Students receive approximately 24 hours of weekly instruction. For the most part, students are taught all subjects by one teacher. Formal examinations are held at the end of the fourth grade.
Duration of Study: Four years (24 hours a week).
Curriculum: Russian language and literature (reading, writing, literature); mathematics; Russian and Soviet history, a foreign language (from grade II); ICT (from grade III); social science and basic concepts in geography; natural science including the teaching of general notions about man and his role in nature; an introduction to physical geography and natural history; arts; music; physical education.
Secondary education is divided into two cycles: lower and upper secondary. Lower secondary school, or incomplete general education, is compulsory; however, only 90 percent of students currently transition from the elementary level to the lower secondary level.
The state general education curriculum stipulates 34 weeks of study per year and 27 to 38 hours of weekly instruction. The school year starts at the beginning of September and runs through to the beginning of June. School examinations are generally scheduled in June. From grade five, school subjects are taught by specialist teachers.
Lower (Incomplete) Secondary School
The lower secondary, or incomplete general education, stage (grades 5-9) of the education cycle is offered to a majority of students at nine-year schools or general schools offering the full 11 years of primary and secondary education. Students enter the lower secondary cycle at the age of 11 or 12 and generally complete it by the age of 15 or 16. The curriculum at the lower secondary level is organized into subject classes (some compulsory and some elective).
Students completing the lower secondary cycle take final examinations (the state final attestation), the successful completion of which leads to the award of the Attestat ob Osnovnom Obshchem Obrazovanii (Certificate of Incomplete Secondary Education). The certificate grants the holder access to further studies in either the secondary (complete) general education stream or the vocational stream, as well as to non-university level higher education.
Duration of Study: Five years (minimum 27 hours per week).
Curriculum: Minimum state requirements for the basic curriculum of general education mandate the following fields of study: Humanities with a special emphasis on Russian language and literature, and foreign languages; social sciences, including Russian and world history, and economic and social geography; the natural sciences with priority given to mathematics and also including biology, physics, astronomy, chemistry and ecology; technology, which incorporates computer studies, practical skills classes for professional development, and basic skills of general utility such as home economics, sewing, cooking, metal work, and carpentry; arts and physical education. In addition to these required fields of study, the basic curriculum provides for disciplines required by local authorities and also elective courses chosen by students.
Leaving Certificate: The Attestat ob Osnovnom Obshchem Obrazovanii (Certificate of Incomplete Secondary Education) is awarded directly by the school and grants access to further studies.
Upper Secondary Education
Upper secondary education is divided into two basic streams: academic and vocational/technical. In the academic stream, students complete the secondary cycle after two years of study (grades 10-11) during which they receive a minimum of 31 hours of weekly instruction. Upon completion of the secondary cycle, students must successfully complete the secondary education examinations for the award of the Attestat o Srednem (polnom) Obshchem Obrazovanii (Certificate of Secondary (Complete) General Education). Admission to the academic stream is based on the results of the basic general education examination.
In the vocational stream, students can either take two years of further study to gain the Certificate of Vocational Secondary Education, or they can embark on a longer program that combines the completion of secondary school and studies toward a vocational qualification.
In the last few years, increasing numbers of private schools have been established. Private schools may grant nationally recognized certificates if accredited by the state. Students gaining certificates awarded by non-accredited institutions are not eligible for further study at a state institution of higher education.
Academic Upper Secondary School
Academic upper secondary education is offered in general secondary schools (obshchaia srednaia shkola) which offer academically oriented programs geared towards preparing students for entry to an institution of higher education. Students are awarded the Certificate of (Complete) Secondary Education after successfully passing the state attestation examinations, for which students must be examined in no less than five disciplines: two compulsory examinations (composition and mathematics) and no less than three examinations in elective fields.
Russia also has a well-developed network of schools (gymnasia and lyceums) offering advanced programs, which can be offered in a number of ways: through schools that have advanced programs in selected disciplines such as foreign languages or mathematics; through specialized schools with a particular area of focus such as fine arts, philosophy, economics, sports, and other fields; and through schools in which senior grades work under the auspices of higher education institutions.
School leaving certificates include a supplement listing the grades obtained by students in all subjects taught during their two years of upper secondary education. On Soviet-era certificates no supplement is attached; the grades are listed on the certificate itself. Final and annual examinations are a combination of (one third) oral and (two thirds) written.
