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The Weakest Point of the New “Education Law” Is Academic Mobility

The academic community is a living system and it can not develop without the afflux of the new ideas. For Russia it is a point of high importance as right now the country is integrating into the international educational system. How does the new law “About Education” regulate academic mobility? The interview with professor of sociology and Associate Director for Research of the Higher School of Economics (SPb) Daniel A. Alexandrov.

The academic community is a living system and it can not develop without the afflux of the new ideas. For Russia it is a point of high importance as right now the country is integrating into the international educational system. How does the new law “About Education” regulate academic mobility? The interview with professor of sociology and Associate Director for Research of the Higher School of Economics (SPb)  Daniel A. Alexandrov.

Academic Mobility with Visa Only?

We need this law. Some points of it require critics and slight changes, but this law as a whole is right and important. I believe that the discussion that is going on now will help to improve it and after that it can be adopted. The academic community before that lived according to the law of the year 1996 that has obsoleted.

Another point is that there are many imperfections in this particular new law. For example, we can take one section of this law that I find very important – academic mobility.

“The mobility of population is an important current national goal that might be achieved by the means of educational system.”

Have a look at the chapter “International Activity in the Field of Education”. Academic mobility is defined there as “Student and professor academic exchange between Russian Federation and the foreign states” (art.166). And what about the interuniversity mobility inside Russia, transregional mobility and academic mobility between the affiliated branches of one university?

Labor mobility is understood extensively as willingness to changes in profession, place of work and residence. Academic mobility is the same thing but concerning field and place of studies. Mobility is extremely important for the contemporary society.

We have enormous space in this country that must be somehow united by a unified educational system and by an opportunity to move in the course of studies. We need an option for people from Vladivostok to move to Moscow and vice versa because otherwise I can not understand how Vladivostok would stay a part of Russia. That is why the mobility of population is an important current national goal that might be achieved by the means of educational system.

In the Soviet times this process was more institutionalized as there existed fixed positions for Ph.D’s and for students in other cities during studies and after graduation. Many colleagues of mine moved to Vladivostok or Syktyvkar after they graduated from St.Petersburg universities. Some stayed there, some came back, others moved to Moscow or further on. Now this trend is decreasing. This cramps Russian science very much.

When Ph.D. students from Novosibirsk or Irkutsk came to Moscow for 3 years to explore new methods and approaches in their field, they were working on their thesis only. They invested themselves into science. They were leaving Moscow having a good thesis paper and professional contacts.

The most successful academic schools were network-based and practically international as professors from Moscow and St.Petersburg had students in Samarkand, Tashkent, Vladivostok, Irkutsk etc. Now it’s all gone. And it is very illustrative that in this new law academic mobility is understood as a departure with visa only.

Intensification of Academic Mobility Inside the Country.

“For science and for universities it is better to hire 1 ex-student who returned consciously than 3 ex-students who stayed automatically.”

Of course, this law requires a new chapter about regulation and intensification of academic mobility inside the country. It is vital to intensify it to the both sides, not only to Moscow and St.Petersburg.

My radical idea is that the best universities should make a practice of not hiring their students before they work for another university for 3 years. I do not mean to return to a soviet practice of placement of graduates. Alumni should decide by their own where they want to work.

In Germany, USA and many other countries there is an unwritten rule that a professor must work somewhere else before his/her alma mater hires this person. What is the purpose of this rule?

Some experience must be shared and some new practices and ideas might be taken back to his/her alma mater. Only after that this person can choose the place work consciously, not automatically. Working for this or that university should not mean that you’d studied there and then decided to stay because of your favorite professor. It’s vital to work somewhere else to prove what you are worth to.

It is much better to return to your alma mater consciously being sure that you want to work for this particular place. Such a decision stands high. For science and for universities it is better to hire 1 ex-student who returned consciously than 3 ex-students who stayed automatically.

This new law focuses on the international academic mobility. Then I have no idea how do they plan to organize mobility inside the country, which is definitely a national goal. It is quite a task for our country. I believe that this process should be not only regulated but developed and promoted.

Draft Determent Against Academic Mobility.

“The colleges are reluctant to the freedom of choice. They try to bind the students as bondmen in ancient Russia were bound to land.”

Another important aspect of academic mobility is change of specialty and transition to another university for Master’s program after getting bachelor’s degree. The main idea of the shift to 4+2 system (4years for bachelor’s degree and 2 years for master’s) that occurred just recently in Russia was to intensify academic mobility. It helps to deal with inertness and makes people choose their own path after 4 years of studies when they now better what exactly they want to do.

The colleges are reluctant to the freedom of choice. They try to bind the students as bondmen in ancient Russia were bound to land. I was shocked with the methods they use. These methods are simple, smart and relentless. In fact, some colleges forbid student transitions. For example, the education in military science divisions at some universities is organized in such a way that students can get their military rank only if they stay at their alma mater. And most boys evidently parade to master’s programs of their universities.

This is one of the cases when this new law “About Education” might be helpful. Otherwise the universities are solving their own problems. They make bachelor’s programs inferior to educational standards and then curse the Ministry for ineffective reforms.