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Home / Education in Russia / System of education in brief / Russian Educational System today /

Higher education



There are two kinds of higher education in the Russian Federation:


non-university level higher education (educational programmes not leading to academic degrees);

university level higher education (educational programmes leading to academic degrees).

Despite the different levels of education, these two kinds of higher education have the following common features:


  • the lists of specialities available through both kinds of higher education are interlinked;

  • the educational programmes are convergent in particular with regard to the list and the volume of specialized disciplines;

  • state requirements as to the minimum content of education and to the knowledge and skills of graduates are developed for both kinds of higher education on the basis of secondary (complete) general education;

  • teaching technologies typical of universities are introduced in non-university level higher education institutions;


1. Non-University Level Higher Education

There are 2,576 state and municipal non-university level higher education establishments in the country enrolling over 2,147,000 students. About 130 private institutions offering educational programmes in such fields as law, economics, and management have been established over the last few years.

Educational institutions for non-university level higher education are generally known as Tekhnikums or Uchilishcha. Since 1989, a new type of institution has emerged, namely, the College. Colleges can be independent educational institutions or constituent parts of a university, academy, or institute. They offer educational programmes of non-university level higher education of advanced type as well as two-year programmes leading to the award of the Intermediate Diploma. At present, there are 679 colleges in the country.

The admission procedure for a college is regulated by Decree No. 1 of 16 March 1995 of the State Committee for Higher Education. Admission is competitive, and applicants have to pass admission tests in the form of entrance examinations, interviews, and so forth in order to demonstrate their abilities to pursue educational programmes. The list of admission tests is determined by the educational establishments themselves. In 1995, there were 180 applicants per 100 vacant places. It should be noted that in the Russian Federation applicants are allowed to apply to only one educational establishment at a time.

The main prerequisite for admission is the completion of secondary (complete) general education. However, a number of educational establishments offer course programmes following completion of basic general education (grade 9). The number of applicants with basic general education is declining. In 1995, they constituted only one-third of the total number of applicants.

1.1. The Duration of Programmes

In a Tekhnikum (Uchilishche):


2 to 3 years after secondary (complete) general education (grade 11);

no less than 3 years after basic general education (grade 9).

In a College:


3.5 to 4 years after secondary (complete) general education (grade 11);

4 to 4.5 years after basic general education (grade 9).

1.2. Educational Programmes

As a rule, educational programmes for a Tekhnikum (Uchilishche) cover the humanities, the social and the natural sciences, including economics and mathematics, general professional and specialized disciplines, as well as practical training.

Educational programmes for Colleges, in addition to the educational programmes for Tekhnikums (Uchilishcha) , include up to a one-year programme covering a more profound form of theoretical education and professional training, including more in-depth practical training.

For those entering a Tekhnikum (Uchilishche) or a college after basic general education (grade 9), possible educational programmes also include disciplines for secondary (complete) general education.

The curricula stipulate forty-five weeks of study per year. The average time ratio of theoretical education to practical training is 1 to 1. The total workload of a student is fifty-four hours a week, including classwork and independent studies, while the contact workload is thirty-six hours a week. For part-time (evening) education, classwork amounts to sixteen hours per week. In the case of correspondence education, each student must be provided with the opportunity to have 160 contact hours a year.

On the successful completion of studies and the passage of the State final attestation, students are awarded the corresponding diploma (Annex 2, Fig. 6). The Diploma supplement contains the list of subjects taught during the period of studies and the grades earned.
The diplomas of non-university level higher education entitle their holders either to pursue professional activities in accordance with the qualifications stipulated or to be admitted to university level higher education in the same conditions as for holders of school leaving certificates. University level higher education institutions may give credits and offer shortened programmes to graduates of a Tekhnikum (Uchilishche) or a college who continue their education in the same speciality.

2. University Level Higher Education

According to the Standard Statute for University Level Higher Education Establishments adopted by the Government of the Russian Federation on 26 June 1993 and based on the Law On Education, higher education in the country is built upon the following typology of establishments:

Universities: higher education institutions the activities of which are aimed at the development of education, science, and culture through the conducting of fundamental and applied research and the offering of training programmes at all levels of higher, postgraduate, and continuing education in a wide range of natural and social sciences and the humanities. A university must be the leading research and methodological centre in the areas of its activity. Universities are now subdivided into the following groups:


Universities for Humanities and Sciences;

Pedagogical Universities (former Pedagogical Institutes);

Medical Universities (former Medical Institutes);

Agricultural Universities (former Agricultural Institutes);

Technical Universities (former Polytechnic and Specialized Institutes);

Academies: higher education institutions the activities of which are aimed at the development of education, science, and culture through the conducting of fundamental and applied research and the offering of training programmes at all levels of higher, postgraduate, and continuing education in a single major area of science, technology, or culture. An academy must be the leading research and methodological centre in its area of activity.

