Education in Russia is provided predominantly by the state and is regulated by the federal Ministry of Education. Regional authorities regulate education within their jurisdictions within the prevailing framework of federal laws. In 2004 state spending for education amounted to 3.6% of GDP, or 13% of consolidated state budget. Private institutions account for 1% of pre-school enrollment, 0.5% of elementary school enrollment and 17% of university-level students.
Before 1990 the course of school training in Soviet Union was 10-years, but at the end of 1990 the 11-year course has been officially entered. Education in state-owned secondary schools is free; first tertiary (university level) education is free with reservations: a substantial share of students is enrolled for full pay. Male and female students have nearly equal shares in all stages of education, except tertiary education where women lead with 57%.
The literacy rate in Russia, according to the 2002 census, is 99.4% (99.7% men, 99.2% women). 16.0% of population over 15 years of age (17.6 million) have tertiary (undergraduate level or higher) education; 47.7% have completed secondary education (10 or 11 years); 26.5% have completed middle school (8 or 9 years) and 8.1% have elementary education. Highest rates of tertiary education, 24.7% are recorded among women aged 35–39 years (compared to 19.5% for men of the same age bracket).
According to the 2002 census, 68% of children (78% urban and 47% rural) aged 5 are enrolled in kindergartens. According to UNESCO data, enrollment in any kind of pre-school program increased from 67% in 1999 to 84% in 2005.
Kindergartens, unlike schools, are regulated by regional and local authorities. The Ministry of Education regulates only a brief pre-school preparation program for the 5–6 year old children. In 2004 the government attempted to charge full cost of kindergartens to the parents; widespread public opposition caused a reversal of policy. Currently, local authorities can legally charge the parents not more than 20% of cost. Twins, children of college students, refugees, Chernobyl veterans and other protected social groups are entitled to free service.
The Soviet system provided for nearly universal primary (nursery, age 1 to 3) and kindergarten (age 3 to 7) service in urban areas, relieving working mothers from daytime child care needs. By 1980s there were 88,000 preschool institutions; as the secondary education study load increased and moved from ten to eleven-year standard, the kindergarten programs shifted from training basic social skills and physical abilities to preparation for the school. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the number decreased to 46,000; kindergarten buildings were sold as real estate, irreversibly rebuilt and converted for office use. At the same time, a minority share of successful state-owned kindergartens, regarded as a vertical lift to quality schooling, flourished throughout the 1990s. Privately owned kindergartens, although in high demand, did not gain a significant share due to administrative pressure; share of children enrolled in private kindergartens dropped from 7% in 1999 to 1% in 2005.
The improvement of the economy after the 1998 crisis, coupled with historical demographic peak, resulted in an increase in birth rate, first recorded in 2005. Large cities encountered shortage of kindergarten vacancies earlier, in 2002. Moscow's kindergarten waiting list included 15 thousand children; in the much smaller city of Tomsk (population 488 thousand) it reached 12 thousand. The city of Moscow instituted specialized kindergarten commissions that are tasked with locating empty slots for the children; parents sign their children on the waiting list as soon as they are born. The degree of the problem varies between districts, e.g. Moscow's Fili-Davydkovo District (population 78 thousand) has lost all of its kindergartens (residents have to compete for kindergarten slots elsewhere) while Zelenograd claims to have short queue. Independent authors assert that bribes or "donations" for admission to kindergartens compete in amount with university admissions while authorities refute the accusation.
There were 59,260 general education schools in 2007–2008 school year, an increase from 58,503 in the previous year. However, prior to 2005–2006, the number of schools was steadily decreasing from 65,899 in 2000–2001. The 2007–2008 number includes 4,965 advanced learning schools specializing in foreign languages, mathematics etc.; 2,347 advanced general-purpose schools, and 1,884 schools for all categories of disabled children; it does not include vocational technical school and technicums. Private schools accounted for 0.3% of elementary school enrolment in 2005 and 0.5% in 2005.