Duration of Study: Two years (minimum 31 hours a week).
Curriculum: Russian language and literature (4 periods a week); mathematics and informatics (4); history, society and geography (5); science subjects — biology, physics or chemistry (6); physical education (3); technology classes (2); electives including a foreign language (12).
Leaving Certificate: Attestat o Srednem (polnom) Obshchem Obrazovanii (Certificate of Secondary (Complete) General Education); before 1993 the certificate was known as Attestat o Srednem Obrazovanii (Certificate of Secondary Education). The attestat is awarded directly by the school. All students who hold the certificate are eligible to take university entrance examinations.
NOTE: The Russian Enic/Naric Website makes available sample documents: http://www.russianenic.ru/rus/diplom.html
Technical/Vocational Upper Secondary and Post-Secondary Education
Vocational and technical alternatives (nachalnoe professionalnoe obrazovanie) to the academic secondary stream exist at professional technical schools (professionalnoe tekhnicheskoe uchilishche, or PTU) and secondary professional technical schools (srednoe profesionalnoe tekhnicheskoe uchilishche, or SPTU). Traditionally, students have been admitted to these schools upon completion of the basic cycle (nine years). Since 1970, holders of the certificate of secondary education have also been eligible for admission. Students who enter a PTU/SPTU after the completion of nine years of compulsory basic education undertake programs of 2 to 3 years in length (and in rare cases 4 years), normally in a highly specialized field. For those already holding a certificate of secondary education, study generally lasts one year.
Although the emphasis of instruction is on the field of specialization, some academic general education classes are also taught. Successful completion of a PTU/SPTU program leads to the award of a Diplom, which qualifies holders for employment as junior technical personnel in their field of specialization as indicated on the diploma. The diploma is awarded by the State Attestation Commission and grants access to further studies at both the university and non-university level.
Training is available in a wide range of trades and specialized sub-fields within those trades. Work experience is an important aspect of all programs.
Higher level technical/vocational training (allied health, technology, teacher education) is provided at what are referred to as specialized secondary educational institutions (srednie spetsialnye uchebnye zavedeniia or SSUZs). They fall into three categories: technikumi, uchilishcha, and kolledz (technical colleges; vocational colleges; and colleges, many of which are former technikumi). Students who are admitted after the basic education cycle (nine years) complete a three- to four-and a-half-year program which combines general secondary education with training in the chosen area of specialization. Those admitted with a high school diploma complete a two- to three-year program and only study subjects in their area of specialization. Admission is based on a competitive examination, which students take after completing either grade 9 or grade 11 of secondary school. Upon completion of the program, regardless of the point of entry, students are awarded the Diplom o Srednem Professionalnom Obrazovanii (Diploma of Completion of Specialized Secondary Education), which indicates the relevant qualification. The diploma is awarded by the State Attestation Commission and grants access to university-level studies.
Higher education in the Russian Federation is provided at universities, academies polytechnic institutions/technical universities, and institutes. Broadly speaking universities can be divided into “classical,” “pedagogical,” and “technical” classifications with special attention being paid respectively to social sciences/humanities; pedagogy; and natural, fundamental and applied (engineering) sciences. Academies differ from universities in that they tend to offer a limited number of majors. Institutes offer undergraduate and graduate programs in one or more disciplines. Postgraduate research is generally confined to universities and academies. Institutes may be autonomous bodies or part of a university or academy.
Following the provisions of the 1992 Law on Education and responding to falling state budgetary allocations and rising demand, state institutions of higher education have been given greater autonomy to open, close and merge academic programs, while also being permitted to enroll students on a fee-paying basis. More attention is now given to professional disciplines such as business, management, economics, law and accounting. Business education, especially, has received a great deal of attention under the new realities of a liberalized Russian economy that has created great demand for trained managers, where very little supply exists. In the first two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, more than 1,000 business schools and training centers of vastly differing standards were established. Among these were prestigious schools established as additions to major universities, such as the Higher School of Business Administration of Moscow State University; centers offering high-priced lectures and certificate courses; and in some cases storefronts selling qualifications.
For a listing of state-recognized higher education institutions in Russia visit: www.informika.ru/eng/sprav1/index.html, or for more updated information (in Russian): www.edu.ru/db/cgi-bin/portal/vuz/vuz_sch.plx. A listing of technical and engineering universities by region is available at: http://aeer.cctpu.edu.ru/engn/db_vuz/tvuz_main.phtml?pback=http://aeer.cctpu.edu.ru.
