Russia returns to six-year degrees, abandoning Bologna Process

Planned departure from Western higher education will ‘limit Russian students’ exposure to outside world and democracy’, scholars warn

February 23, 2023
Russian riot police place fences to prevent possible protests to illustrate Russia returns to six-year degrees, abandoning Bologna Process
Source: Getty

Vladimir Putin’s decision to return Russian universities to a system of Soviet-style, six-year “specialist” degrees is likely to further isolate the country’s higher education system, academics said.

In his annual state of the nation address, Mr Putin announced Russian academia’s departure from the three-tier higher education system commonly adopted in Europe under the Bologna Process and around the world – and adopted by most Russian universities over the past decade.

Instead of issuing bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees, Russian universities will revert back to a Soviet-era system under which students received a “specialist” degree, usually over the course of five to six years.

The president’s announcement came almost exactly a year since Russia attacked Ukraine in February 2022, a decision that led most Western universities to sever their ties with Russian institutions, isolating the sector.

But the new policy drives the wedge further, said Dmitry Dubrovsky, a research fellow at the department of social science at Charles University in Prague.

The Kremlin’s decision to rubbish the Bologna Process – meant to standardise education, making it more inclusive and accessible to students across Europe – would effectively bring Russian students under a “new Iron Curtain”, hampering mobility, he said.

Dr Dubrovsky feared that most European universities would not recognise the Russian specialist degree. As a result, Russian students and researchers hoping to continue their education in Europe may have difficulty using their Russian qualifications.

“The most harmful story here, from my perspective, is the lack of understanding [of] how exactly this education will be valued in Europe and how it will be converted into the Bologna scheme,” he said.

Maia Chankseliani, an associate professor of comparative and international education at University of Oxford and an expert on higher education in post-Soviet states, agreed.

“This policy change that will directly impact the mobility opportunities of Russians, might be seen as part of a longer-term plan to limit the exposure of the Russian people to the wider world and to go back to the old Soviet isolationist politics,” she said.

According to Dr Chankseliani’s research, larger flows of students to democratic countries is linked with higher levels of democracy at home in the former Soviet countries.

She noted that Putin’s announcement was foreshadowed by earlier discussions in Russian government. In May 2022, Russia’s minister of education Valery Falkov said that the Bologna Process was a thing of the past and that the future of Russian education “belongs to our own unique system” – which must correspond to the national economy, Russian newspaper Vedomosti reported.

Svetlana Shenderova, a scholar affiliated with Tampere University and the University of Helsinki in Finland, said that the move further complicated an already “inconsistent degree system” in Russia whereby old-fashioned and new systems co-exist, and “undermines the reputation of Russian degree programmes” around the world.

Beyond isolating Russian students further, the move could also buy the Kremlin more time to imprint them with pro-Kremlin propaganda, she believed, since students will have more years of exposure to now-mandatory military training.

“This extension provides time for brainwashing courses and military training of male students who further will be recruited as the officers.”

pola.lem@timeshighereducation.com

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