New legislation in Russia, scheduled to be implemented before the end of the 2012, is expected to result in drastic changes in the country's education system. These changes will affect all educational levels, from pre-schools to universities, with foreseeable reforms in both the schooling and school funding of such institutions. IMR analyst Olga Khvostunova and independent journalist Xenia Prilepskaya review the upcoming reforms.



Controversial Legislation

Today, two basic laws“On Education” (1992) and “On Graduate and Postgraduate Professional Education” (1996)regulate Russia’s educational system. As many education experts point out, these two documents were quite progressive for their time. They simultaneously lifted Soviet ideological restrictions and guaranteed educational freedom. But when in 2003 Russia joined the Bologna Group, Russian laws came into conflict with modern international educational standards. In addition, over the past twenty years education laws have been amended too many times, with the number of amendments having reached critical mass.

An educational overhaul incorporating these changes and drawing on international experience has now become popular. Since 2008, a group supervised by the Ministry of Education and Science has been developing a new education bill. The group’s working draft was published on the Ministry website in May 2010. Initially, the bill was conceived as a kind of codex, amassing recent changes in the budget, tax and labor codes, and incorporating international practices. It had been planned to align with Federal Law 83-FZ of May 8,,2010, “On The Legal Status of Government (Municipal) Institutions.”

The bill’s first draft elicited a public outcry. Provisions were harshly criticized by schoolteachers, education experts and civil activists. Under public pressure, the Ministry published the bill’s full text on, a government website created to host the public debate from December 1, 2010 until February 1, 2011. By the end of the discussion period, the document had 11,000 comments. Other sources place the number of suggested improvements the Ministry received at over 20,000.

This time around the volume of the bill increased dramatically: eight sections turned into twenty. The original 170 articles spanned 400 pages; the amendments took up an additional 600 pages. But as many debate participants admitted, the bill’s text was filled with complicated legal terminology that impeded understanding. But the bill’s more substantial drawback was its declarative nature. Despite the openness of the discussion, most improvements suggested by activists, scientists, educational experts, teachers, and students were ignored.

Then, in early February 2011, Sergei Volkov, teacher at the renowned Moscow school no. 57 and editor of the journal “Literature,” published on his LiveJournal blog an open letter to President Dmitri Medvedev. He asked Medvedev to prevent adoption of the Ministry of Education and Science’s version of the bill. Within the next two days, over 12,000 people had signed Volkov's letter, resulting in the bill being sent back for further revision. Volkov spoke out publicly and repeatedly. People would no longer tolerate empty actions disguised as reforms, he said, and were irritated by declining education levels and the government’s failure to take responsibility for the problem.

Six months later, on July 26, 2012, the bill “On Education” was finally passed, On August 3, it was sent to the State Duma for approval. The first reading of the bill is expected to take place in October or November 2012. The new law may take effect in 2013.

Education Services

Below are some key provisions of the new law.

The first one introduces the concept of “educational services,” turning schools into free market establishments. This, however, doesn’t mean that education in Russia will now cost money. As Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev assured the public at the end of July’s open government round table, “education in Russia was and will remain free.”

Medvedev's statement was also confirmed by Irina Abankina, director of the Institute of Educational Development at the Higher School of Economics and member of the working group that developed the bill. In her recent talk on Vesti TV, she mentioned that some educational services would cost money. These services include not only sought after subjects like foreign language courses, dance lessons, and judo, but also additional classes in core subjects. Officially, schools have been allowed to do this since 1992, but they couldn’t access the money since profits were forwarded to local governments. Now schools will be able to retain profits and manage their finances, but they will have to become autonomous to do so (according to law 83-FZ).

“Prices for additional educational services can be determined by the head of the educational institution,” Abankina explained. “The key is that payments will be made only for non-mandatory subjects. Moreover, a teacher will not get overtime for the compulsory disciplines he or she already teaches.”

Schools as enterprises

The new law will fundamentally change school financial systems. Educational institutions will have to become financially independent and increase their innovative and technological capacity (according to the aforementioned federal law 83-FZ).

The new system will also include per capita financing, and tie teachers' salary to performance. In other words, the better the school, the more money it will receive. The better a teacher’s performance, the higher his or her salary.

This new system abandons the existing wage scale and supplemental pay system. Instead, teachers will receive a fixed salary and a monthly performance-based bonus not to exceed 30% of that salary. The bill also introduces the concept “cost of student hours,” to be calculated by each school. In order to cut costs, classes will be consolidated and, in some cases, schools will be merged.

The education reform will cut the number of universities in Russia by one third

Depending on the district budget, a student can “cost” between 18,000 to 119,000 rubles per year. This figure, multiplied by the number of students in the school, produces that school’s average budget. As the law’s designers suggest, this financial mechanism should create competition among schools to win client-students, increasing educational quality.

