Russian universities told to go it alone

November 13, 1998

Russian universities can expect support and encouragement from Vladimir Filippov, the new education minister, but little in the way of cash or resources.

Professor Filippov, rector of Moscow's People's Friendship University until his appointment last month, is a realist who believes the future of Russian higher education is in the hands of the universities themselves.

The government plans cuts in 1999 of industrial production, budgets and taxes. Universities cannot expect much and must exploit their opportunities to earn. "Our universities have much more autonomy today than those in France, Germany or the United States and can use this to their advantage," Professor Filippov said.

A modest, purposeful man who oversaw the transformation of PFU from the old Patrice Lumumba University, a rumoured training ground for Third World guerrillas in Soviet times, to a popular institution attracting thousands of foreign students, Professor Filippov understands the futility of demanding money.

Instead universities must grasp the nettle and exploit the opportunities to earn money through applied research, postgraduate education, specialised short courses and industrial retraining.

The rouble's collapse was not all bad news: small companies could benefit from working closely with university researchers and demand was growing for postgraduate studies.

Pointing to the experience of Harvard University, which has five times as many postgraduates as undergraduates, Professor Filippov said that Russian universities have untapped resources.

Russian prime minister Yevgeni Primakov, appointed in September following the financial crisis, has thrown his weight behind moves to support self-sufficiency. Last month the former KGB foreign intelligence chief and one-time director of Moscow's Institute of International and Economic Relations, announced measures to allow scientific research to be undertaken in universities and technology parks.

Research was traditionally the preserve of Academy of Science institutions. In meetings with the Council of Russian Rectors, Mr Primakov showed understanding of the problems faced by higher education, Professor Filippov said.

The Primakov government is more pro-education than previous administrations. "Every day I remind government that 37 million Russians study or work in education: that is ten times more than that of the defence ministry."

Professor Filippov, whose appointment was marred by the resignation of deputy minister Aleksandr Asmolov, who disliked his willingness to cooperate with Communists in government, says Russia desperately needs a unified national education policy.

He set up two working groups of Duma deputies, rectors, regional governors and education experts last week to devise national goals for universities and an agreed doctrine of education. He wants the results made law by summer. Whether Russia's political structures are stable enough to deliver, he concedes, is beyond his power.

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