Russia scraps military studies

July 15, 2005

Military faculties at all but a handful of Russian universities are to be phased out on the orders of the Defence Ministry. Officially the aim is to cut costs, but the Russian media has interpreted it as a clampdown on student draft dodgers.

Military courses, taken in parallel with students' main field of study, are a softer alternative to two years' conscripted service. After completing the course, the student automatically acquires the rank of lieutenant and joins the reserves. Then he either is exempt from military service or, if drafted, serves his term as an officer.

Over the past few years, the number of military faculties in higher education institutions has mushroomed - 229 universities and colleges offer such courses.

As a result, some 52,000 "officers" graduate each year, of whom 6,000 are called into the army for two years.

But Sergei Ivanov, the Defence Minister, said this was a waste of money.

Future officers, he said, should be trained according what the army needs, not what university rectors decide.

By 2009, no more than 30 to 35 such courses will remain. Students already enrolled for military studies will be allowed to complete the course, but universities have been instructed to stop enrolment from next year.

The decision was strongly criticised by politicians such as Dmitri Rogozin, leader of the Motherland Party, who said that the courses gave students not only useful military skills but also "proper habits".

There were protests too from institutions that have developed particular military specialities, such as Yekaterinburg University, which runs a course in army psychology for female students.

This spring, more than 90 per cent of the young men on the conscription register claimed exemption or deferment. Of these, one in three was in higher education.

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