Institute: independent higher education institutions or divisions of universities or academies which offer educational programmes at all levels of higher, postgraduate, and continuing education in a number of fields of science, technology, and culture and conduct research.

This new typology is replacing the old typology of the former Soviet Union, in which higher education institutions consisted of the following types of establishment:


Universities - typically offering a broad range of disciplines especially in the humanities and the sciences;

Polytechnic Institutes - typically offering a variety of technological disciplines;

Specialized Institutes - typically offering education in only one major discipline, for example, medicine, agriculture, economics, teacher education, etc.

The transformation of the old institutions into new institutional types is still in progress. Former Polytechnic Institutes and Specialized Institutes are still trying to broaden their programmes and are being renamed Universities or Academies.
At present, the system of university level higher education consists of 590 state higher education establishments. They consist of:


91 classical Universities;

156 Pedagogical Institutes including 91 pedagogical universities;

47 Medical Institutions;

59 Agricultural Institutions;

56 Economics Institutions;

48 Fine Arts Institutions;

145 Engineering Institutions;

21 Civil Engineering Institutions;

7 Law Institutions;

12 Physical Culture and Sports Institutions.


The total enrollment in 1999/2000 was 3.7 million students (in 1995, 2.5 million).

Along with the state sector, there is also a sector of municipal higher education establishments run by local and regional authorities as well as a sector of non-state higher education establishments run by private, public, and religious organizations. During the last few years, about 350 non-state higher education institutions, mostly private ones, have been set up and have received the status of licensed by the Ministry for General and Professional Education. This private sector is still expanding. The new private institutions are particularly active in such fields as Law, Management, and Finance. Most of them are small institutions. Only a few of them have their own premises and facilities. The others are using the facilities of neighbouring state establishments of higher education and research.

Students are eligible to be considered for transfer to other higher education institutions provided that the higher education institution concerned agrees to enroll them and that they have been successfully assessed.

As for students enrolled in the non-state sector, they can be transferred to state higher education institutions but only from the accredited non-state higher education institutions. The terms of transfer are determined by the statutes of the higher education establishment to which the transfer is sought. Students of non-accredited non-state higher education institutions wishing to enroll in state higher education institutions must initiate general admission procedures including the passing of entrance examinations. Having succeeded in enrolling in a state higher education institution, they are eligible to be considered for pursuing shortened course programmes taking into account the courses they have taken in the non-accredited non-state higher education institution, assuming that they meet the requirements of the State educational standard for the given speciality.

2.1. Admission Requirements

Traditionally, a diploma granting admission to university level higher education institutions may be earned at institutions offering secondary (complete) general education and non-university level higher education.

Admission to higher education establishments is competitive. The selection is based on entrance examinations, school leaving certificates, interviews, etc. The entrance examinations are the major component of the selection procedure. The number and the list of entrance tests are stipulated by the admission regulations of given educational institutions. The subjects of the entrance examinations are set by the individual institutions according to the requirements of the faculties to which admission is sought. Following the decree of the State Committee for Higher Education of 26 April 1993, the subjects and their contents that are selected for entrance examinations should correspond to the subjects and their contents taught in secondary general schools. Higher education institutions, therefore, may choose subjects for the entrance examinations from the following list: History, Social Sciences, Russian Language and Literature, Foreign Languages, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geography, etc.

University level higher education establishments are entitled to reduce the number of examinations and to change the nature of tests for individuals who have graduated either from institutions of secondary (complete) general education and have been awarded a medal or from non-university level higher education institutions and have been awarded an honours diploma or other awards.

Admission depends on the grades obtained in the examinations and on the number of places available. For candidates with identical examination results, the decision for admission may be based on the school leaving certificate. The number of applications may be several times higher than the capacity of the faculty, depending on the reputation of the institution and on the general interest in the subject. In 1995, only 40 percent of the total number of applicants were enrolled in higher education institutions. In the Russian Federation, a person is permitted to apply only to one educational institution at a time.

After the changes of the early 1990's, higher education institutions have been authorized to allocate a portion of their places to fee-paying students. Since competition for these places is not as high as for the places financed by the state, admission requirements may be lower, and students may be admitted with lower grades.

2.2. Course Programme Structure

Since 1992, Russian higher education has had a multi-level structure, and higher education institutions may confer the following degrees and diplomas:


an Intermediate Diploma (at least two years of study);

a Bakalavr Diploma (at least four years of study);

a Specialist Diploma (five to six years of study);

a Magistr Diploma (six years of study).