Accreditation and Quality Assurance
The Russian government still maintains control over higher-education quality assurance procedures. In 1997, the Accreditation Board was established as part of the Ministry of Education. All final decisions on institutional state accreditation are made by the board, which is headed by the minister of education. Institutions that pass the accreditation process are awarded the status of ‘academy,’ ‘university,’ or ‘institute.’
Institutions of higher education wishing to gain full state approval must undergo a three-stage process of licensing (which assures that educational facilities, laboratory equipment, teaching staff, and teaching materials meet state requirements), attestation (an assessment of the content, level and quality of an institution’s educational programs relative to state educational standards), and accreditation based on a self-study assessment and an external review process.
In order to simplify the accreditation process and reduce costs for institutions, the Ministry of Education consolidated the three procedures, starting January 1, 2000, into a single process known as ‘complex assessment.’
An institution (public or private) that has successfully passed the accreditation process may:
1. Award state recognized diplomas issued by the state attestation committees;
2. Use the state seal of the Russian Federation on official documents.
Accreditation is usually valid for a five-year term and is carried out by a number of different branches of the Ministry of Education under the auspices of the Federal Service of Supervision in Education and Science. The Department of Licensing, Attestation and Accreditation processes applications and documents, including a self-evaluation report submitted by institutions; the National Accreditation Center analyzes the data submitted by the institution and establishes evaluation teams to perform external reviews; and the Accreditation Board, consisting of ministry officials, rectors and public organizations, makes a final accreditation decision based on the information gathered by the Accreditation Center.
The National Accreditation Center publishes a list of accredited post-secondary institutions annually, which is available on their Website at: http://www.nica.ru/main.en.phtml. What appears to be a more updated version of this list is available from the Russian Enic/Naric Website: http://www.russianenic.ru/english/cred/index.html.
The Ministry of Education also makes available a list of state and private institutions categorized by type at: http://www.informika.ru/eng/sprav1/index.html.
Within the field of engineering, a non-governmental and voluntary professional accreditation process has been established by the Russian Association for Engineering Education under the aegis of the Accreditation Center. A list of accredited programs can be found at: http://www.ac-raee.ru/eng/reestr.php.
Admission to Higher Education
Admission to an institution of higher education requires the successful completion of 11 years of secondary education and a competitive entrance examination.
Traditionally, students have been required to take competitive oral and/or written entrance examinations set by the individual institutions to which they are applying — with admissions to prestigious institutions being highly competitive. In recent years, however, the admission process has been going through a process of reform owing to concerns over the financial burden that preparation for institutional entrance examinations placed on students and their families, especially those from geographically remote regions. Success on institutional entrance examinations has often depended on knowledge gained at expensive special preparatory courses or through lessons with private tutors.
Central to this reform has been the introduction of the Unified State Exam. The new standardized test is somewhat similar to the American SAT in that it seeks to test ability rather than knowledge. A majority of institutions have now adopted the new Unified State Exam, which was first piloted in 1999; however, some of the more prestigious schools in Moscow and St. Petersburg have refused to adopt the centralized examination, arguing that it is not selective enough for their purposes. University entrance examinations are traditionally held in August.
Guidelines for admission to individual institutions are published annually to ensure uniformity as well as to disseminate information relevant to certain specialties, such as medicine, or certain types of institutions, such as correspondence schools.
UNIVERSITY HIGHER EDUCATION
Universities are currently offering degree programs on a parallel track, with the traditional five-year diplom program being offered alongside a two-tier system of four-year first level studies followed by a second one- or two-year program. The restructuring of the system was approved before the dissolution of the Soviet Union by the State Committee for Public Education. The new degree structure was introduced in the early 1990s.
The academic year runs from September to May or June, and is divided into two academic semesters with examinations held at the end of each.
Programs and Degrees
Stage I: The Diplom (Diploma of Specialist) requires four to six years of full-time study. Most disciplines, however, require five years, with only a small number of programs requiring four years of study. Medicine requires six years of study as do some engineering and technology disciplines. Diplom programs generally consist of two-year foundation studies and core courses followed by more specialized courses in the last three years. During Soviet times a list of approximately 400 specializations were made available by central authorities, and little flexibility was allowed in course design as determined by the regulations for each specialization. Until 1991, graduation requirements included state examinations, which consisted of a diploma project/thesis as well as oral and written examinations in the area of specialization. The diploma is awarded by the State Attestation Commission and constitutes a qualification for professional employment. The qualification (“economist,” “engineer,” “doctor,” “teacher,” etc) is mentioned on the diploma.
