The fact that, these days, you can buy your way into most Russian universities is well known. Gone are the days when one has to “go to class” or “pass an exam” to get a diploma. Didn’t have time for lecture? Fine! Didn’t pass the final? No problem! In a country founded and run on a system of personal ties, everything can be worked out, every impasse can be smoothed out through an “understanding.” And everyone wins. Students can bound into the workforce at 19 where they can garner more applicable knowledge, and poorly-paid Russian academics can finally remodel their kitchens.
Now, however, comes new evidence that this is shaping up to severely damage Russia’s tradition of technological excellence — the very same thing that seemed, for a while, to give the Soviet Union an edge in the Cold War. Now, reports Gazeta, the math, science, and engineering departments of the country are filled with “troishniki” — chronic C-listers. The stats are appalling. Of 2009’s freshman class, only 40% passed the entrance exams necessary to even get in. Engineering degree candidates performed the worst: the average score on the entrance exam was between 55 and 60%.
And yet, they’re there on the rosters. It speaks to the fact that many of them were let in for a fee, or, as one professor told Gazeta, simply to fill empty rosters and draw already limited state funds. That means Russia’s schools — once some of the most famously rigorous in the world — are so severely decayed that they can’t even prepare students for basic college entrance exams.
Moreover, these flunkees — a whopping 60% of the freshman class — are in training to become Russia’s future aerospace engineers, the very ones that will design the planes that Russia needs to sell to Venezuela to boost its geopolitical muscle. But bad engineering and bad equipment are already gumming up the works. Just last year, for example, Algeria sent back 15 MiG fighter jets, claiming they were lemons. In the world of weapons trade, this was absolutely unheard of. And yet, nothing’s changed. Says the Dean of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, “Training these kinds of engineers is, quite simply, dangerous.”