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

Doctoral programmes

The hierarchy of advanced degrees in Russia traditionally includes doctor's degrees of two levels: the Candidate of Sciences (Kandidat Nauk) and the Doctor of Sciences ( Doktor Nauk). The Candidate of Sciences degree normally requires at least three years of study beyond graduation from a university level higher education institution and the award of the Specialist or the Magistr diploma. The Doctor of Sciences degree can be earned after a period of further study following the award of the Candidate of Sciences degree. In reality, to earn a Doctor of Sciences degree requires five to fifteen years beyond the award of the Candidate of Sciences degree.

Both university level higher education establishments and research institutions have the right to set up doctoral study programmes. Two national bodies, the Ministry for General and Professional Education of the Russian Federation and the Russian Academy of Sciences are responsible for the general supervision of doctoral studies in higher education establishments and research institutions, respectively. Upon the decision of these two bodies, doctoral study programmes ( aspirantura - for the Candidate of Sciences degree and doctorantura - for the Doctor of Sciences degree) can be opened in those higher education establishments and research institutions that possess the required personnel as well as scientific and financial resources. Higher education institutions must be accredited, and research institutions must have a license granting them the right to carry out educational activities.

The two doctoral degrees can be earned in two ways: as a result of studies in the aspirantura and doctorantura or independently.

1. The Main Route to the Candidate of Sciences Degree

The main route leading to the Candidate of Sciences degree (Kandidat Nauk) is the aspirantura which is aimed at imparting in-depth theoretical, special, and social education and of training scientific and teaching staff through the mastery of means and methods of scientific study so that they may be able to carry out independent research and educational work with great skill. A doctoral student is called an aspirant.

The general prerequisites for admission to aspirantura are completion of a full course of study at a university level higher education institution and award of the Specialist Diploma or of the Magistr degree, proof of creative thinking in practical work or study, and an age limit of up to 35 years for full-time and up to 45 years for part-time aspirants. Institutions set quotas limiting the number of doctoral students to be admitted each year. The quotas are based on the available funds and equipment, the staff necessary for supervision, as well as on the needs of science and the economy for highly qualified personnel in the given field.

Admission to entrance examinations is determined on the basis of a synopsis of the selected subject as presented by each applicant, research and development outcomes also submitted by the applicant, and the results of preliminary discussions of projected research topics with possible supervisors. Applicants take competitive entrance examinations in the subject of specialization, in one foreign language, and in philosophy. Enrollment is based on success in the entrance examinations and evaluation by the prospective supervisor. The registration procedure for candidates who have obtained the right to enroll as aspirants is undertaken by the respective higher education establishment or research institution.

There are both full- and part-time aspirantura studies. The duration of full- and part-time studies must not exceed three and four years respectively.

In order to be awarded the Candidate of Sciences degree, a student must complete, present, and defend a dissertation. Dissertation topics should generally correspond to the scientific areas of the basic projects undertaken by the awarding institution and be approved by its Academic Council for each doctoral student.

A Doctor of Sciences or a professor specializing in the subject area is appointed as a supervisor for each aspirant as soon as he or she joins an aspirantura. The supervisor acts as a tutor to an aspirant, supervises the execution of his or her individual study plan, and bears responsibility for the adequate scientific level of the thesis.
Full-time doctoral students receive stipends paid by the state. The period of studies is included in the general record of scientific work and teaching. Part-time doctoral students also receive a number of encouragements (among other things, fully-paid additional annual holidays).

Doctoral studies programmes are aimed at advancing the theoretical and specialized knowledge of doctoral students enabling them to master their research and professional skills and to broaden their social and cultural outlooks. Programmes include both postgraduate courses and research.

The courses that are to be taken by aspirants consist of lectures and seminars. During postgraduate studies, students must study pedagogy and teaching methods, psychology, economics, information technology, mathematical simulation, and certain other subjects, and pass profile examinations set by the Academic Council for every speciality. In addition, they must take a training course in instructional methods.

In addition to course examinations, aspirants must pass qualifying (Candidate) examinations in the given speciality, in philosophy, and in a foreign language.

Those researchers who, in the course of postgraduate study, have written dissertations, are registered to defend them. A dissertation is expected to be a scholarly work which makes an original and valuable contribution to the field of knowledge concerned and reflects the novelty and significance of the outcomes of this given research. Moreover, the content of the dissertation must demonstrate that its author has an excellent knowledge of the field as well as an aptitude for independent research.

The defense of the dissertation is carried out before a Dissertation Council. Dissertation Councils are organized by the Supreme Certifying Committee (Vysshij Attestatsionnyj Komitet, VAK) of the Russian Federation to accept dissertations in given fields of knowledge in those higher education and research institutions that are acknowledged for their achievements in the respective fields of science. They are standing bodies with a term of office of five years. A Dissertation Council is composed of holders of the Doctor of Sciences and the Candidate of Sciences degrees. The total number of its members should not be less than nine (usually about twenty). A Dissertation Council for the defense of the Candidate dissertation should include no fewer than three Doctors of Sciences.

The public defense of the dissertation is held in the form of a public report and a scientific discussion. Proceeding from the cumulative evaluation of the results of the defense and the judgments of independent experts and official opponents, the Council decides by secret ballot whether or not the dissertation meets the requirements for a Candidate dissertation. If the verdict is positive, the applicant will be granted the degree of Candidate of Sciences and the corresponding diploma (Annex 2, Fig. 16). In order for the decision to be considered valid, at least two-thirds of the members of the Council must participate in the vote. The defense is considered to be a success if no fewer than two-thirds of those present vote for a pass. In case of failure, the defense can be repeated in no less than a year.

