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Education for all

Five bloggers, five countries, one dialogue

Ranking Russian universities: why bother?

Does education suffer far from the urban centers and elite universities?

This week I expect to get my diploma – one more step in my higher education which began in 2006. I’ve been thinking a lot about what these years have meant, especially in terms of my decision to leave my original university and study somewhere else.

Several weeks ago I read an interesting column in a daily business newspaper where famous and respected economist Konstantin Sonin touched upon university ratings. The professor’s argument astonished me because he compared the Russian higher education system with its foreign counterparts and went on to say ranking Russian universities at all has basically no point! The reason, he said, is that in our country most university departments offer students a strictly fixed number of courses and disciplines, while there is more variety available to students in other countries. Those models let students adapt their studies to their interests, for example, and it can help them make the transition to working life more smoothly. Kathrin also talked about how this kind of flexibility is important to young people here.

If I hadn’t changed my university in 2008, the article probably wouldn’t have caught my eye. But even 3.5 years later, I remember others asking me: “Why did you do that?” or “Aren’t you dissatisfied with what you find in Smolensk?”

The same old questions suggesting I had made the wrong decision got annoying, and my typical answer was, “You may be right – but what are you doing beyond complaining and trying to frighten others?” I mean, on the one hand, I was seriously dissatisfied, but that can also be a great source of motivation. Either you take the mess and sluggishness that we face here (for instance, rules in most regional universities require high attendance records, which leaves fewer opportunities for flexibility, regardless of whether it’s a lecture that could just as well be followed online or a project discussion where your presence is actually vital) – or you demand a new educational model. I proposed one here.

A question for me - where will my path take me next?

A new, more open approach to education shouldn’t just be applied to schools. It could also be beneficial to cultural, social and economic life generally in Russia and may help us get rid of some stereotypes. As things stand now, we are too dismissive of people with certain issues. For example, I have a friend Nadin, who is a popular beauty-blogger. She writes about fashion and make-up; she adores communicating with people from different countries and trading insight. Using a wheelchair as she does, however, causes a wide reaction of sympathy – hidden or evident – which I find totally wrong and stupid! I’ll try to explain with a simple example: imagine seeing a person carrying a huge pile of books and approaching a closed door. What’s the better move – to stand there feeling sorry for them for having to carry such a heavy load or to open the door and get a thank-you-smile?

Another way to help reduce stereotypes is by studying abroad or popularizing universities in your country with foreign students. This is something Emmy discussed in this entry. The benefits of doing so are often underestimated.

These stereotypes about other countries or ethnicities and about people with disabilities remind me of Francis Bacon’s theory about idols. I believe the more educated a nation is, the fewer “idols” it has. By removing these seemingly fixed ideas, it helps create more opportunities for sustainable development and prosperity.


July 6, 2012 | 10:16 am