By: Anna Malinovskaya
A recent series of articles on corruption in Russia’s education system has attracted my attention. Most of the articles try to estimate the bribes annual turnover or quote officials from the Ministry of Education on the measures they take to combat corruption. For example, according to the Russian online newspaper Nezavisimaya (“Independent”), “Experts estimate the capacity of the bribes market in the education system at 500 million dollars.” However, it may be interesting to learn about the issue from the students’ perspective.
I have collected a few students’ accounts of their experiences in Russian institutions of higher education:
“A few days before the exam I realized that a few people from my group (In Russian universities students attend classes with a group of other students majoring in the same discipline) are planning to pay the professor a certain amount of money to get good grades without taking the exam. I asked them how they were going to do this. They said they came up to the professor after class one at a time, and asked her “if it was possible to not take the exam.” The professor, from their words, replied that “it will cost correspondingly.” So excellent was worth 5 thousand rubles, or about 170 USD, and good was estimated at 4 thousand rubles, or about 135 USD. Short after the exam was over and the professor was grading the group’s exams, they, one by one, went to her office and returned with excellent and good.”
“After I had been admitted to my university, on the day of signing the agreement at the dean’s office, my parents and I had a conversation with the dean. I was granted a merit-based scholarship covering the cost of tuition. The dean asked if my family could make a “small donation” to the university and named the sum of 50,000 rubles, or a little less than 2,000 USD. My family couldn’t afford such a donation: 50,000 rubles is the cost of a year’s tuition at my university, and I applied for the merit scholarship precisely because my family wouldn’t be able to pay my tuition (Russian universities do not offer need-based financial aid, only orphans are guaranteed financial aid). When we said we can’t afford that much, she started bargaining with us. We clearly felt the pressure to make this “voluntary” donation and ended up paying 15,000 rubles, or about 500 USD. I know we could refuse to pay anything, but I have heard a lot of stories from college students that if your family doesn’t make a donation to the university at the time of admission, it will reflect on your grades later. My parents did not want me to experience anything like that so they paid.”
“In one of my classes my group took a final exam. Professor came to class and said that everyone in my group got an F and would probably get an F as a final grade. We were surprised that everyone got the same grade, so we asked the professor to show us our exams. She refused. She gave us a list of books and said that if we bought those books “for the department” she would not take the final exam into account when giving final grades for the course. The books were expensive and some of us did not have money, but she insisted that we buy them. So we divided into smaller groups and shared the costs.”
“In my university professors do not take bribes, they only do at the time of admission. Merit-based scholarships are very limited for students applying to some departments. For example, when I applied, there were 7 scholarships available in my department. But applicants who take tutoring sessions with the Department Chair are silently guaranteed admission. So I took tutoring sessions with the professor. She tried to talk my parents into paying for my application essay because, as she said, no one gets a high grade for the composition if they write it themselves.”
“I lived in a village. In my high school I started thinking about applying to a university in the nearby big city. Once I went to the career fair in that city, where professors from different universities, including the one I had selected, offered tutoring to prospective students. I attended tutoring sessions with one of the professors I met there for about half a year. Then she introduced me to another professor from the same university who replaced her. When it was time to apply, that professor told me that if I paid him 20,000 rubles he would give me the admission test before the exam so that I could prepare in advance. I paid him for the test, got a high score on my admission exam and was admitted. I think everyone did the same.”
Although these personal experiences of students from different Russian cities reveal the fact that corruption inRussia’s education system is still an issue, some of the students I interviewed said they had never faced corruption in their universities. In fact, most of the students replied that they had never dealt with it. So corruption is not something that happens in every Russian college and to every Russian student, but it does happen in many educational institutions.
An interesting question about corruption inRussia’s higher education is who is more to blame for it – professors or students? In some situations, professors or representatives of a university demand that students give bribes, while in other situations students themselves offer bribes to faculty or admission committees’ officials. To say that Russian professors are underpaid would be to see only one root of the problem. The other one is the decaying morality of students and their parents. Of course there are cases when students give bribes out of fear, but the cases when students bribe professors because they are too lazy to study for an exam are also prevalent. So improving the morality of all – students, their families, and professors, as well as making teaching profession more respectable and well-paid are probably the only two ways Russia can curb corruption in its universities and raise the value of its education.