The term, multi-level, indicates that degrees now may be obtained at three levels instead of at only one level, as in the former Soviet Union. In addition to the traditional Specialist Diploma, an Intermediate Diploma, a Bakalavr Diploma, and a Magistr Diploma were introduced after the changes in the early 1990's and are modeled on the Anglo-Saxon system of Bachelor's and Master's Degrees. The Magistr is based upon and comes after the Bakalavr.

In order to establish the relationship between these qualifications in the future, the Government of the Russian Federation adopted the State Educational Standard of Higher Professional Education of 12 August 1994. It designates three levels of studies:


Level 1 comprises the first two years of studies for the Bakalavr or Specialist Diplomas and is concentrated on compulsory fundamental courses in the given speciality. After this period, students may either continue their studies or, if they do not want to do so, leave the institution with an Intermediate Diploma;

Level 2 is the continuation of studies for the Bakalavr degree the duration of which is at least another two years. It leads to the four-year Bakalavr degree;

Level 3 represents an educational level common both to the Magistr Diploma and to the Specialist Diploma.

Magistr degree programmes are based on Bakalavr degree programmes, while Specialist Diploma programmes are not.

The Intermediate Diploma
The first function of the Intermediate Diploma (Diplom o nepolnom vysshem obrazovanii) (Annex 2, Fig. 7 and 8) awarded after at least two years of studies for the Bakalavr or Specialist Diplomas, is to certify that the student has successfully finished the first two years of basic higher education in a particular field of study.

This Diploma is conferred in all fields of study. Courses follow a curriculum that imparts the fundamental contents of the education offered in the appropriate field of study. The Diploma is not a degree; it is only an intermediate qualification. However, the Diploma gives its holder the right to exercise a professional activity in accordance with the level of education it represents. The Diploma is issued at the request of the student. The Diploma supplement lists the results of the normal examinations taken during the first two years of study. The Intermediate Diploma is called upon to facilitate mobility among the different types of higher education institutions.

The Bakalavr Degree
The Bakalavr degree is conferred after at least a four-year course of study. Bakalavr programmes can cover all disciplines except medicine. The function of the Bakalavr degree is to provide a more academically rather than professionally oriented education. The Bakalavr degree is a prerequisite for admission to Magistr studies.

defense of the thesis Bakalavr programmes reflect the State educational standard regarding the state requirements for the compulsory minimum of the content of education for the Bakalavr degree in the appropriate field of study. In the meantime, the State Committee for Higher Education has published for the Bakalavr degree the State Educational Standard of Higher Professional Education, Moscow, 1995, that describes the structure, aims, and contents of education. Each Bakalavr programme contains a defined portion of fundamental education with courses taken from the humanities, the social sciences and economics, and the natural sciences. The continuing stages provide basic professional and specialized education as well as field work relating to professional training.

Examinations must be taken and passed at the end of each semester. The State final attestation includes the defense of a thesis prepared over a period of four months and State final examinations. Following a successful attestation, a State Diploma (Annex 2, Fig. 9) is issued attesting conferral of the Bakalavr degree. The supplement to the Diploma (Annex 2, Fig.10 and 11) includes the list of disciplines taught during the period of education, the number of hours, the grades, the practical training, and the results obtained on the final state examinations and in the defense of the thesis or project.

The Specialist Diploma
The traditional qualification of Specialist Diploma (Annex 2, Fig. 12, 13, and 14) has two functions. It opens access to professional practice (e.g., to engineers, teachers, chemists, etc.), and it is also the traditional prerequisite for admission to doctoral studies. The qualification of Specialist Diploma is conferred after studies lasting five to six years. The diploma is awarded in all fields of study (specialities).

Students are required to take and to pass examinations at the end of each semester. The State final attestation for a Specialist Diploma covers the defense of a project or a thesis and State final examinations. The procedure for the State final attestation and for the award of the Diploma as well as the content of the supplement to the Diploma are the same as for the Bakalavr degree.

The Magistr Degree
A Magistr programme is at least a two-year course programme centred more around research activities than the Specialist Diploma. The license to conduct Magistr studies is granted by the Ministry for General and Professional Education only to those higher education institutions that are accredited and possess adequate academic staff and facilities.

The State educational standard defines only general requirements for Magistr educational programmes and not the requirements regarding the content of education. Higher education establishments in Russia interested in introducing Magistr degree programmes are free to make their own decisions regarding the contents of programmes. The recommendations prepared by the teaching and methodological associations of higher education institutions are taken into consideration.

