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CHRISTOPHER PATRICK DELANEY A brief comparison of the higher educational systems of the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation

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A Brief Comparison of the Higher Educational Systems of the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation Christopher Patrick Delaney (MSTU, Faculty of World Economics and Public Relations)Representative of the British Council, teaching English at MSTU.

University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, United Kingdom Part 1 of this report will briefly outline the higher educational systems of the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation. The author admits his unfamiliarity with the Russian higher education system and assumes that the readers are better acquainted with it than he. In this respect less time will be devoted to describing the Russian system. Part 2 will look at the recognition of qualifications both in these countries and on an international level.

General Overview of the British System British universities are casually divided into three types: ancient universities (founded before the 19th century; red-brick universities (founded in the 19th and early 20th centuries); new universities (founded later than 1960). As a general rule, the ancient universities have a better reputation than the new universities. However this is not always the case. In certain subjects the new universities outperform the ancient ones. The ancient universities mostly confer Masters Degrees. They differ depening on the subject studied. Some other universities offer Bachelors Degrees with honours, which has the same status as a Masters.

In the United Kingdom the vast majority of university students attend universities which are situated a long distance from their family homes. For this reason most universities in the United Kingdom will provide (or at least help organise) rented accommodation for many of their students, particularly freshers (new entrants). At some universities accommodation may be provided for the full duration of the course. For this reason the lifestyle of university students in the United Kingdom can be quite different from those other universities around the world where the majority of students live at home with their parents.

Students are a prominent subsect of every British city, and a valuable part of the microeconomy since the majority take part-time jobs to help pay for accommodation.

Admission University admission is controlled by UCAS the University and Colleges Admission Service. Applications must be made by October 15th of the previous year for Oxford and Cambridge and by January of the same year for admissions to other UK universities. Each course at each university has its own entrance requirements. For England and Wales this is usually at least two good A-levels and in Scotland three good Highers. However due to the high demand for university places at prestigious universities, potential students usually have to exceed the minimum entry requirements to be sure of gaining a place. A new standardised points system was recently introduced by UCAS to report achievement for entry into higher education in a numerical format. A high number of UCAS points does not necessarily imply an entitlement to entry to a particular higher education course, and many other factors are taken into account in the admissions process. In this sense the new points system is somewhat redundant.

In the United Kingdom grades range from the highest A to the lowest E, which is a fail. A D-grade is considered to be a pass. A Scottish higher receives less points than an A-level because it is only one academic year in length, whereas A-levels are taken over two years. As a consequence of this students in Scotland spend four years at university and students in England and Wales only three. The Scottish system allows students to study a wide range of subjects.

One disadvantage of this may be that they are not studied at the same depth as in England.

Prospective students can apply for a place at a maximum of six institutions; they are also entitled to apply for different courses at the same institution. If a student is accepted the university will issue an unconditional offer. In many cases, entry to a particular course will depend on the student achieving additional qualifications, in which case, a conditional offer is made.

In the United Kingdom students generally do not have to sit an entrance exam or take part in an interview to as part of the selection procedure. Offers are made on the basis of academic and personal achievements as recorded on the UCAS application form. There are some exeptions however. Most applicants wishing to study medicine or veterinary medicine will be interviewed before a place is offered. Both Oxford and Cambridge interview almost all potential students. In addition there are some courses, mostly either law or medicine, into which entry is dependent upon passing an additional exam.

Funding The vast majority of British universities are state financed, with only one private university the University of Buckingham where students have to pay all their fees. None of the universities are actually state-owned, however.

English and Welsh undergraduate students (and students from other EU countries) have to pay a proportion of their university fees up to a maximum of 1175 pounds sterling (in 2004/2005); the actual amount paid is assessed on the basis of the income of the student and of the student's parents, a process known as means testing. Scottish and EU students studying in Scotland have their fees paid by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland. Students are partially supported by a state-provided loan, a portion of which is also means-tested.

Students in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also eligible for a means-tested grant, and many universities provide bursaries to poorer students.

International students are not subsidised by the state and so have to pay much higher fees. Universities are increasingly looking to become recognised internationally and so attract international students. Last year some 112 000 students from elsewhere in the EU were studying in the UK (Free Degrees to Fly, The Economist, 24/02/05).

