Russian Educational System Threatened by Privatization, Underfunding

File Photo of U.S. Diplomat Teaching Class to Russian Students

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, November 15, 2018)

The explosive growth of private for-profit higher educational institutions and mounting anger in the regions about the costs of public schools at the primary and secondary level are threatening the quality of the Russian educational system, a system on which the future of that country heavily depends.

If the first of these problems has gained national attention, the second has so far has not but it may prove just as fateful by depriving schools of the resources they need to prepare pupils not only for higher education in the best institutions of that country but also for leadership in the economy after graduation.

As the Project research center has pointed out, “Russian officials frequently have complained that we have too many higher educational institutions,” the result of the rise of for- profit schools in the past. As a result, the government is increasingly monitoring them and shutting some (

The situation is not pretty. Twice as great a share of students in private higher educational institutions than in state ones are not in residence, 78 percent to 36 percent. Only three of the private schools rank high among the best universities of the country or the world. And many are far more concerned about making money than providing an education.

Some have been deprived accreditation and shut down, but many, especially those with owners who are connected to the Kremlin elite, have not. Students are being given credentials but they are not receiving the kind of education in many cases that such credentials are supposed to represent.

An even more serious problem, albeit one that has not received much attention, is that many local governments, hard pressed by Moscow’s extraction of resources and increasingly tight budgets given the economic situation of their regions, are beginning to go after funds for public education, the largest component in many local budgets.

Aleksandr Kolesnikov, head of the Yekaterinburg Duma’s commission on the economy and land use, for example, has called for cutting spending on education. He says that the funds which he describes as horrifically high would be better spent on other needs or perhaps retained by the population (

“With us,” he says, “55 percent of the budget goes for education.” That is too much and it isn’t contributing to the development of the region or the country.

In many ways, these twin Russian problems mirror trends in the United States. On the one hand, the increasing power of market fundamentalists in government means that there is ever less money coming from the state to finance public higher education and ever more support for privatization of educational institutions at all levels.

And on the other, because US schools are in most cases supported by property taxes which are the only taxes most Americans get to vote on directly, support for public education at the primary and secondary levels has always been a tough sell, one harder now because political leaders seem less interested in the development of young people than in making money now.

Russia and the US are thus in their different ways becoming outliers from other advanced countries where education is a far higher priority and where public schools and public universities are financed out of general tax revenues rather than on local ones people feel the biggest pinch as in Russia or can vote down as in the US.

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[featured image is file photo of diplomat visiting classroom, not directly related to article subject matter]