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Russia: Government’s nation-building agenda undermines EFA

EI’s national affiliate, the Education and Science Employees’ Union of Russia (ESEUR), has called for a renegotiation of a newly proposed law that will close thousands of Russia’s educational institutions in 2013. President Putin has backed the law, along with several others that will aim to privatise Russia’s education system, severely limit the rights of educators nationwide, and endanger the achievement of Education for All (EFA) targets.

 

Universities Closing

As a result of the economic crisis, both President Putin and the new Education and Science Minister Dmitry Livanov called for thousands of educational institutions nationwide to shut their doors as an austerity measure that they say will raise Russia to the level of its international competitors. Some of these institutions will be closed outright, while others will undergo mergers with those institutions that make the cut.

Livanov stated that “the key criteria will be the quality of education—regardless of whether it’s a state or a private institution.”

The Ministry of Education and Science already released the criteria by which existing educational institutions will be evaluated. These include:

·         the income of its alumni five years from graduation;

·         how the salaries of professors compare to the average regional salary;

·         the percentage of students whose academic qualifications allowed them to be accepted to a particular university without taking the entrance exams; and

·         the scholarly work of professors and the scientific research conducted at the university.

Also reportedly stating that he would limit free education to basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills, Livanov aims to have primary school students evaluated solely upon the portfolio of their academic achievements. The Minister believes that education should generate skilled workers as opposed to intellectuals.

Unions currently opposed to proposed reforms

ESEUR President Galina Merkulova said the union is dissatisfied with the draft law in its current form. She stated that the liquidation and reorganisation of Russia’s educational facilities doesn’t take into account the rights of the citizens (i.e. students, teachers, and staff) currently associated with those facilities, and could lead to overcrowding, privatisation and corruption. She underlined that student fees (housing, meals, etc.) at the so-called “free schools” are too high and shouldn’t exceed 5 per cent of the total funds that educational institution receives.

The ESEUR would also like to see these other demands included in the law:

·         a code of ethics to be implemented;

·         a salary increase of 40 per cent for assistant professors and 60 per cent for professors;

·         trade unions’ involvement in setting the government subsidy for select institutions that will fully consider the rights on the students;

·         trade unions’ involvement in making local regulations affecting the rights of the students and workers at educational facilities and organisations; and

·         the establishment of a maximum number of hours per year that teachers should work: 900 per year for primary and secondary teachers, and 800 per year for university educators.

Administrative violations

A new draft law is also being put into place, requiring all preschool age children to mandatorily attend a state-sanctioned school in 2013. Preschool administrative staffs and local governments will now be held responsible for all children found not to be attending the school, in violation of the law.

The ESEUR condemns this proposed law, saying that it will force local governments and preschool administrations to overfill their schools with children under threat of penalty. It will also undermine local governments or preschool administrations’ ability to do their jobs effectively. Furthermore, the union warns that it will lead to deterioration in preschool education, and therefore force a nationwide lean towards preschool education privatisation. 

EI agrees with position of its affiliate union, and urges the Russian Ministry of Education and Science to re-engage in faithful negotiations with educator unions on the reforms being issued in the education sector.

EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen reiterated that “education is not right to be reserved for only those that can afford it; privatisation of education would be to the detriment to the future of the Russian society. The Russian Government has a duty to provide free quality public education for all citizens. It should not use the crisis as an excuse to heavily cut in education spending, restraining access to education.”

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