In principle, all post-graduate students are liable for fees, though a variety of scholarship and assistantship schemes exist which may provide support.

Postgraduate students from the UK or EU who spend less than 16 hours per week on course mandated lectures or seminars are also eligible to claim unemployment benefit and housing benefit, provided that they can prove they are available to work 40 hours per week. This is irrespective of if they are enrolled as studying full-time or part-time.

General Overview of the Russian System Russian students can enter university after obtaining a Certificate of Complete Secondary Education. A student can then choose to study for 4, 5, or 6 years. There are three different degrees that are conferred by Russian universities: Bachelor's Degree (4 years), Specialist's degree (56 years), and Master's Degree (6 years). Bachelor's and Master's degrees were introduced relatively recently; they did not exist in the Soviet Union. Even now they are not offered by many six-year institutions.

The Russian education system was originally inherited from the Soviet Union without any significant changes. In the Soviet Union, education of all levels was free for anybody who could pass entrance exams; students were provided with small scholarships and free housing. This was considered crucial because it provided access to higher education to all skilled students, as opposed to only those who could afford it. The downside of that system was that institutions had to be funded entirely from the federal and regional budgets;

therefore, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, expenses on education took a big blow; institutions found themselves unable to provide adequate teachers' salaries, students' scholarships, and to maintain their facilities. To address the issue, many state institutions started to open commercial positions. The number of those positions has been growing steadily since then. Many private higher education institutions have emerged, mostly in the fields where Soviet system was inadequate or was unable to provide enough specialists for post-Soviet realities, such as economics, business/management, and law. In 2004, of all firstyear students, 35% were paying for their own education in state institutions and 20% were enrolled in private universities (Encyclopaedia Britannica;

www.britannica.com).

In the recent years there have been a lot of proposals for restructuring the Russian educational system in accordance with the U.S. educational system.

Nevertheless, these proposals have not been approved due to strong scholar potential of Russian scientists.

Unified State Exam This type of examination was adopted recently. It is a test which is passed at the end of 9th and 11th form. An excellent score ranges, depending on the subject, from 65 (maths) to 90 (foreign language) out of 100.

What is good for students of 11th form is that now they do not have to pass both their final school exams and entrance exams at a university. Students now also have a chance to apply at several universities and choose one after they get to know if their score is enough to enter this or that university.

Recognition and Accreditation UK: It is illegal in the UK to offer degrees or related qualifications without proper authorisation. Authorisation may be granted under Royal Charter or by Act of Parliament or by a special order of the Department for Education and Skills. In order to award degrees, colleges and universities must demonstrate a commitment to quality assurance and show that they have adequate systems for safeguarding academic standards. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) publishes a code of practice, information on benchmark standards, and qualification frameworks that give details of the quality and standards publicly funded institutions are expected to maintain.

The higher education sector includes over 90 universities and over 150 colleges and institutions offering studies at undergraduate degree level and above. Several different quality checks are imposed on these institutions including standard of teaching and standard of research.

Universities and colleges in the UK are autonomous, self-governing institutions with full legal responsibility for the quality and standards of their programmes and awards. They have their own quality assurance mechanisms, which include external examiners.

Whether this strictly controlled governmental regulation helps to raise standards is difficult to answer. Even with the QAA the number of first-class degrees has been steadily rising and this surely cannot be proof of students becoming smarter. The benefit of the QAA is that it ensures, at least on the surface, the international reputation of British universities.

Russia: The regulatory framework of the education system overall, as well as the operation of educational institutions and administrative bodies governing higher professional education, is delineated by the Law on Education, the Law on Higher and Post-Graduate Professional Education, presidential decrees, executive orders of the government, and regulations issued by educational authorities.

Every professional education programme ends in a mandatory final assessment of the graduates, but each higher education institute has full discretion in its choice of grading methods, the forms, procedures, and periodicity of intermediate student assessment.

External examiners do not verify undergraduate degrees in Russia. This system, combined with the miserly wages received by academics, encourages corruption and, indeed, the value of degrees in Russia has been degraded by this trend.