Access to Magistr studies is open to the holders of the Bakalavr degree. For the holders of the Bakalavr degree wishing to pursue a Magistr programme in the same field of study (speciality), the higher education institutions themselves set up admission procedures (examinations, interviews, etc.). Those holders of the Bakalavr degree wishing to pursue the Magistr programme in another field of study (speciality) must pass an additional test which reflects the requirements for the Bakalavr programme in the speciality corresponding to the chosen Magistr programme.

Each Magistr programme consists of two more or less equal components: the course component and the independent research component. Magistr studies are completed by a State final attestation that includes the defense of a dissertation and the passing of State final examinations. The Magistr dissertation is a piece of independent research prepared under the guidance of a supervisor. The procedure for State final attestation and for the award of the Diploma (Annex 2, Fig. 15) as well as the content of the supplement to the Diploma are the same as for the Bakalavr degree.

The university level higher education curriculum stipulates thirty-six weeks of study a year. Depending on the field of study (speciality), the proportions of mandatory and optional courses in a curriculum are around the following: mandatory courses: 80 to 85 percent; optional courses: 15 to 20 percent. The total workload of a student should not exceed fifty-four hours a week including classwork and independent studies. A student's total workload of classwork is, on average, twenty-seven hours a week (for the Magistr programme, fourteen hours a week). For part-time (evening) education, classwork should not be less than ten hours a week. In the case of correspondence education, students are offered the possibility of having no less than 160 hours a year of contact classes. The academic year begins on 1 September and ends at the beginning of June.

University level higher education diplomas (the Bakalavr Diploma, the Specialist Diploma, and the Magistr Diploma) give their holders the right to exercise professional activities in accordance with the qualifications indicated on the diplomas. Specialist and Magistr Diplomas entitle their holders to be admitted to doctoral study programmes.

2.3. Medical Sciences

The duration of study in the medical sciences is the following:


  • five years in dentistry and pharmacy;

  • six years in medicine;

  • four years in nursing following completion of vocational education and two-and-a-half years following completion of non-university level higher education.


The medical sciences are the only area in which diplomas of university level higher education do not give the right to their holders to exercise their professions independently. In order to be admitted to the medical professions, the holders of university level higher education diplomas must undertake further in-depth professional training:


a one-year course programme (called the internatura) or

a two- to three-year course programme (called the ordinatura).

Training in the internatura or the ordinatura takes place on the premises of the best hospitals, clinics, and research medical institutes. Graduates from the internatura or ordinatura are awarded certificates that specify their specialization areas and entitle them to exercise their professions independently.

2.4. Teacher Training

Teacher training for primary general education is carried out in non-university level higher education institutions. Teachers for basic and secondary (complete) general education levels are trained in university level higher education institutions.

2.5. The Academic Staff

In 1999 there were 255,900 academics employed in university level higher education institutions, including 148,300 holders of the Doktor nauk and the Kandidat nauk degrees. The ranking of teaching positions is the following:


Professor (Professor); (Professor); (Professor);

Docent (Dotsent); (Dotsent); (Dotsent);

Senior Teacher (Starshij prepodavatel); (Starshij prepodavatel); (Starshij prepodavatel);

Assistant (Assistent). (Assistent). (Assistent).

All academic positions in university level higher education institutions are filled through competition. The staffing of higher education institutions is the responsibility of the educational establishments themselves. The State authorities are not involved in the appointment procedures as is the case in some western countries.

The staffing procedure for all teaching positions is the same. Vacancies are advertised in newspapers and are open to applicants from all establishments. Applications are evaluated by the heads of chairs in which there are vacancies, and are then submitted to a meeting of the members of the chair. The members may give recommendations to the Academic Council of the institution (or of the faculty, depending on the structure of the institution). Applicants are elected at the Academic Council meeting, and after approval by the rector, they become staff members of the institution.

Appointments are made for a term of five years. Re-election is possible and, in any case, requires a new position advertisement. The requirements for positions are the following:


  • for the position of professor - normally the academic degree of Doktor nauk; applicants with the lower degree of Kandidat nauk may be admitted in the case of scientific excellence and/or experience in a long career;

  • for the position of docent - normally the academic degree of Kandidat nauk; in exceptional cases, persons without the academic degree of Kandidat nauk, but with excellent scientific results and/or long careers are also admitted to the position of docent;

  • for the position of senior teacher - the Specialist or Magistr Diploma and teaching experience of at least five years;

  • for the position of assistant - the Specialist or Magistr Diploma.


The positions of professor and docent should be distinguished from the academic titles of professor and docent. These academic titles are awarded to holders of the positions of professor or docent respectively for their academic achievements. Such awards are made by the Ministry for General and Professional Education according to a special procedure.

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