Eleven-year secondary education in Russian is compulsory since September 1, 2007. Until 2007, it was limited to nine years with grades 10-11 optional; federal subjects of Russia could enforce higher compulsory standard through local legislation within the eleven–year federal program. Moscow enacted compulsory eleven–year education in 2005, similar legislation existed in Altai Krai, Sakha and Tyumen Oblast. A student of 15 to 18 years of age may drop out of school with aproval of his/her parent and local authorities, and without their consent upon reaching age of 18. Expulsion from school for multiple violations disrupting school life is possible starting at the age of 15.
The eleven-year school term is split into elementary (grades 1-4), middle (grades 5-9) and senior (grades 10-11) classes. Absolute majority of children attend full program schools providing eleven-year education; schools limited to elementary or elementary and middle classes typically exist in rural areas. Of 59,260 schools in Russia, 36,248 provide full eleven-year program, 10,833 - nine-year "basic" (elementary and middle) program, and 10,198 - elementary education only. Their number is disproportionately large compared to their share of students due to lesser class sizes in rural schools. In areas where school capacity is insufficient to teach all students on a normal, morning to afternoon, schedule, authorities resort to double shift schools were two streams of students (morning shift and evening shift) share the same facility. There were 13,100 double shift and 75 triple shift schools in 2007-2008, compared to 19,201 and 235 in 2000-2001.
Children are accepted to first grade at the age of 6 or 7, depending on individual development of each child. Until late 1980s, starting age was set at seven years and schooling lasted ten years (all compulsory). The switch from ten to eleven-year term was motivated by continuously increasing load in middle and senior grades. In 1960s, it resulted in a "conversion" of the fourth grade from elementary to middle school. Decrease in elementary schooling led to greater disparity between children entering middle school; to compensate for the "missing" fourth grade, elementary schooling was extended with a "zero grade" for six-year-olds. This move remains a subject of controversy.
Children of elementary classes are normally separated from other classes within their own floor of a school building. They are taught, ideally, by a single teacher through all four elementary grades (except for physical training and, if available, foreign languages); 98.5% of elementary school teachers are women. Their number decreased from 349,000 in 1999 to 317,000 in 2005. Starting from the fifth grade, each academic subject is taught by a dedicated specialty teacher (80.4% women in 2004, an increase from 75.4% in 1991). Pupil-to-teacher ratio (11:1) is on par with developed European countries. Teachers' average monthly salaries in 2008 range from 6,200 roubles (260 US dollars) in Mordovia to 21,000 roubles (900 US dollars) in Moscow.
The school year extends from September 1 to end of May and is divided into four terms. Study program in schools is fixed; unlike in some Western countries, schoolchildren or their parents have no choice of study subjects. Class load per student (638 hours a year for nine-year-olds, 893 for thirteen-year-olds) is lower than in Chile, Peru or Thailand, although official hours are frequently appended with additional classwork. Students are graded on a 5-step scale, ranging in practice from 2 ("unacceptable") to 5 ("excellent"); 1 is a rarely used sign of extreme failure. Teachers regularly subdivide these grades (i.e. 4+, 5-) in daily use, but term and year results are graded strictly 2, 3, 4 or 5
Upon completion of a nine-year program the student has a choice of either completing the remaining two years at normal school, or of a transfer to a specialized professional training school. Historically these were divided into low-prestige PTU's and better-regarded technicums and medical (nurse level) schools; in 2000s, many such institutions, if operational, have been renamed to colleges. They provide students with a working skill qualification and a high school certificate equivalent to 11-year education in a normal school; the program, due to its work training component, extends to 3 years. In 2007–2008 there were 2,800 such institutions with 2,28 million students. Russian vocational schools, like the Tech Prep schools in the USA, fall out of ISCED classification, thus the enrollment number reported by UNESCO is lower, 1.41 million; the difference is attributed to senior classes of technicums that exceed secondary education standard.