The Bologna Process In September 2003 Russia signed up to the Bolgna process. At present the

Russian higher education framework is basically incompatible with the process:

the generic "lowest" degree in all universities since the Soviet era is the Specialist, which can be obtained after completing 5 years of studies. In the meanwhile, since the mid-90s many universities have introduced limited educational programmes allowing students to graduate with a Bachelors Degree (4 years) and then earn a Masters Degree (another 2 years) while preserving the generic 5-year scheme.

The basic framework demands that universities offer three cycles of higher education, similar to that which already functions in England and comprising of bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees. Russia signed up to the process in December 2003 and hopes to be recognised as a full member by

2010. Even before Russia joined the process programmes had already begun to bring higher education more in line with Eurpoean standards. In a progress report 2004/2005 the rector of St Petersburg State University oultined the measures already underway for Russias introduction into the process. He highlighted that while Russia is striving to get its degrees recognised by other countries, it as of yet has not introduced legislation to ensure the mutual recognition of qualifications.

Observations and Potential Changes to the Russian System I believe that there are certain aspects of the British higher education system which would benefit the Russian system. These changes would best be implemented at undergraduate level since the Russian post-graduate system is already on a par with that of the United States. I will suggest four here.

Firstly, Russian institutions must switch to a credit system. In so doing they would be making huge strides to integration in the Bologna process.

Adopting a credit system would potentially also make it easier for Russian students to participate in exchange programmes. According the guidelines of the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) the student workload of a full-time study programme in Europe amounts in most cases to around 1500-1800 hours per year. Therefore in those cases one credit would stand for around 25-30 working hours. The system reckons that 60 credits measure the workload of a full-time student during one academic year. This system is already flexible in accordance with the grading scale of each country and could be assimilated into the Russian system.

Secondly, the current marking system of degrees makes it difficult for teachers to accurately assess the performance of undergraduates. The current system (a 1-5 scale) brings with it some problems. If a student is aiming to receive a red diploma then he must have predominantly 5s in his zachetka (record achievement book). The marks from all years are taken into consideration when awarding degrees. It has been mentioned to me that this system encourages a climate which results in students working hard for the first three years and then beginning to slower their work rate as they approach the end of the degree. In the United Kingdom the first two years are spent accumulating credits and the student only has to gain high enough marks so as to be permitted to enter the next year. The final two years contribute to the class of award the student receives. This means that students work rate increases the longer they spend at university. Furthermore the British marks system is based on percentages, which are then translated into a class of degree. This means that if a student performs excellently in one area and poorly in another, he can still be eligible for a good mark as the two scores are averaged out. In this way strengths are encouraged as oppose to weaknesses being punished.

Thirdly, academics must be rewarded for the dedication they apply to their profession. In the UK a university lecturer can expect to earn around 30 000 pounds a year 50 % above the national average. Higher wages would hopefully make buffer any criticism Russian higher education institutions face with regards to corruption and bribe-taking.

Fourthly, Russian institutions should take it upon themselves to ensure the standard of the degrees they confer are good. In the UK each institution has partnerships with other institutions and before degrees are conferred external examiners check students exam papers. For this to work two things would have to happen. Firstly, Russian higher education institutions would have to abandon oral examinations in favour of written ones. Secondly, the communications infrastructure would have to be drastically improved to ensure that exam papers could be sent around the country quickly and without fear of tampering. One way of approaching this would be to scan exam papers and email them to other institutions. Such a system would eventually result in uniformity of results, with institutions aware of the standard of others.

Conclusion

Many Russian institutions already enjoy an international reputation, in particular its medical schools, 53 of which are accredited by the World Health Organisation (the UK has 27 and the USA 141 these figures correspond to the relative populations of these countries). St Petersburg and Moscow State Universities enjoy prestigious international reputations. Until the fulfillment of the Bologne process Russian universities should be expanding their links with foreign institutions. This will raise both the funding and the prestige of the degrees conferred. Such links are already in existence between Russian and British universities under the BRIDGE programme, which is funded by the British Council and the Department for Education in the UK. Cooperative partnerships are among the most effective ways of improving the recognition of Russian degrees in the short term.

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