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Regular version of the site

Building educational market space

On April 21, the session of the Russian Public Council for Education Development was held at the Lomonosov State University. The "Anti-monopoly policy in Education through the Federal Anti-monopoly Service of Russia (the FAS) vision" was under discussion.

Victor Sadovnichi, the MSU Rector and the Russian Rectors` Union co-Chairman, in his opening speech mentioned that the anti-monopoly policy is a burning issue in Russian education. The Rectors` community is deeply concerned about the problem. As Sadovnichi recalled, the problem of educational standards had recently been discussed at the IX session of the Rectors` Union.

Igor Artemyev, the chairman of the FAS (the Federal Anti-monopoly Agency), in his speech mentioned the following points. At the beginning of 2007 the FAS established an ad hoc Department for control, protection and development of competitive struggle in the social sphere. The Expert and Consulting Council on Competition Support in Education and Science was established as permanent unit within the FAS structure. Representatives of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, the Federal Service for Education and Science Supervision, Rectors of state and private universities, intermediate schools, and independent experts are among the members of this Council. "We are on the eve of crucial legislative innovations that have been approved by the Russian Government. We are looking forward to all these innovations being brought into action. Support among society will be an important factor for success", said Artemyev. The decision of the Working Group at the Governmental Commission on Administrative Reform gives the FAS responsibility for supporting competition in the field of educational, the official said.

The educational system is overburdened by state regulation. And the system of state control is not perfect.  "But the main problem is the absence of the concept of competition", he said. We can't support natural competition without institutions being transparent. "We can't try to catch a black cat in a darkened room", Artemiev said. But many consumers of educational services such as students and applicants are forced to do just that since they have no information about the quality of the teaching at the universities. Transparency and the legal responsibility of educational establishments to provide accurate information will be a way to overcome these obstacles. As reporter emphasized, it is essential to approve legislation forcing all universities to publish all establishing papers, including licenses, accreditation, and information on faculties, tutors, facilities, etc.

But there is one more problem. The activity of educational institutions is tightly controlled by state legislation. "It seems to me that all these norms are unconstitutional since many private universities and schools are restricted by these regulations. This means competition in the educational market is impossible", Artemiev underscored. The official spoke in favor of equal opportunities for private and state educational establishments in the market. He mentioned cases when private universities face restrictions.  Only state bodies are admitted for competitions within the national "Innovative schools" project. Only state institutions are admitted for competitions within the "Primary and intermediate professional training support" program. And it is the same situation with the "Education for contract military servants."

Why aren't we concerned with regulations on civil and legal relations between legal entities and consumers, i.e. between state or private educational entities and students or applicants.  Why shouldn't we try to protect both sides of the market by civil regulations? Within this legal system we could establish some additional forms of responsibility such as liability insurance in insurance companies.

Artemiev also mentioned some points connected with licensing and accreditation procedures. It is important to eliminate unnecessary and ineffective procedures such as "license expert commissions".  As to the accreditation procedure, "relevant terms must be set (every two years) with obligatory license revoked then education quality doesn't meet the standards", the official said. But what are the approaches to education quality control?  To prove quality of education, ad hoc procedures, including "sudden revisions", must be established as part of the regular supervision procedures. Usually, FAS staff is among the executives. It is very important to approve all the legal procedures. If one point is broken, the "Court cancels the results of the revision", the reporter proposed. The criteria for education quality control must be clear for all universities.

In his report Artemiev proposed new Expert Councils as revision committees. "I believe that the five leading universities can be selected for each educational field jointly by the Ministry of Education and Science and the Federal Service for Education and Science Supervision". Some experts from these universities could be among the members of the committe.  Public transparency will be an important result.  State officials will not be able to ignore documents that are published. Names of the experts will be published after the conclusion and the signatures will be there for everyone to see. 

 In his report Artemiev mentioned the "parasitic outsourcing" problem. Sometimes governmental supervisory structures transfer some of their powers to private firms as intermediaries between officials and entrepreneurs.  But when state powers are transferred to private organizations, there are no checks on the legal procedures. And this can lead to corruption it is: "carrying out illegal fee-paying services, paying high salaries to yourself". A degree of state power has been transferred to private structures. And this has caused "total trade" in the education.  So the Federal Law №135 on "Competition protection" has been broken. According to the law "it is strictly prohibited to transfer state power authorities to market entities", Artemiev said.  And the FAS is struggling with such intermediaries that are damaging for the free market in education and a source of distrust among consumers.