All certificates of secondary education (Russian: аттестат зрелости), regardless of issuing institution, conform to the same state standard and are considered, at least by law, to be fully equivalent. The state prescribes minimum (and nearly exhaustive) set of study subjects that must appear in each certificate. In practice, extension of study terms to three years disadvantages vocational schools' male students who intend to continue: they reach conscription age before graduation or immediately after it, and normally must serve in the army before applying to undergraduate-level institutions.
Traditionally, the universities and institutes conducted their own admissions tests regardless of the applicants' school record. There were no uniform measure of graduates' abilities; marks issued by high schools were perceived as incompatible due to grading variances between schools and regions. In 2003 the Ministry of Education launched the Unified state examination (USE) program. The set of standardized tests for high school graduates, issued uniformly throughout the country and rated independent of the student's schoolmasters, akin to North American SAT, was supposed to replace entrance exams to state universities. Thus, the reformers reasoned, the USE will empower talented graduates from remote locations to compete for admissions at the universities of their choice, at the same time eliminating admission-related bribery, then estimated at 1 billion US dollars annually. In 2003, 858 university and college workers were indicted for bribery, admission "fee" in MGIMO allegedly reached 30,000 US dollars.
University heads, notably Moscow State University rector Viktor Sadovnichiy, resisted the novelty, arguing that their schools cannot survive without charging the applicants with their own entrance hurdles. Nevertheless, the legislators enacted USE in February 2007. In 2008 it was mandatory for the students and optional for the universities; it will be fully mandatory 2009. A few higher education establishments are still allowed to introduce their own entrance tests in addition to USE scoring; such tests must be publicized in advance.
Awarding USE grades involves two stages. In this system, a "primary grade" is the sum of points for completed tasks, with each of the tasks having a maximum number of points allocated to it. The maximum total primary grade varies by subject, so that one might obtain, for instance, a primary grade of 23 out of 37 in mathematics and a primary grade of 43 out of 80 in French. The primary grades are then converted into final or "test grades" by means of a sophisticated statistical calculation, which takes into account the distribution of primary grades among the examinees. This system has been criticized for its lack of transparency.
The first nation-wide USE session covering all regions of Russia was held in the summer of 2008. 25.3% students failed literature test, 23.5% failed mathematics; the highest grades were recorded in French, English and society studies. Twenty thousand students filed objections against their grades; one third of objections were settled in the student's favor.
Children with physical disabilities, depending on the nature, extent of disability and availability of local specialized institutions, attend either such institutions or special classes within regular schools. As of 2007, there were 80 schools for the blind and the children with poor eyesight; their school term is extended to 12 years and classes are limited to 9-12 pupils per teacher. Education for the deaf is provided by 99 specialized kindergartens and 207 seconary boarding schools; children who were born deaf are admitted to specialized kindergartens as early as possible, ideally from 18 months of age; they are schooled separately from children who lost hearing after acquiring basic speech skills. Vocational schools for the working deaf people who have not completed secondary education exist in five cities only. Another wide network of specializes institutions takes care of children with mobility disorders. 60-70% of all children with cerebral palsy are schooled through this channel. Children are admitted to specializes kindergartens at three or four years of age and are streamed into narrow specialty groups; the specialization continues throughout their school term that may extend to thirteen years. The system, however, is not ready to accept children who also display evident developmental disability; they have no other option than home schooling. All graduates of physical disability schools are entitled to the same level of secondary education certificates as normal graduates.
There are 42 specialized vocational training (non-degree) colleges for disabled people; most notable are the School of Music for the Blind in Kursk and Medical School for the Blind in Kislovodsk. Fully segregated undergraduate education is provided by two colleges: the Institute of Arts for the Disabled (enrollment of 158 students in 2007) and the Social Humanitarian Institute (enrollment of 250 students), both in Moscow. Other institutions provide semi-segregated training (specialized groups within normal college environment) or declare full disability access of their regular classes. Bauman Moscow State Technical University and Chelyabinsk State University have the highest number of disabled students (170 each, 2007). Bauman University focuses on education for the deaf; Herzen Pedagogical Institute enroll different groups of physical disability. However, independent studies assert that the universities fail to integrate people with disabilities into their academic and social life.
