Converting Russia’s Educational Potential into Capital
At ‘Crossroads and Prospects for the Development of Russian Education’, a special session held as part of the XVIII April Conference, experts discussed the section related to education from a recent report on the strategy of Russia’s development by the Centre for Strategic Research. Since investments in education have an effect after 15-20 years, participants analyzed development prospects up to 2035.
The main goal of the strategy is to accelerate economic growth as a way to ensure public well-being. Problem areas, including education, are discussed in the context of this goal, said HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov.
Today, Russia is losing about 10-12% of GDP, as the education system does not provide people with a full set of required competencies, about 25% of students do not comprehend core concepts in mathematics, natural and social sciences, or the humanities. Their employment and career prospects are deteriorating, they find it difficult to adapt to work and earn little. However, the situation is not hopeless: the experience of several countries shows that significant reductions can be made in the number of unsuccessful students, Kuzminov believes. For instance, Finland succeeded in reducing this number to 5-7%.
Isak Frumin, Academic Supervisor of HSE Institute of Education, says that ‘we live in an educating society’ — there is a good foundation for future development in Russian education. Universal access to preschool education for children aged 3 to 7 years is guaranteed, and the number of schools requiring major repairs has decreased. Furthermore, Russia has also made a breakthrough in the PISA — an international study of education quality — with the country’s results in reading and mathematics being comparable with the average results across the OECD. The difference in the average salary of university graduates with all the others in Russia is one of the largest in Europe. Previously only Moscow State University was in the top 100 in global subject rakings, but now a dozen more universities have also joined the list.
At the same time, Russia is not rich. As Yaroslav Kuzminov stresses, we are ahead of other countries in our income group in terms of education development, since this resource can be compared with oil in recent years. The main problem now is how to turn this potential into capital, said Froumin. Current education financing does not provide the conditions for development. Russia lags behind all the countries it competes with by percentage of GDP on education, and expenditures on education in the consolidated budget have reduced since 2013.
The share of the students who cannot cope with general education programmes continue their studies in technical colleges where the quality of education that gives them functional literacy is very low; these colleges have no support programmes for these students, as is the case in Finland, for example. No one has tried to solve this problem in Russia. While general education has been purposefully improved in schools, almost half of the students obtain it in colleges. Differences in the education outcomes in families with different social statuses are increasing, as children from certain social classes concentrate in certain schools. Poverty and low social mobility, which are dangerous for the country’s social stability, are increasing.
The so called ‘new literacy’ (financial, medical, legal), which wasn’t necessary 20-30 years ago, hasn’t yet been formed in schools, colleges and universities. The formation of key competencies of the 21st century (teamwork, problem solving, project activities, etc.) is not a target function of general and higher education. Motivation and interest in learning are falling, despite the fact that motivated study is a main driver of success and a prerequisite for initiative among the population. Continuing education in Russia is not mandatory, and the level of skills upgrading among the adult population in Russia is three times lower than in competitor countries. Graduates are not only unprepared to make innovations, but they are also unable to quickly assess and develop innovations by others.
Thus, considering the advantages of Russian education and the elimination of the problems identified, we will have to understand how to enhance the contribution that education makes to economic growth and technological modernization, how to apply it to ensuring social mobility and stability, and to enhancing Russia’s global influence.