Having completed a postgraduate course programmes, students have an advantage when applying for a teaching position at a higher education institution or for a research position at a research institution. The award of the Candidate of Sciences degree leads to a salary increase or to a better paid position at a higher education or a research institution. Possession of the Candidate of Sciences degree confers preference when appointment to a post of associate professor (dotsent) is sought.

2. Other Routes Leading to the Candidate of Sciences Degree

Another route leading to the Candidate of Sciences degree is outside the aspirantura system. In this case, an applicant, holder of a Specialist or Magistr diploma with no less than two years of work experience, is attached to a higher education establishment or to a research institution for tutoring in specialized subjects, a foreign language, and in philosophy, the latter varying according to given postgraduate programmes, and for taking the qualifying (Candidate) examinations as well as for preparing a dissertation.

A supervisor (as a rule, a Doctor of Sciences or a Professor) for each applicant is appointed by the institution to which the applicant is attached, and possibilities for using libraries, laboratories, and other facilities are made available. The applicant has to pass qualifying (Candidate) examinations similar to those for aspirants.

Upon the successful completion of dissertations and individual programmes, applicants may defend their dissertations. The requirements for the dissertation, the procedure for its defense, and the subsequent award of the academic degrees are the same as for aspirants.

3. The Doctor of Sciences Degree

The second and highest academic degree is the degree of Doctor of Sciences (Doktor Nauk). It is awarded in the same broad fields of knowledge as the degree of Candidate of Sciences. In architecture and fine arts, the degrees awarded are the Doctor of Architecture and the Doctor of Fine Arts, respectively. Doctoral dissertations are prepared either on a full-time basis during doctoral studies in doctorantura or independently, outside doctorantura.

In Russia, the doctorantura system was developed in 1987 in order to train highly qualified scientific and academic staff for the most important fields of knowledge, science, and technology. Doctorantura can be organized in leading higher education establishments and research institutions in given fields of science and of knowledge having advanced research facilities and equipment. The organization and administration with regard to doctorantura are the same as for aspirantura.

Admission to doctorantura is competitive, available to citizens (the age limit is 40 years) who are holders of Candidate of Sciences degrees and are already known for their contributions in their fields. Candidates must hold posts of responsibility in teaching and/or research testifying to the high level of their academic and scientific work and their capacity to substantially contribute to the solution of fundamentally important social, economic, and cultural problems.

The main admission requirements for doctoral programmes are the following: scientific achievement in a chosen speciality; a complete outline for a dissertation; scientific publications; and the recommendation of employers including an assessment of the applicant's research. Decision-making with regard to the admission of candidates to doctorantura is the responsibility of the Academic Council of the institution and is based on scientific reports by candidates on the subjects of their dissertations as well as on individual programmes of research and on the conclusions of the departments or other scientific subdivisions of the institution. The subject of dissertations and the individual programmes and time-periods necessary for their completion are approved by the Academic Council. Proposed time-periods may not exceed three years.

The qualifying requirements for a doctoral dissertation are higher than those for a Candidate dissertation. The dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Sciences should be an advanced work in which an important scientific problem, having economic, socio-cultural, or political significance, is solved; or it should present scientifically-based technical, economic, or technological ideas, the implementation of which would make a considerable contribution to scientific and technological progress.

Doctoral programmes consist only of research. A scientific consultant, a holder of the Doctor of Sciences degree, may be appointed to advise doctoral students (doctorants) on their dissertation research. If necessary, doctorants can be sent to other leading research centres in the country or abroad to pursue their studies and to do research. Doctorants annually present a report on the results of the work accomplished, as measured against their individual programmes, to the Academic Council which is responsible for monitoring their progress and for reaching decisions as to their continuation in doctorantura.

In the course of study, a doctorant must complete his or her doctoral thesis, receive its preliminary evaluation in the given institution, and submit the thesis to the Dissertation Council. The Dissertation Council for the defense of the dissertation for the Doctor of Sciences degree is designated by the Supreme Certifying Committee and consists of Doctors of Sciences. Such a council may also conduct defenses for dissertations for the Candidate of Sciences degree.

The defense procedure for the degree of Doctor of Sciences is the same as for the Candidate of Sciences degree. The Dissertation Council receives the recommendations as to the award or non-award of the degree. The final decision regarding the award of a Doctor of Science degree is taken by the Supreme Certifying Committee, following which the applicant is awarded the Doctor of Sciences diploma (Annex 2, Fig. 17).

The degree of Doctor of Sciences is a prerequisite for appointment to the post of professor in a higher education institution.

Another route leading to the Doctor of Sciences degree is the transfer of the holders of Candidate of Sciences degrees employed in higher education establishments from teaching to research posts for a period of up to two years in order for them to prepare their dissertations. The requirements for this procedure are the same as those for joining doctorantura, except for the age limit, which for the former is forty-five years of age.

The third route for the earning of the Doctor of Sciences degree is the preparation of a dissertation on one's own, combining work and research without any of the advantages or privileges provided by the other routes described above. In this case, there is no age limit for the defense of the dissertation leading to the degree of Doctor of Sciences.


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