WENR, July/August 2010: Russia and CIS


Universities Reopen for Exams Despite Extensive Damage Caused by Unrest

Several badly damaged universities in Southern Kyrgyzstan re-opened in late June two weeks after unrest erupted and caused their closure. The universities reopened in time to allow students to take their final examinations, but the future of the universities – which were badly damaged in recent violence – is still unclear.

Osh State University was able to hold examinations in buildings or parts of buildings that were not damaged. It is one of the largest universities in the country, with 21,000 students and campuses in Osh and Jalalabad in Southern Kyrgyzstan, the area most affected by recent violence. The main university building in Osh has reportedly been destroyed by fire. Jalalabad State University, Jalalabad Medical College and Kyrgyz Uzbek University in both Jalalabad and Osh were destroyed, affecting more than 12,000 students.

The violence that erupted in the southern part of the Central Asian Republic in June was the worst unrest to hit the country since the ousting of former president Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April. The universities were particularly targeted as events that sparked off the latest bloody unrest began in student dormitories. In May, the People’s Friendship University was also destroyed and, according to Turkish newspaper reports, university buildings have since been seen as a particular target of angry mobs.

The current wave of unrest erupted on June 11th when gangs of armed Kyrgyz men, thought to be Bakiyev supporters, marched on Uzbek neighborhoods in Osh, and set homes on fire. Osh has traditionally been a base of Bakiyev support.

Kyrgyzstan is a hub for education in the region and attracts large numbers of foreign students. Even though it has a population of only five million, it hosts several international universities including joint universities which award dual degrees with Russian universities, and the prestigious American University of Central Asia [1], a magnet for western academics specializing in Central Asia.

University World News [2]
June 27, 2010

University Politicization Persists

According to a number of people familiar with Kyrgyz universities and recently interviewed by University World News, the recent national referendum, held in the wake of major unrest in mid-June, will not prevent the politicization of universities in the Central Asian country.

“Universities remain a tool of influence for several central and local governments. For some 20 years all governments in Kyrgyzstan have used students, universities and faculties for their own political purposes, and as an instrument of their own political gains,” said Bakyt Beshimov, a former opposition member of the Kyrgyz parliament and deputy chairman of the country’s Social Democratic party.

Beshimov, who fled into exile in August last year, is also a former president of Osh State University, one of the largest in the country. During 2006-08, he was vice-president of the private American University of Central Asia [1] (AUCA) in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek. With some 200,000 students and 20,000 members of faculty, universities in Kyrgyzstan are important to the political process, Beshimov says, and those in positions of power have routinely used acts of financial and academic coercion to influence student and lecturer votes.

The most blatant example of politicization was during the so-called Tulip Revolution, as the 2005 civic uprising against then President Askar Akayev is known, when university rectors were openly deployed to campaign in favor of Akayev’s daughter. The Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights reported that students at several universities were forced to gather signatures for her nomination. Human Rights Watch also reported numerous and credible sources saying state employees including lecturers, as well as students, were forced to become members of the ruling party.

Universities in the southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad became particular targets during recent unrest because of political rivalries on campus. In Osh, the large state universities are centers of Kyrgyz nationalism.

The referendum on 27 June was intended to give Kyrgyzstan’s interim government under Roza Otunbayeva enough legitimacy to assert control in advance of national elections this October.

University World News [3]
July 4, 2010


Government-guaranteed Jobs with New 4-Year Degree

Russia has initiated an experimental new degree system that will offer scholarships and employment incentives designed to get more students into degree programs that would plug holes in the labor market, such as engineering and other subject areas that the nation’s leaders say are needed for economic growth.

Beginning in September, students can enroll in the applied bachelor’s program to earn bachelor’s degrees while getting on-the-job experience. Participants will receive government financial aid and guarantees from universities that they will find employment upon graduation, and will spend half of their studies in the workplace.

While primarily focused on technical professions like computer programming and automobile design, the program also includes degrees in teaching, biology, and business management. Russia’s lack of skilled people for certain jobs has been a growing concern among the country’s politicians and academic leaders for years. However, critics fear the program could lead Russia back down the path of a state-controlled economy.

