Martial arts in retreat

May 29, 1998

Russia is to reduce the number of military colleges this year - from 101 to 60 - and competition for places in those that remain is immense.

The paradox is that the prestige of the army continues to fall, and men of military age do all in their power to avoid their term of compulsory military service.

However, the colleges have been popular because, until now, study at them counted as the equivalent of military service but was far more congenial. As a result, the drop-out rates have been high - up to 50 per cent - as students quit as soon as the risk of the draft was over.

A new law makes two months in a military college equivalent to one as a draftee, but if students stay the full four-year course, they will be exempt from further service.

The generals tried to remove the exemption altogether and wanted military college students to spend at least some time in the forces after graduating. But parliament blocked the change.

The irony is that even if all military college graduates wanted to take up the commissions for which they have been trained, many would be disappointed, because Russia is cutting the size of its armed services.

There are other reasons for the colleges' popularity. Degrees from the better military colleges rank equal to those of the best higher education institutions. Facilities are generally better than in the civilian sector, and students are unlikely to be expelled or be required to repeat a year because of unsatisfactory grades.

More important, the course content is broad and not confined to military studies. It includes specialities ranging from radio-electronics to medicine and physical education.

The colleges are even favoured by some school-leavers automatically exempt from compulsory military service - this year there were 365 women among the applicants.

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