The Russian Education System

|Russia

In 1994, the Japan Management Training Center was established by the Japanese Government in partnership with the Moscow International Higher Business School (MIRBIS), which is part of Moscow’s Plekhanov Economic Academy, in order to promote Russia’s transition to a market economy and has cooperated in nurturing a core group of Russia’s young managers. I would like to report on the current situation in Russia’s education system as we see it here.

Japan’s education system is attempting to respond to globalization and sudden changes in society, however, reflecting the shift from a Marxist to a market economy, Russia’s education system is still confused. After Japan lost the Second World War, society’s values underwent a sudden change; in Russia also, things that were correct until yesterday are perceived today as being wrong so that there was a period when history and economics teachers could not look their students in the eye. At Plekhanov Economic Academy, which was a stronghold of Marxist economics in Russia, academics formerly specializing in Marxist economics are now teaching as authorities on the market economy. These elderly academics translate American books on market economics into Russian and base their lectures on these, however, it would seem that they do not understand the reality of market economics, although they understand the theory behind it. When holding economic seminars at the Japan Management Training Center, tests are carried out in order for the Japanese lecturers to find out the participants’ levels of understanding; in these, compared with the younger participants, the results of professors and assistant professors are the worst. Students who study the market economy under such teachers are a source of concern. During the Soviet era, universities of science and technology were the elite institutions, but in today’s Russia, where production has fallen dramatically, the demand for graduates of such institutions is small, so many of those graduates return to education in higher education institutes focusing on law or economics, where they learn about the management of businesses in a market economy. In other words, one characteristic of students on MBA courses in Russia, which is in contrast to MBA students in the US, is that most of them graduated from universities specializing in science.

The Japan Management Training Center invites lecturers from Japan who carry out seminars aimed at the middle management of Russian companies, which focus on case studies of the management of real companies rather than management theory. Those who have excelled themselves on the course are then invited to visit Japan for a 3-week internship program.

Primary/Secondary Education System: According to newspaper reports, Russia is also experiencing a sharp decline in the number of children starting school, from 2.5 million in 1989 to 1.4 million this year. Children may start school at the age of either six or seven, depending on their parents’ preference and a child starting school at the latter age will complete the four-year elementary stage in three years. The system consists of eleven years of consecutive compulsory education split into three stages, with the intermediate stage lasting five years and the advanced stage lasting two, and corresponds to an integrated version of the Japanese primary, middle and high school system, in which the school is run by single headteacher in a single school building. At present, consideration is being given to a plan to extend the period of compulsory education from eleven to twelve years. The teaching of foreign languages usually begins in the 5th year, with English the most popular language option; there are also many pupils keen to study Japanese.

In the compulsory education system, there are national, public and private schools and schools that are a mixture of those forms. There are schools called gymnasia, which are specially-upgraded schools that have been established as test cases. There are also special schools for the middle and upper classes, which are popularly known as lizei (the name of schools for the aristocracy in the czarist era). In the case of some mixed schools, private lizei that require parents to pay fees have been established in public schools and in many cases, a single headteacher is in charge of both the public and the private schools. The headteacher attracts excellent teachers with high salaries and can carry out education in line with his or her own ideals, in a way that is not possible in public schools. The children of the nouveau riche, who are known as “New Russians”, go to these schools on the school bus. Many lizei have exchange agreements with schools in other countries and are devoting their energies to foreign language education. There are also university-affiliated schools, for example consecutive education in foreign languages is undertaken from kindergarten up to university level at the Moscow State University of Languages (formerly the Pushkin State University of Foreign Languages). These specialist schools are also often known by the name lizei, regardless of whether they are national or private. When they graduate, the best students already have the same level of language ability as graduates of Japan’s specialist foreign language universities; in many cases, they go on to specialize in other areas at university, such as natural or social sciences, and pursue careers as scientists or technicians who can speak a foreign language.

At the same time, the technology school system dating from the Soviet era still remains, in which for the last two or three years of compulsory education, technological education and apprenticeships at factories take place, that allow students to get jobs as factory workers upon completing their compulsory education.