Last year, the new system was tested in more than 700 Moscow schools. In December 2011, at the end of the experiment, a roundtable was set up.Many experts complained about the new system. Oleg Sergueyev, All-Russia Education Fund specialist, said the new teacher compensation system was a dead-end because the per capita financing principle was “vicious.” “‘Money follows the students’ dramatically decreases school quality because it excludes the teacher’s role in advancing education.” And as Viktor Krugliakov, head of the Duma’s Commission on Education and Youth Policy noted, the new system threatens the loss of specialists not directly involved in academics, such as psychologists or guidance counselors.

Roundtable particpants also pointed to the formalism of the proposed school evaluation process. Yevgeny Bunimovich, Moscow’s Children’s Rights Ombudsman, showed that getting top scores in students’ Unified State Examinations (USE) and winning academic competitions would yield a good school rating, but could be achieved through specialized training, without imparting real knowledge to students. This, according to Bunimovich, would create “an unfavorable school climate.”

Critical Standards

In his interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda, Deputy Minister of Education Igor Remorenko spoke about the new federal publiceducation standards (FPES). The public and the academic community harshly criticized initial FPES drafts.

The latest FPES draft introduces two components to the high school curriculum guideline. The first component includes six mandatory general disciplines: Russian language and literature, mathematics, foreign language, History (or Russia's role in the world,if such a discipline is developed), health and society, and physical education. The second component requires the student selectone of six academic fields: philology, foreign languages, social sciences, math/computer science, natural sciences, and physical education, ecology and personal and social safety. “For example, a student who chooses natural sciences has to choose at least one specialty: physics, chemistry, biology or natural history,” Remorenko explains. Thus, a student takes up to 9 or 10 different subjects.

We interviewed ten teachers of different backgrounds, ages, and experience levelsfrom across Russia and asked their opinion about the new FPES.

Lyudmila (Siberia, secondary school teacher for 42 years):

“The USE and the new standard do not aim to develop a student’s creative abilities. To the contrary, by decreasing the amount of time devoted to basic disciplines, studentswill get only a summary education. Children used to dream of becoming cosmonauts and firemen. Now they aspire to government work and to making a lot of money… [Minister of Internal Affairs Rashid] Nurgaliev says we need to teach humanity. But a child’s character is shaped by literature lessons. In Ancient Greece, they would give slaves theater tickets. In our country, the government consistently creates cynicism.”



Mikhail Dremov (Moscow, Russian language and literature teacher at Education Center #825 and Assistant Professor at Moscow State Teachers’ University):

“They plan to teach more physical education. This will overload gyms in schools, many of whichdon’t have swimming pools orsports fields. In one school at Izhevsk, I saw kids taking a sports test,sprinting down the school corridor. Another free discipline,health and society, is definitely useful, but is it worth casting away physics or biology? It appears that Russia’s role in the world is not a discipline but political propaganda, a way to brainwash impressionable youth. In Soviet schools, scientific rigor always came first. The new standard drifts away from that principle by introducing integrated disciplines and focusing on test-taking. There may no longer be comprehensive natural science lessons.” [...] “A country that does not create technology and is mostly focused on resource extraction and exports has no demand for highly-educated people. That is why educational investment doesn’t interest the political elite. Why would it, if people won’t have any place to work in the future?”

Like many other teachers, Moscow teachers’ union co-chairman Andrei Demidov has concluded that "the new standard, though nobly conceived to achieve more freedom, independence, and better quality, will lead to school closingsand the standardization and commercialization of those that remain open."

In other words, the state negates its responsibility to prepare highs school students for higher education. The gap between the free school provided and the knowledge level required for university admission is critical. This gap will be unbridgeablefor children from poor families.

Professionals not in Demand

The new law will seriously transform vocational education, too. It recognizes that the three current vocational school divisions, first, second, and third,are obsolete. First-level vocational education will be eliminated and integrated into other educational institutions. Vocational colleges will award bachelor degreesand will be equal to their academic counterparts.

In Irina Abankina's words, eliminating first-level vocational education was done at employers' request. “Today’s [employers] need skilled workers.They are no longer satisfied with unskilled laborers, and first-level graduates are unskilled.” Yet some first-level programs will be preserved and transferred to non-trade schools, training centers, second-level vocational institutionsor, in some cases, universities.

Some first-level vocational schools will have to upgrade to second-level institutions. Ms. Abankina promises this reorganization will take place gradually and, by 2016, will be publically financed. As a cost saving measure, many vocational institutions will be part of a network that includes educational institutions across Russia, universities, and employers. “It will create a sustainable educational chain.”

Vanishing Universities

Higher education will also be substantially reformed. The key change is the adoption of the dual level academic system, with bachelor’s and master’s degree programs,bringing Russia in compliance with the Bologna system. Other changes include merging and restructuring universities to control costs, reducing their number, and increasing the quality of education.

