Minister pelted with eggs in protest at reform

April 1, 2005

Russian Education Minister Andrei Fursenko was heckled and pelted with raw eggs as he announced plans for a three-tier university system topped by 20 elite institutions.

He announced the location of the first of the "all-Russian" state universities -the Siberian All-Russian University - during a visit to Krasnoyarsk, capital of one of Russia's largest regions, in Siberia.

Mr Fursenko was struck by two raw eggs thrown by protesters angry at the plans to create the new universities through mergers and closures of other institutions in the city. He was also interrupted by hecklers as he made his speech.

The Siberian university will house 80,000 students. Siberia had been chosen for the first of the elite group of universities because "this is the heart of Russia - by seeing how people live here, we can judge how the whole country lives", he told the newspaper Gazeta.

Some 200 universities will form the next tier of federally funded higher education institutions. The bottom tier - dubbed the "left luggage" colleges by students and numbering several hundred - will be regionally funded and managed under the reforms.

Mr Fursenko also announced the extension of the "quality police" system of unannounced inspections to all Russian universities within the next six months. It was piloted in a number of regions last year. "These reforms are related to personal success and the success of the country. Those youngsters who are so active in protesting about the reforms, I think, also want success. I reckon their success is impossible without the country's success as a whole," the minister said.

Lena Lenskaya, head of education at the British Council in Moscow and a former deputy minister of education under Boris Yeltsin, said the reforms were driven by financial considerations and were unpopular within academia.

"Nothing has yet been made specifically clear and there is much competition among the better universities to ensure that they are included in the top 20," she told The Times Higher .

Two of the protesters, Roman Burlak, secretary of the local young communist union, and Maksim Firsov, both final-year law students at the Krasnoyarsk State Agrarian University, were sentenced to ten days' "administrative detention" by a local court under laws forbidding the obstruction of officials in their duties, according to press reports.

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