An estimated 20% of children leaving kindergarten fail to adjust to elementary school requirements and are in need of special schooling. Children with delayed development who may return to normal schools and study along with normal children are trained at compensatory classes within regular schools. The system is intended to prepare these children for normal school at the earliest possible age, closing (compensating) the gap between them and normal students. It is a relatively new development that began in 1970s and gained national approval in 1990s.
Persistent but mild mental disabilities that precludes co-education with normal children in foreseeable future but does not qualify as moderate, heavy or severe retardation requires specialized correction (Russian: коррекционные) boarding schools and extends from 8–9 to 18–21 years of age. Their task is to adapt the person to living in a modern society, rather than to subsequent education.
Children with stronger forms of intellectual disability are, as of 2008, mostly excluded from the education system. Some are trained within severe disability groups of the correction boarding schools and orphanages, others are aided only through counseling.
As of the 2007–2008 academic year, Russia had 8.1 million students enrolled in all forms of tertiary education (including military and police institutions and postgraduate studies). Foreign students accounted for 5.2% of enrollment, half of whom were from other CIS countries. 6.2 million students were enrolled in 658 state-owned and 450 private civilian university-level institutions licensed by the Ministry of Education; total faculty reached 625 thousands in 2005.
The number of state-owned institutions was rising steadily from 514 in 1990 to 655 in 2002 and remains nearly constant since 2002. The number of private institutions, first reported as 193 in 1995, continues to rise. Andrei Fursenko, Minister of Education, is campaigning for a reduction in number of institutions to weed out diploma mills and substandard colleges; in April 2008 his stance was approved by president Dmitry Medvedev: "This amount, around a thousand universities and two thousands spinoffs, does not exist anywhere else in the world; it may be over the top even for China ... consequences are clear: devaluation of education standard". Even supporters of the reduction like Yevgeny Yasin admit that the move will strengthen consolidation of academia in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Novosibirsk and devastate the provinces, leaving the federal subjects of Russia without colleges for training local school teachers.
The trend for consolidation began in 2006 when state universities and colleges of Rostov-on-Don, Taganrog and other southern towns were merged into Southern Federal University, based in Rostov-on-Don; a similar conglomerate was formed in Krasnoyarsk as Siberian Federal University; the third one is likely to emerge in Vladivostok as Pacific Federal University. Moscow State University and Saint Petersburg State University acquired the federal university status in 2007 without further organizational changes.
Historically, civilian tertiary education was divided between a minority of traditional wide curriculum universities and a larger number of narrow specialisation institutes (including art schools). Specific-field institutes (e.g. Moscow Engineering Physics Institute, Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography) concentrated primarily in Moscow and Saint Petersburg; medical and teachers' institutes were scattered more evenly across the territory. Medical profession historically developed within universities, but was separated from them in 1918 and remains separate as of 2008. Law education exists within universities and as standalone law institutes; in 1990s many technical institutes and new private schools created their own departments of law; as of 2008, law departments trained around 750 thousands students. Selected narrow-field institutes thrived in remote regions due to their unique geographical placement (maritime and fishing colleges in seaport towns, mining and metallurgy institutes in ore-rich territories, etc.). In 1990s the institutes typically renamed themselves universities, while retaining their historical narrow specialization.
Unlike the United States or Bologna process model, there was no division into undergraduate (BSc/BA) and graduate (MSc/MA) levels; tertiary education always fitted into a single stage resulting in specialist diploma. It took five to six years to complete; specialist diplomas of selected high-ranking institutions were perceived equal to Western MSc/MA qualification. A specialist graduate needed no further academic qualification to pursue a real–world career, with the exception of some (but not all) branches of medical professions that required a post-graduate residency stage. Military college education lasted four years and was ranked as equivalent to specialist diploma.
