Nova workboard

a blog from young economists at Nova SBE

University degree in Russia: from real incentives to formal requirements

The educational system in Russia has been stagnating since the 90s when the Soviet Union fell apart. During the transition to market economy the educational system was also changed. As a result, there are two ways to acquire higher education in universities – so-called “budget” (financed by the state budget) and “paid” (financed by the student) bases. In theory such system should provide young people with equal possibilities to acquire education: thus, everyone has a chance to get free education, if he or she puts enough effort to perform better than others. Besides, a “budget” place gets scholarship if the student’s performance is above a given threshold (though the size of the scholarship is not really stimulating as it is very low). In reality what has been happening is that people who have money “buy” budget places (thank to an extremely high level of corruption in education – about 1 billion dollars a year (Sapozhnikov 2012)), and talented people with low income have to pay for education or refuse to acquire it simply because they cannot afford it.

The first question that might come to the reader’s mind is that why don’t people with high income just pay for education without any involvement into the bribery? There might be several reasons for that. According to some estimation (Sapozhnikov 2012), it costs less to pay once in order to enter university than to pay for education during the all period of study. Another reason is that studying at the budget place is just more prestigious.

In order to modernize the educational system in Russia, in 2001 the Ministry of Education proposed unified state exams which would replace both final exams in high school and entrance exams in universities (which means that universities are obliged to accept the results of the unified state exams). The main objectives were to create a unified and unprejudiced system of student assessment, to provide better access to higher education, to combat corruption, and to implement better control over the quality of education. After hot discussions, strong opposition of major universities, and unconvincing results of experiments the reform was eventually implemented all over the country (in 2009). In the end, almost none of the reform’s objectives have been met. Firstly, quality of education decreased as now the main purpose of studying has become preparation for the test that sometimes does not include topics taught in the previous system. Also there are a lot of discussions that some of the tests contain questions which are just absurd or cannot be answered unambiguously in multiple-choice questions (Andreeva and Tarasevich 2007). Secondly, corruption not only increased but also spread to high schools. Thirdly, since now regional authorities are controlled in terms of quality of education that is measured by the average performance in the unified exams, they have an incentive to favor cheating at the exams.

As a result, the attempt to improve the educational system failed, and talented students still have to pay higher price to acquire university degree (tuition fee or bribe) or to refuse to get it. Besides, the situation got even worse because of reduced quality of education in high schools. Apparently, corruption plays crucial role in the educational system in Russia, and necessary measures must be undertaken to prevent briberies. However, it is not possible with wrong incentives that have place at the moment. Indeed, in many cases young people go to study at universities not to get knowledge and expertise but just to acquire the certificate about the degree in order to find a job in the future (there is still a big problem of mismatching of obtained specializations and fields of work), to avoid serving in the army, or just because a university degree is something what everyone is supposed to have in the civilized society.

Until perverted perception of university degree prevails over the essential purpose of higher education, there will be inequality within students with different abilities and level of income and unused human potential, which will go to study abroad.



Andreeva, O., and G. Tarasevich, 2007. It is dangerous to live in such “community”,

Higher education in Russia: rules and reality, 2004.

Masterova, G., 2010. Can education in Russia be reformed?

Rimsky, V.L., 2010. Overcoming corruption in the educational system in Russia,

Samedova, E., and M. Ostaptschuk, 2012. Russia: an educational system in crisis,

Sapozhnikov, V.N., 2012. Analysis of the corruption level of the higher school as a demotivating factor,—ep12-05/514




Author: studentnovasbe

Master student in Nova Sbe

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