Russia to tackle 'degree mills'

August 20, 2004

RUSSIA. As the learning market looks set to go global, Times Higher writers check out how rogues are weeded out worldwide

Russia has clearly defined rules on estab-lishing a university, academy or institute - the three key higher education establishments - but an educational boom in the past decade has not stopped "degree mills" slipping through the net, officials say.

Yelena Gevorkhyan, deputy head of the federal agency responsible for overseeing of the accreditation process in educational and scientific institutions, said that, despite recent reforms, more work was needed to tighten up the way teaching and research establishments gained official blessing.

"Higher education has become a mass market, and when provision becomes so wide it is inevitable that quality can suffer. This is our major problem and one we are intent on tackling."

Private or state entities that wish to establish a university must first register as a legal company entitled to conduct financial and administrative duties. Without this it is impossible to apply for or receive a Ministry of Education licence to teach.

To obtain the licence, the would-be institution must prove that it has sufficient buildings to teach in, the required health and safety certification, and lists of teaching and professorial staff with their qualifications.

Sufficient equipment and teaching materials must also be in place and separate licences must be granted for each distinct teaching subject area.

Once a licence is granted, an institution cannot apply for its degrees and diplomas to be state- accredited for at least a year or until the first cohort of students has completed studies. At this point, a quality commission will inspect the institution and approve - or not - its application to register for a state licence.

Russia's 3,000 accredited higher education institutions faced some competition from foreign universities, through partnerships with local providers, but this remained a small issue, Ms Gevorkhyan said.

"Russian education remains focused on state diplomas and this is what most students want, as many jobs and careers are closed to them without a state-accredited degree," she added.

The key weakness in the accreditation process is that there is no minimum amount of start-up capital stipulated by the law, allowing fly-by-night operators to set up degree mills, milk as many paying customers as possible and then disappear.

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