The education ministry decided to experiment this year with the applied-bachelor’s idea—and approximately 100 Russian universities applied to administer the new four-year-degree program, and seven were chosen. They include Tyumen State Oil and Gas University [4], Siberian Federal University [5], Viatka State University, [6] and Kazan State Technological University [7].

The new applied degree is also seen as possibly giving more credibility to the four-year bachelor’s degree, which Russian universities began widely offering only three years ago, thanks in part to the Bologna Process. So far the four-year degree is looked at skeptically by many Russian employers and businesses.

The Chronicle of Higher Education [8]
July 1, 2010

Anti-corruption Campaign at Top Russian University Gets Ugly

St. Petersburg State University [9] is among the most prestigious in the country, but these days it is creating headlines because of an ugly public fight between its rector and some faculty members amid a fierce anti-corruption campaign. In the last year, deans have been dismissed, federal authorities have started criminal investigations, and accusations have been rampant about administrators illegally renting out office space and professors trading bribes for grades.

The campaign by the rector, Nikolai M. Kropachev, has divided the campus, with opponents accusing one another of threatening to ruin a venerable institution. To his supporters, Mr. Kropachev is fighting to save St. Petersburg State and cleaning up a university that had been marred with fraud. But others say he is going too far to stamp out such problems, raising questions about how much authority a rector should have.

Mr. Kropachev, who is also dean of St. Petersburg State’s law school, became rector of the university in December 2008 and almost immediately began his sweeping public campaign against corruption. This campaign has centered publicly on a married couple on the faculty, Sergei Petrov and Marina Shishkina, who ran the university’s medical and journalism faculties, respectively. Petrov was fired after accusations of corruption, charges he vehemently denies. In his support, several faculty members of the medical school signed a petition and sent it to Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev—who used to be a professor at St. Petersburg State—complaining about the university administration. Shishkina is currently embroiled in a fight for her reputation amid an investigation of her journalism department and accusations that US$23,000 has been embezzled.

The battle between the rector and members of his faculty is an important one for Russian higher education because of St. Petersburg State’s pedigree. Founded by Peter the Great in the 18th century, it has long trained Russia’s elite, including the political and business titans of today’s Russia. Mr. Kropachev himself has close ties to the Kremlin; he was running the university’s law school while Mr. Medvedev was a law professor there, and the president supported Mr. Kropachev’s candidacy to lead the university. With such powerful political connections, Mr. Kropachev faces intense pressure to run a model national institution and to root out corruption.

As for the deans who have come under fire, they face an uncertain future. After a yearlong investigation, Mr. Petrov has not been charged with a crime. He continues to work at the university as a professor and an administrator at the medical school. His wife, Ms. Shishkina, also remains under investigation, but no formal charges have been filed. However, her 20-year career at the institution appears to be over.

The Chronicle of Higher Education [10]
July 3, 2010

Looking Abroad for Enrollments

Russia has a long history of attracting students and scholars from abroad, but the numbers have tapered significantly since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Faced with this reality, the Russian government has announced plans to increase the attractiveness of its universities as international study destinations by creating opportunities for international student employment within the country.

According to the Ministry of Education [11], Russia’s share of higher education in the global market continues to decline and at present does not exceed 1.5 percent of the total number of foreigners studying abroad. To help counter this trend, a specialized agency called Eurasia [12] has been set up with responsibility for promoting education abroad and attracting foreigners to study in the country.

The government believes this will boost Russia’s share of the global education market to 7 percent and place at least two flagship institutions, the universities of Moscow and St Petersburg, in the world’s top 100 universities.

Traditionally, Russia has recruited most heavily from bordering regions such as Central Asia and Central and Eastern Europe. Experts point to the fact that Russian universities are now failing to compete with German rivals in Eastern Europe, whose share in the global market has almost doubled over the last seven years.

University World News [13]
July 18, 2010