WENR, March 2011: Russia & CIS
Academics and Students Call for Reform
Leading Belarusian academics have made urgent calls for reform of higher education in the country amid international concern about the treatment of students and scholars who opposed the recent re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.
Mr Lukashenko has been in power in the former Soviet state for 16 years and reportedly won 80 percent of the vote in December’s presidential election. However, the result has been widely questioned and there is widespread disquiet about the arrest of hundreds of demonstrators who protested against the result, including many academics and students.
Vladimir Dunayev is the former rector of the European Humanities University, a Belarusian institution now based in neighboring Lithuania (it was closed by the authorities in 2004 but relaunched in Vilnius the following year). He urged the Lukashenko government not to seek further reprisals against its opponents in the academy, amid fears that the arrests could be followed by a wave of academic expulsions.
“It is essential that any charges against students and dismissals from universities do not occur under the guise of academic failure and (accusations of) truancy. Students should have the right to peaceful protest,” he said.
Yet meaningful reform looks unlikely following the announcement last month of plans for a new Code of Education, which students will be forced to sign from September. In a move described by Professor Dunayev as an “administrative” approach to education, the contract will set out students’ “rights, duties and responsibilities.” He argued that what was needed was something that guaranteed “the academic rights of students and teachers.”
– Times Higher Education Supplement
February 10, 2011
Standardized University Admissions Exam has Supporters and Detractors
A controversial Kremlin-backed experiment to bring post-Soviet admissions into line with Western practices by introducing standardized nationwide college testing is now into its second year. However, according to a recent article from The New York Times, the Russian version of the American SAT has gathered a number of critics and provoked angry reactions from teachers and parents.
In 2009, the Unified State Exam in Russian language and mathematics became mandatory for high school graduation and college entrance. Students planning to enter college are required to choose a third test related to their planned major. President Dmitri A Medvedev is a strong supporter of the test as part of his modernization drive, and part of an effort to fight fraud in an area long accused of being susceptible to bribes. Medvedev also praises the examination for leveling the playing field for students from rural areas who may not have the means to travel to major urban centers to take multiple university entrance examinations, as used to be the reality.
Andrei A. Fursenko, the minister of education and science, and the examination’s biggest supporter, says there is no turning back.
“The point of no return has already been passed,” he told RIA Novosti, an official news agency, in December. “People have gone through it and accepted the logic of an objective evaluation of knowledge.”
But there are opponents across the political spectrum. The Communist Party says the test has put the nail in the coffin of a once glorious education system that sent the first man into space and sent the United States scrambling to catch up to the Soviet Union in math and science.
– The New York Times
February 7, 2011
Complaints of Racism Against Minorities on the Rise
Ethnic minority students at Russian universities are complaining of increased discrimination and racist attacks, including beatings and harassment.
Ten years ago, Moscow University law student Aida moved to live in the Russian capital with her family from Dagestan in the North Caucasus – now infamous as a stronghold of Islamist terrorism. With her long dark hair and dark eyes, 22-year-old Aida says she that she is discriminated against because of her origin, and because of fears of terrorism. “Just recently there was another unpleasant incident at my own faculty,” said Aida. “It was just after the blast at Domodedovo airport at the end of January. As always I showed my student card to the security at the entrance. And he just started swearing at me with racist remarks and said something about me probably not even knowing Russian.”
It’s not only fellow students and security staff who treat students from the North Caucasus in an unfriendly manner. University authorities are also guilty, according to Dmitriy Dubrovski, a human rights expert and professor of history at the University of St Petersburg.
There are approximately 130,000 foreign students at Russian universities, many from China, Vietnam or African countries, and Dubrovski notes that they also suffer regularly from racist remarks, even from staff. However, hardly any official complaints are launched.
“The main difficulty is that no one talks about the problems,” he said. “Countries like China and Vietnam for example don’t even want their students to complain and would prefer them to leave Russia if there is a problem. They don’t want to risk their relations with Russia. As a result, the students put up with everything with gritted teeth and we don’t have a clue what is really going on.”
– Deutsche Welle
February 24, 2011
International Degree Recognition to be Improved in Move to Attract Talent
President Dmitry Medvedev has announced that Russia will improve the process of evaluating and recognizing degrees from the world’s leading universities, as it moves to attract highly qualified professionals.
The government has already eased the immigration process for skilled foreigners, to encourage the return to Russia of local scientists currently working abroad. But Russia still faces a shortage of the highly skilled professionals needed to implement ambitious state plans to shift the economy onto a more innovative footing.
“The inflow of foreign professionals to Russia is needed in order to gain experience and to create a ground for creativity of domestic scientists,” Medvedev said. “Therefore we are ready for unilateral automatic recognition of diplomas and degrees obtained in the world’s leading universities. Russia should become an attractive place for the world’s best minds.”
According to analysts from the Russo-German paper Russland-Aktuell, Russia’s lack of highly skilled young workers is most pronounced in industries such as information technologies, communications, management and the arts.
– University World News
March 6, 2011
Tajik Students in Egypt Stranded
Tajik authorities seemed to be in no rush to bring home the dozens of Tajik madrasah students who were trapped in Egypt in February and pleading with their embassy in Cairo to help them leave. This comes as a surprise considering Tajik authorities, including President Emomali Rahmon, have for months been urging parents to bring their children back from foreign madrasahs. Otherwise, he said, the children risk becoming terrorists.
Diplomats in Cairo said that since antigovernment protests in Egypt began in January, some 100 Tajik students had told the embassy they were willing to go home. But the authorities reportedly remained unmoved throughout the turmoil.
February 9, 2011
Government Tightens Control Over Secondary and University Students
Turkmen authorities tightened their control over Turkmenistan’s secondary schools and universities in February, RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service reports. Secondary school teachers are now required to be at work from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. each school day regardless of their class hours. University students are not to leave the university premises before 6 p.m. Those who live in dormitories must be in bed before 11 p.m. and are not permitted to do their homework after that time.
No reason for the new measures was given. It is unclear whether they are political, possibly in response to the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, or intended to prevent the repetition of recent campus violence. In February, a violent incident at the Ashgabat Polytechnic Institute led to a female student from the institute being killed and a second injured after a party involving three male and three female students.
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov sacked the deputy prime minister responsible for science and education along with several senior members of the institute’s staff after the incident. Students at Turkmen colleges and universities are not allowed to appear in foreign media, leave the country on vacation, drive a car, or use mobile phones on university premises.
February 26, 2011