Russia to shake-up its university system

7 January 2013

Not everyone has the aptitude to become a university graduate.  While everyone should have an equal opportunity to earn the right to a university education – countries should not create the impression that everyone should have a go at trying to do so.

Rigorously-applied basic education policies should distil out those who have a good chance of achieving at university or follow a different direction.  This fundamental screening process seems to have been damaged in many countries – with university entrance requirements lowered, pass rates for matriculation reduced to scandalously-low levels and the conversion of technicons into formats that can confer degrees.  In my opinion all this has achieved is a dumbing-down of science and a lot of rubbish science being the outcome. In South Africa we currently grapple with the stupidity of 30% and 40% pass requirements for matriculation – which, no less an individual than the Minister of Education claims “gives a measure of dignity to slow learners”.  Do these people think about what they say before they say it?  Who wants a nation of dignified ignoramuses?

Russia, historically well-known as a source of solid scientific ability,  has recently reviewed the performance of 600 institutions (excluding their 40 top universities) and found about 500 of them to be of dodgy value (Nature, December 2012).  Russia has around 1100 public and private higher education institutions.  It seems that Russia, correctly, wishes to curtail the dilution of scientific values and shutdown many of the under-achieving universities – and then direct the funds to where they will achieve the most.  Nowadays, Russia produces a relatively-small percentage of published scientific papers, just 22340 in 2012, compared with the 311975 from the USA.  While in the US, 1.2% of all papers published made it into the top 1%, this ratio was 0.52% for Russia.  By comparison, South Africa’s production of top-papers compares well with that of Russia.

The dumbing-down of education, in any format, is not something should be tolerated.  There is no pride or value in having a certificate from Joe Soap U, just for the sake of having a degree.  Apples must always be comparable with apples.

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