WENR, September 2008: Russia & CIS
Higher Education Reforms Reaping Results
The Republic of Georgia has undergone major changes since the so-called Rose Revolution of 2003 ended the 11-year premiership of Eduard Shevardnadze, a former Communist Party boss. His 36-year-old elected replacement, Mikeil Saakashvili, graduated from Columbia University Law School.
While Mr. Saakashvili’s leadership has been far from smooth sailing, his government has managed to make solid headway in reforming what was widely perceived as a chronically corrupt higher-education system. In 2006, the government introduced tougher accreditation regulations and dramatically reduced the number of low-quality institutions operating in the country. Through a mixture of closures and mergers, the number of accredited institutions dropped from 200 to 52. Tied in with those measures was the introduction, a year earlier, of a new national university-entrance exam, designed to reduce graft in admissions. A survey conducted by the Soros Foundation last year showed that higher education is now seen as the least corrupt system in Georgia, an image turnaround of epic proportions.
Students also are learning vastly different material through more Westernized teaching methodologies than they were under the Soviet system. Students no longer study only highly specialized and technical subjects, as liberal-arts courses begin to replace vocational training. All of Georgia’s universities have now instituted general-education requirements. Russian is rapidly being replaced by English in classrooms and textbooks, while Western-trained lecturers have replaced a cadre of at least 2,000 ageing professors who did not have their contracts renewed after the reforms were introduced. These new lecturers have brought new teaching methods with them. By next year, all professors will be required to hold doctorates, speak English, and have published at least 10 papers in prominent journals.
Much of the change within the higher education sector comes as part of a broader government agenda to completely remove the small Caucasian nation from the influence of its huge neighbor to the north, while working toward membership of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Students are no longer sent to Russia on government scholarships, instead they go almost exclusively to the West. Currently, 1,000 students a year are sent abroad to earn graduate degrees at Western universities by the Georgian government, which says that most come back. The 18 state and 34 private universities that have accreditation are receiving government help in building cooperative relationships with institutions abroad, including exchange programs and literature purchases for joint scientific programs.
– The Chronicle of Higher Education
June 27, 2008
Minister to Cut Spending at Regional Universities in Favor of Elite Institutions
The Russian Ministry of Education threatened in July to cut research financing for second-tier universities, while diverting money to the most competitive. Many of Russia’s state institutes are so specialized as to be irrelevant today. Two examples cited by the Chronicle of Higher Education are an institute that focuses on the flu in St. Petersburg and an institute that specializes in internal combustion in the southern city of Ufa. These institutes are today augmented by a growing number of new private universities that also have sought state support.
The Minister of Education and Science, Andrei Fursenko, said the excess must be pruned for competitive reasons. Mr. Fursenko said that 80 percent of the roughly 1,000 higher-education institutions do not innovate or conduct useful scientific research.
“In Russia today only 15 to 20 percent of universities can be competitive,” he said. “There should be a maximum 50 universities and 150 to 200 institutes of higher education left in the country.” The rest, he said, should become branches of major universities, shift to vocational colleges, or shut down.
– The Chronicle of Higher Education
July 25, 2008