Stage I: The Bakalavr (Bachelor’s) degree program requires four years of full-time study. Programs are offered according to certain minimum standards set in accordance with State Educational Standards, which accounts for fifty percent of content, with the rest of the curriculum developed by universities and individual departments. The program normally requires 25-30 contact hours per week. The Bakalavr is awarded in all disciplines except medicine and related disciplines such as veterinary medicine and dentistry. Completion of the Bakalavr grants access to further studies and is awarded by the State Attestation Commission.
NOTE: Students who complete at least two years of higher education in a first degree program can request the award of the Diplom o Nepolnom Vysshem Obrazovanii (Diploma of Incomplete Higher Education). The diploma is generally used for employment purposes, but can be used for reentry into a relevant bakalavr or diplom program.
Stage II: Upon completion of the Bakalavr, students may enroll in either a one- to two-year program leading to the Diplom Specialista or a two-year program leading to the Magistr, which may also be awarded one-year after the Diplom Specialista. The Diplom Specialista may also be completed as a continuous program in combination with the Bakalavr over a period of 5–6 years of study.
The Magistr is an academic degree designed for those students who wish to pursue a career in academia and research. The field of study must be the same as for the Bakalavr (as most students continue after the Bakalavr at the same institution, they may not receive the actual Bakalavr diploma). Students must carry out one year of research and prepare and defend a thesis as well as sit for final examinations.
The Diplom Specialista is a professional training program designed for students who choose to pursue the practical applications of their specialization. The degree grants a professional qualification (engineer, teacher, economist, etc). Access to these programs is competitive and based on an entrance examination. The Diplom, Diplom Specialista, and the Magistr grant access to further studies. All second-tier credentials are awarded by the State Attestation Commission.
Stage III: The Kandidat Nauk (Candidate of Sciences) is awarded across the full range of academic disciplines and requires a minimum of three years supervised research leading towards the preparation of a dissertation, which must be publicly defended. Only public higher education institutions and research institutes may offer doctoral programs. They operate respectively under the general supervision of the Ministry of Education and Science, and the Russian Academy of Sciences. The period of research is called the aspirantura and may involve some coursework. Candidates must pass qualifying Kandidat Nauk examinations as part of the program (three or four, usually completed within the first year of study). Access to the program is based on prior completion of a stage II degree with ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ standing and the successful completion of the qualifying exams in their field of specialization. The degree is awarded by the Higher Attestation Commission and the council of the institution where the research was conducted.
Stage IV: The highest award in the Russian system is the Doctor Nauk (Doctor of Science). The program is entirely research based and is of no fixed duration. The qualification is awarded after the preparation and public defense of a dissertation, and often candidates are required to have published a number of research papers. Admission to a program is based on the completion of the Kandidat Nauk. The award qualifies the holder for a career as a professor at an institution of higher education. The degree is awarded by the Higher Attestation Commission and the council of the institution where the research was conducted.
NOTE: The Russian Enic/Naric Website makes available sample documents: http://www.russianenic.ru/rus/diplom.html
The following grading scale is used at all levels of education:
U.S. Grade Equivalency
NOTE: The grade ‘One’ also exists, but is very rarely awarded.
The majority of high school teachers are trained at pedagogical institutes and universities in five-year diploma specialist programs. Admission requires successful completion of upper secondary school and a competitive entrance examination. Four-year programs are offered in a limited number of single-subject disciplines (elementary education with no sub specialization; foreign languages, where only one language is studied; and, in rare cases, Russian language and literature). Students training as teachers are trained in their area of specialization and they also take education and methodology-related courses. Students must also undertake a set amount of in-school practice teaching as part of their training. Students completing the five-year program are awarded a Diploma of Specialist in their area of specialization.
Kindergarten and elementary-level teachers (grades 1-5) are generally trained at pedagogical uchilishcha. These programs are three and a half to four years in length for students entering from ninth grade and two years for students entering with a high school diploma. Students studying to become elementary school teachers take a combination of general education subjects and education subjects from which they choose a specialization. Diplomas are awarded by the State Attestation Commission.