Bribes pave student's path to legal career

July 30, 1999

Oleg is a gold medallist who graduated from school last month with a "red diploma" for excellence.

This month he took his university entrance exams and again passed with flying colours. In September he will enter the law faculty of a successful provincial state university.

It is a success story that would be the pride of many a family the world over. The difference in Russia is that Oleg's father had to pay a bribe equivalent to a year's salary to university officials to ensure his son got a place.

This experience is not unusual. Money and influence have replaced talent and skill as key factors in finding a university place.

Poverty-level salaries, economic crises and the loosening of moral strictures witnessed since the collapse of communism have combined to force many university staff to seek sources of income other than their salaries.

Economic instability has increased the value of a university diploma and, as it is a legal way to avoid being drafted, the number of young men keen to stay in education has risen.

Oleg's father, Arkady, a 45-year-old doctor, earns about Pounds 40 a month. He had anticipated the need to offer the dean of the law faculty a sweetener and started preparing months ago.

A friend's daughter who works at the university was roped in to begin working on the dean, currying favour at every opportunity, while Arkady scraped together as much money as he could find.

Oleg was sent to the best repetitori - private cramming classes - to boost his chances of getting top marks at school and soundings were taken with the dean to assess what might be expected. Soothing responses were made.

Early this month Oleg, who was a guest of the regional governor and university chiefs at a reception for gold and silver medallists shortly after graduating from school, went to the law faculty to take his entrance exams.

The day before his written and oral test he met a lecturer and was instructed to fill in the multiple-choice entrance test with the correct answers, making a mistake or two as allowed under the rules. This test would be substituted for the real test the next day should his answers be inadequate.

Oleg was well prepared and at his viva answered confidently a question on legal developments in Russia since 1917.

It was when Arkady met the dean the next day that the shock came. "I wasn't asked directly for a bribe. When I saw the dean he greeted me and mentioned that since five people knew how Oleg had got his place I needed to look after them. Each would need 4,000 roubles to keep quiet," he said. The sum totalled Pounds 500.

"I was stunned, but paid the money. This is how things work here. To get into university does not depend on how bright a young person is, but on how fat their father's wallet is."

Oleg is more stoical: "In this country you have to pay for everything. Today I paid the dean. Tomorrow he will probably be paying me," he said.

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