Higher Education System: There are many schools with rather inflated names; universities are called academies and colleges are called universities. The number of these schools is much greater than the number of minor local colleges in Japan. There are also colleges and institutes, but these are in the minority. The Ministries of Education and Higher Education carry out competence assessments of these educational institutions, but it is often argued in the mass media that they should be reassessed more rigorously. Special mention should be made of the fact that many re-training institutions for middle-managers have been created as a result of the transformation of what were formerly Communist Party cadre training schools into business schools that go by the name of People’s Economic Academies, affiliated to the government and the office of the President. Moreover, as a consequence of disarmament, various free retraining institutions for military personnel have been established and are subsidized by the government.

At Russia’s universities, arts and humanities courses last for five years and science courses for six, but the popular universities have exchange agreements with Europe’s major universities; Russia’s most popular universities have acquired further popularity among students for their system whereby students are awarded a baccalaureate after three or four years of study, after which one or two years are spent studying at another European university. Students then finish off their dissertations after returning to Russia, and those who pass the dissertation assessment are then awarded a masters degree from both universities. In contrast to this, those who have graduated in the more normal way are simply known as “specialists”, and those who pass the dissertation assessment after completing three years of postgraduate study are awarded the appellation of candidate for academician.

Even though they are state institutions, the running of national universities is hard work; only 20% of necessary expenses are met by the government, with the remaining 80% being provided through a makeshift combination of rental fees for facilities such as university buildings, income from managing enterprises such as printing companies, extra tuition charges for students and donations from parents when the student enrolls, etc. For example, in the case of Plekhanov Economic Academy, there is a system that rewards students who excel in the entrance examination with scholarships and exemptions from tuition fees; however, the vast majority of students normally pays $6,000 tuition fees and extra tuition charges of $8,000 – $10,000, which depend on their entrance examination results, and furthermore, those students with the lowest marks are also admitted if their parents pay a donation of $12,000.

Teachers’ monthly salaries will double from next year, but at present they are $150 – $250 and the abovementioned tuition fees are not the kind of financial burden that the family of an average company employee can bear. The car parks near the universities are filled to overflowing with the students’ Mercedes, BMWs and other luxury cars, so it is difficult to find a place to park. The sight of elderly professors trudging to work alongside these is an everyday one, and I believe it is symbolic of present-day Russia.

In Japan, entrance examinations for university are taken in the form of written tests, often in a ‘true or false’ format, however, there are hardly any ‘true or false’ style examinations in Russia. Entrance examinations in Russia consist of both a written and an oral examination; at the latter, the candidate picks a question enclosed in an envelope from a box. When he or she has given the answer orally, the examiner asks another question and the examination proceeds along the lines of a question and answer session. In comparison with the Japanese, Russians in general are eloquent and trained in the ability to express oneself and in presentation ability during their primary and secondary education, as well as in higher education. On the other hand, thanks to the oral examinations, the stupid sons of former Communist cadres and the good-for-nothing sons of the New Russians can get into good universities as a result of their money or influence, so in terms of fairness, one could probably say that the Japanese system is better. We can see from this that entrance examinations vary due to a country’s circumstances.

Technopoli have been set up in a fair number of universities, actively supporting young entrepreneurs. Universities are nurturing venture businesses, using the tax exemption system for educational institutions, and acting as a kind of incubator. At Nizhni Novgorod State Technical University, I had a look at the technopolis, where they took commissions from Western European nations for developing software for various instruments; in terms of price they were competitive with India. I believe it would be interesting were Japan to try this out, as Russia has an excellent software development ability.

Russia is also a country enthusiastic about education, a society where one’s academic background is of great importance, and parents do not begrudge money spent on their children’s education, so school industries are flourishing to a great degree. However, in the present climate, where only the children of the rich can receive a good education, there is a problem in terms of equality of opportunity in education. Nevertheless, young people with a burning desire to learn work in the daytime and either go to night classes or take distance learning courses. In Russia, a country which covers a wide area, distance learning is extremely well-developed and in an era of change such as today’s, I hope that the next generation of talented individuals will be found among the ranks of these diligent young people.

In 1997, the pre-school, compulsory, secondary and higher education systems were revised and the Russian Federation’s New Education Law was adopted in the Duma, however this year, it seems that fairly wide-ranging reforms are going to be undertaken once more.

[Translated by ERINA]