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Paradoxes of COVID: Russian Doctoral Admissions Grow, So Do Quality Concerns

Paradoxes of COVID: Russian Doctoral Admissions Grow, So Do Quality Concerns

While the global tide swayed toward an expansion in doctoral education, Russia found itself swimming against the current, experiencing a dip in enrollments from 2010 to 2019. However, the year 2020 witnessed an unexpected change of fortunes, with an 11% uptick in admissions year-on-year. This curious scenario unfolded in the throes of a global pandemic that had wrought havoc on higher education systems.

IOE’s Natalia Maloshonok, Svetlana Zhuchkova, Saule Bekova, and Evgeniy Terentev have set off on a quest to unveil the forces that have led to the surge in doctoral enrollments in Russia amid the pandemic, and the potential consequences looming on the horizon.

The COVID-19 pandemic struck a discordant note on the landscape of higher education, disrupting the common academic norms and practices worldwide. Against this background—unlikely as it may seem—Russia and a number of other nations found themselves experiencing a surprising surge in doctoral program enrollments in 2020.

The study seeks to understand the ripple effects of this unconventional boom in doctoral admissions. It shines a spotlight on the intriguing nexus between the quality of admissions and the motivations of the newly minted doctoral candidates. Before 2020, Russia had seen a decade-long decline in doctoral enrollments, a trend suddenly reversed by a unique alignment of circumstances.

An empirical compass in this research is a dataset drawn from a web survey of 1,895 PhD students who were admitted to Russian universities in 2020. What the study discovered was a perplexing confluence—admissions surged while the bar for quality seemed to have lowered, with an increasing intake of students bearing non-academic motivations and scarce academic skills. This paradox may be precursive of a reduction in doctoral completion rates over the next three to five years.

Results & Discussion in the Nutshell

The study illuminates a peculiar facet of the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on higher education—its role in ushering in a wave of doctoral students with less-than-academic motivations. These students often view the doctoral journey as a temporary sanctuary, with goals that extend beyond academic pursuits. Paradoxically, a segment of these students found their admissions facilitated during the pandemic, yet they faced myriad academic challenges and inadequate supervision. To safeguard the quality of doctoral programs, proactive measures are imperative. Universities must provide resources and support tailored to students with non-academic motivations. Navigating this uncharted territory is essential to uphold the integrity of doctoral education at Russian universities as they emerge from the shadow of the pandemic.