In narrow specialization institutes the student's specialization within a chosen department was fixed upon admission, and moving between different streams within the same department was problematic. Study programs were (and still are) rigidly fixed for the whole term of study; the students have little choice in planning their academic progress. Mobility between institutions with compatible study programs was allowed infrequently, usually due to family relocation from town to town.
Russia is in the process of migrating from its traditional tertiary education model, incompatible with existing Western academic degrees, to a modernized degree structure in line with Bologna Process model. (Russia co-signed the Bologna Declaration in 2003.) In October 2007 Russia enacted a law that replaces the traditional five-year model of education with a two-tiered approach: a four-year bachelor (Russian: бакалавр) degree followed by a two-year master's (Russian: магистр) degree.
The move has been criticized for its merely formal approach: instead of reshaping their curriculum, universities would simply insert a BSc/BA accreditation in the middle of their standard five or six-year programs. The job market is generally unaware of the change and critics predict that a stand-alone BSc/BA diplomas will not be recognized as "real" university education in the foreseeable future, rendering the degree unnecessary and undesirable without further specialization. Institutions like MFTI or MIFI have practiced two-tier breakdown of their specialist programs for decades and switched to Bologna process designations well in advance of the 2007 law, but an absolute majority of their students complete all six years of MSc/MA (formerly specialist) curriculum, regarding BSc/BA stage as useless in real life.
Student mobility among universities has been traditionally discouraged and thus kept at very low level; there are no signs that formal acceptance of Bologna process will help students seeking better education. Finally, while the five-year specialist training was previously free to all students, the new MSc/MA stage is not. The shift forces students to pay for what was free to the previous class; the cost is unavoidable because the BSc/BA degree alone is considered useless. Defenders of Bologna process argue that the final years of the specialist program were formal and useless: academic schedules were relaxed and undemanding, allowing students to work elsewhere. Cutting the five-year specialist program to a four-year BSc/BA will not decrease the actual academic content of most of these programs.
Postgraduate diploma structure so far retains its unique Soviet pattern established in 1934. The system makes a distinction between scientific degrees, evidencing personal postgraduate achievement in scientific research, and related but separate academic titles, evidencing personal achievement in university-level education.
There are two successive postgraduate degrees: kandidat nauk (Candidate of science) and doktor nauk (Doctor of science). Both are a certificate of scientific, rather than academic, achievement, and must be backed up by novel scientific work, evidenced by publications in peer-reviewed journals and a dissertation defended in front of senior academic board. The titles are issued by Higher Attestation Commission of the Ministry of Education. A degree is always awarded in one of 23 predermined fields of science, even if the underlying achievement belongs to different fields. Thus it is possible to defend two degrees of kandidat independently, but not simultaneously; a doktor in one field may also be a kandidat in a different field.
Kandidat nauk can be achieved within university environment (when the university is engaged in active research in the chosen field), specialised research facilities or within research and development units in industry. Typical kandidat nauk path from admission to diploma takes 2–4 years. The dissertation paper should contain a solution of an existing scientific problem, or a practical proposal with significant economical or military potential. The title is perceived as equivalent to Western Ph.D.. Doktor nauk, the next stage, implies achieving significant scientific output. The dissertation paper should summarize author's research resulting in theoretical statements that are qualified as a new discovery, or solution of an existing problem, or a practical proposal with significant economical or military potential. The road from kandidat to doktor typically takes 10 years of dedicated research activity; one in four candidates reaches this stage. The system implies that the applicants must work in their research field full time, however, the degrees in social sciences are routinely awarded to active politicians.
Academic titles of dotsent and professor are issued to active university staff who already achieved degrees of kandidat or doktor; the rules prescribe minimum residency term, authoring established study textbooks in their chosen field, and mentoring successful postgraduate trainees; special, less formal rules apply to professors of arts.
Military postgraduate education radically falls out of the standard scheme. It is provided by the military academies; unlike their Western namesakes, they are postgraduate institutions. Passing the course of an academy does not result in an explicitly named degree (although may be accompanied by a research for kandidat nauk degree) and enables the graduate to proceed to a certain level of command (equivalent of battalion commander and above).