Some major Russian universities, like Lomonosov Moscow State University, St. Petersburg State University, and those that have been designatedfederal or national research universities, will retain some independence and the right to develop their own academic curricula.



Some education experts, like Russian Education Academy corresponding member Aleksander Abramov, point out that the transition to the Bologna system is premature. The hurried adjustment of higher education programs will come at the expense of quality. Changing universities originally developed with a five-year degree track in mind may cause serious problems down the line. Also, professors accustomed to the five-year system will have problems adapting to the new system quickly.

Nevertheless, the Russian government has high hopes for higher education reforms. New Minister of Education Dmitri Livanov recently asserted that, by 2020, five of the world’s top100 universities will be Russian, and will appear on lists such as those annually published by The New York Times and The Times of London. The minister’s ambitious claim might have been a reaction to the news that the this year’s top-100 lists did not contain a single Russian university. Starting next year, the Minister promised a serious inspection into Russian university educational quality.

President Vladimir Putin has requested a university reorganization scheme by May 2013 and a list of “inefficient” universities that should be liquidated. By the end of July 2012, the Ministry of Education and Science had already presented the four major criteria for university evaluation. The first is academic quality. USE grade point average will be considered, along with the number of presidential scholars and the number of students employed within a year of graduation. The second is research activity, the portion of a university’s budget devoted to R&D spending. The third criterion is international networking, the number of foreign students present and of Russian students studying abroad. Finally, fourth is financial efficiency, employee salaries compared to employee salaries at other universities in the region.

The Russian Provost’s Union has largely criticized these criteria and presented a counteroffer to the Ministry. As Boris Derevyagin, head of the Union’s Analytical Department, explained in an interview to RIA Novosti that the process of eliminating universities should be organic, and not administratively dictated. “For instance, a commission of employers, regional government representatives, academics, and civil leaders should discuss the liquidation or consolidation of universities that cannot perform or manage the public-private partnership,” he said.

According to Rosstat’s official data, there are 1,080 universities registered in Russia. Unofficially, there are about 2000. The education reform plans to cut that number by one third. In the last 20 years, the number of Russian universities doubled because “the government had been financing only half of universities’ demands, so the schools developed regional branches to make money,” says Oleg Smolin, head of the State Duma’s Education Committee.

And it's true. According to the Russian Audit Chamber, in 2012, state budgets will allocate 603.5 billion rubles for education. This is the most spent on Russian education ever. By way of comparison, education spending was 37.6 billion in 2000, 160.5 billion in 2005, and 386.4 billion in 2010. But in 2013, spending will be cut to 558.9 billion, and in 2014, it will fall to 499.5 billion.

As various policy experts on the right (such as Yaroslav Kuzminov, Higher School of Economics provost) and the left (like Oleg Smolin, Russian Communist Party member) have repeatedly said, public financing is still insufficient. Education spending should be increased to at least 7% of the GDP. According to the World Bank, that was the Soviet level in the 1970s. Today, in modern Russia, it's 4.2%. Meanwhile, developed countries spend 10% of GDP on education. In Brazil, a country economically similar to Russia, it is 8%. The key argument here is if a country wants to modernize, it must start by investing in education.

Teacher's Verdict

Experts view many provisions of the new law as controversial, but it is school reform that received most criticism. Evgueny Yamburg, an honored Russian school teacher and Russian Academy of Education corresponding member, in May 2012 published an article in Novaya Gazeta, analyzing the reform’s details and concluding that “it's not educational reform, it's a reform of the economics of education, of its infrastructure.”

“Today, school headmasters are asked to stop being teachers and to become efficient managers”, Yamburg writes. “This request has been heard, and one can see the changed agendas at headmasters’ meetings and the titles they sweep off bookstore shelves, primarily from the lawor economics sections. Psychological and pedagogical baubles are put aside for better times. From now on, the accounting department is running the show. At times like these, the saying ‘lives are at stake’ has real meaning.”

Yamburg criticizes key provisions of the reform: the foundation (financing per capita), the framework (federal public education standards) and the final touches (USE). Hepoints out that “a short-sighted, accounting-style approach creates a threat to national security.” One of the most acute problems the new legislation failed to consider, in his opinion, was the taboo subject of Russian genetic pool weakening. “Any working teacher can tell you that every year more and more children with complicated mental issues come to school. Children with borderline personality disorder, attention deficit disorder, brain dysfunctions, dyslexia, dysgraphia… You can scream at these kids or put them in a corner but they still won’t pay attention, despite their intellectual capability. We can and we must work with these children. If they cannot master school, they will end up on the street or join the criminal world. One has to invest time into working with them.”

In his article, Yamburg quotes the medical director of the Federal Correctional Service who told him that 72% of imprisoned teenagers are hyperactive, attention deficit disorder kids. “Bismarck was right when he said that those who save on schools will end up building prisons,” Yamburg concludes bitterly.