In the final part of his report Artemiev spoke in favor of legal regulations that provide equal rights in the education market for both private and state institutions, including rights for state procurement. As he said, the FAS supports freedom of information, minimal legislative restrictions and the authority to punish the lawbreakers by monetary sanctions.  It is the reason to approve new paragraphs for the Administrative Code to strengthen the authority of the Federal Service for Education and Science Supervision. It is necessary to eliminate all restrictions on private education participation in state projects and to eliminate obstacles in the educational market by changing licensing procedures.

Yaroslav Kuzminov, the HSE rector, as co-chairman of the Russian Public Council for Education Development introduced Lubov Glebova, the Head of the Federal Service for Education and Science Supervision. As Glebova emphasized, many points of Artemiev`s report can be implemented without any second thoughts. Ineffectiveness and excess of control procedures are obvious. We "are trying to eliminate these negative things within the current legal framework" and are searching for measures to amend federal legislation.   Lately, two regulations "On accreditation" and "On license procedure" had been approved to implement Federal law № 56. New "licensing procedure" regulation has established a simple procedure for new programmes.  The procedure has become more intensive and the "reasons to revoke the license by the Federal Service for Education and Science Supervision decision became clearer". Many problems, mentioned in Artemiev`s report, are resolved by these regulations

From the 1st of April, the new structure of the Federal Service for Education and Science Supervision has been approved and "officials involved into license procedure and accreditation are not responsible for control and quality estimation".   It is very important that after the 1st of January, 2009   the regional supervision departments for license procedures are established at a local level. "This measure will clarify the situation in the regions," L. Glebova said.

We have adopted common opinion concerning "expert licensing probe redundancy", Glebova said.  But accreditation procedure in the hands of Expert Councils "can take us to the other extreme since the procedure is not prescribed in detail". 

Yaroslav Kuzminov focused on the programme developed by the Russian Public Council for Education Development, designed to settle all the aforementioned problems. The market must be regulated. All effective educational institutions must have equal access to the state procurement and state education development programs.   We can succeed on this path through the strengthening of educational quality standards and increasing transparency

Currently, there is no access to basic information on educational institutions, technical and human resources, financial means, budgetary places and vacancies. All of these had already been mentioned by the Russian President, Kuzminov said.  

"Unfortunately, we tend to suppose that some of the state universities don't keep their commitments to other market actors," Kuzminov said. Here he cited a list of points obligatory for publishing by each university at the Web-pages.    This information should improve the situation.

These obligatory points are:

  • state license and accreditation
  • educational and lab activities with indication of places where these activities are being proceeded
  • dormitories with address and number of places
  • tutors` information with qualifications and curricula
  • list of educational programmes with curricula
  • number of budgetary and fee-paying places for each programme with vacant budgetary places on each course
  • fiscal plan account and fiscal plan for current year with revenues and expenses
  • average salary of tutors and scientific- fellows in previous year
  • grants and fellowship for successful students
  • admission marks scale for budgetary places for each education programme in previous year, the number of  federal and interuniversity academic completions winners admitted for each programme. 

Consumers of educational services have a very low level of protection and this is one more important problem, Kuzminov emphasized. "It seems to me that Artemiev`s idea to conclude agreements between each student and university as representative of the state financing education of this student must be scrutinized once more", the HSE Rector said. "But, in addition, student must also recognize his personal responsibility".

In Kuzminov's opinion, at the period of the lack of financing for educational needs it will be untimely decision to implement liability insurance for educational institutions. "We have to view the issue from an economic standpoint", he said. He also cleared up vision of the Russian Public Council for Education Development on license and accreditation procedures. As the HSE Rector mentioned, "we are not ready to give this power to the five universities. We are trying to exclude the low level educational institutions and programmes. When making projects of new educational standards, we came to the conclusion that we have to focus on five or six of the most important subjects. For example, in economics we chose micro- and macroeconomics, statistics and econometrics, all of which are obligatory for all students who attend a programme on economics.  And this is the minimum of subjects that must be under control. This minimum must exist as a data-base, tests and tasks. And they must be the main target for investigation by the leading universities. During the accreditation procedure, it became clear for many educational establishments that the current existing tests are not relevant. So our task is to create relevant ratcheting tools and data - based on a limited number of degree subjects. Then the quality of education will be higher.

Rectors of leading state and private universities, the Ministry of Education and Science officials, the General Prosecutors` Stuff and representatives of the Moscow Municipal Legislative Body took part in a discussion on Artemiev's report, points and decisions, held as the final session project.

Following the MSU Rectors` advice, who mentioned the productive nature of the discussion, the participants approved the final project with certain amendments and additions. 

Nikolai Vukolov, the HSE News service