Vladimir Putin, during his address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, proposed "to return to the traditional basic system of education in universities". That is, to abolish the bachelor's degree and introduce a single first level of higher education - the training of specialists for a period of 4 to 6 years. Forpost asked the rector of St. Petersburg Mining University Vladimir Litvinenko to comment on the initiative of the head of state.
- Vladimir Stefanovich, talks about the need to withdraw from the Bologna process in the scientific and educational community have been going on for a long time. But I am sure that many of our citizens, including parents of university applicants, do not fully understand why this is necessary. And they do not see a big difference between the Bachelor's and Specialist's degrees. What are the disadvantages of the former and the pros of the latter? That is, what has our higher school lost after the introduction of the two-tier system of education?
Vladimir Litvinenko: Despite the fact that our higher school retained some of its advantages after joining the Bologna process, including fundamentalism and multidisciplinarity, it lost the focus on the development of the cornerstone sectors of the Russian economy. Together with the specialty, the practice-oriented approach disappeared from our universities, which led to the reduction of the personnel reserve and the acute shortage of qualified specialists in the labor market.
I will explain on the basis of a concrete example: Oil and gas students who receive a bachelor's degree study for four years. After their second year, they are prepared enough to do their internship at our polygon in Sablino. They become familiar with rig components and auxiliary equipment, and then, under the supervision of experienced instructors, take part in work processes.
In another year, the guys go on an internship, and at the end of their fourth year they defend their diploma. In other words, they spend two or three weeks at a real company during the entire period of their studies.
Specialty students from the same oil and gas faculty have monthly internships after their third, fourth, and fifth years, and then, within six months, they prepare their graduation work. Now put yourself in the employer's shoes and try to answer the question: who would you prefer to invite to the staff? A bachelor or a specialist, who has already had time to get acquainted with the process chain of your or a similar company, its economic component, the core software, and is obviously much better adapted to become a full-fledged part of the team in the short term? As I see it, there is no room for discussion here, everything is very clear.
- One of the advantages of the two-tier system of education was the possibility to enter the master's program in a different field of study. That is to say, a student finished a bachelor's degree, but realized he had made a mistake in choosing his future profession, and corrected his mistake by getting the diploma he really needed two years later...
Vladimir Litvinenko: Last year the state allocated 752 budgetary places to the St. Petersburg Mining University for admission to the major, 1,139 for the bachelor's degree and 435 for the master's degree. It is not difficult to calculate that almost two-thirds of the bachelor's graduates will not a priori be able to become master's students. They complete their education after four years of study, receive a diploma, and enter the labor market.
Of course, a diploma from our university is a kind of calling card, a quality mark that gives additional competitive advantages. But energy, oil and gas and mining companies across the country, despite the shortage of engineering personnel, are not lining up for Bachelor's graduates, because the latter have not had time to get all the competencies required for a young specialist in their alma mater. This means that their adaptation at work will take too much time and, quite possibly, will be extremely painful, both for the employer and the employee.
As for the master's program, where students go after completing a bachelor's degree, its graduates are aimed primarily at an academic career. Subsequently, they enroll in postgraduate programs or find a job at companies, but not as engineers, but as scientists.
The question arises: how, in this case, can we ensure the change of generations in the cornerstone industries of Russia - mineral resources and fuel and energy complexes? After all, representatives of the Soviet school, those who turned the USSR into one of the most technologically advanced powers, a global leader in space exploration, the peaceful atom and many other areas, are gradually leaving. Who will take their place? Bachelor's degree graduates with a superficial school and university education?
Unfortunately, the two-tier system imposed by the West does not answer this question. It is not aimed at training engineers. And that is its biggest disadvantage. In fact, the path we have been following for the last 20 years, after joining the Bologna process, has led us to a dead end, from which we need to urgently get out. This is exactly what the president said when he proposed abolishing the bachelor's degree, and recognizing postgraduate students as the leading activity for research. This is necessary in order to ensure the rapid entry of in-demand specialists into the labor market and their continued professional growth.
The most interesting thing is that in Europe, where there is no specialty at the official level, most technical universities do not train any bachelors. In Germany, for example, the minimum study period is five years, while in Austria all engineering students are required to complete a master's degree. In other words, they study for six years, of which six months are spent on compulsory practical training.
- It turns out that the introduction of the two-tier system was a mistake, which even the Europeans themselves admit? But wasn't it clear from the beginning? What was the motivation of the participants in the Bologna process? And what was Russia supposed to get instead of the system that had been building for decades, and had proved itself long ago?
Vladimir Litvinenko: First of all, recognition of Russian diplomas abroad. It was thought that if Russia joined the Bologna process, any Russian graduate would be able to go to the West and get a job in his or her specialty. Second, there has been a dramatic increase in academic mobility, which is what you asked about above. Let's say someone enrolled in a particular program of study at a university, but a year or two later realized that he wasn't interested in it. A transfer to another field of study should have been not only possible, but also relatively easy, and not only within one's own university. We were assured that a Russian student would be able to continue his studies in Europe if he wanted to, and he would be able to keep his current course.
Unfortunately, nothing of the kind could be realized. Yes, St. Petersburg Mining University worked with many European institutions of higher education on dual degree programs, but beforehand we had to do tremendous work to unify curricula. No one was involved in this on a national level. So all the advantages of the Bologna process turned out to be ephemeral, unlike its drawbacks.
- Are Russian universities, teachers in particular, ready for the transition from the Bachelor's degree to the new format of education? How long might this work take?
Vladimir Litvinenko: At the St. Petersburg Mining University, unlike some other technical universities, the specialist field hasn't disappeared. We managed to defend it as the level of higher education necessary to train competent engineers. Of course, the number of budgetary places on the Bachelor's degree was higher, nevertheless, the return to the traditional system of education should not be a revelation to anyone. Besides, it is a state task, for the solution of which each of us should make every effort.
Yes, of course, it is a certain challenge. For example, this year we plan to cut 300 budgetary places at bachelor's degrees and add exactly the same number of places at specialist degrees. But we knew about this last fall, so the faculty had and still has plenty of time to prepare.
Addressing the Federal Assembly, our President made it clear that the transition to new educational standards "must be smooth." The rectors of all the universities that are part of the Nedra Consortium, which brings together more than a hundred domestic universities that produce specialists for the mineral sector, fully support this position. We are all well aware that a sharp withdrawal from the Bologna Process for higher education institutions, accustomed to the existing standards, may be extremely painful.
Nevertheless, the road ahead is the path less traveled. We need to get out of the trap into which we have fallen because we have become overly obsessed with neoliberal ideology and have believed in the illusions imposed on us by the West. Today, there is no doubt that the approaches to higher education proposed at the turn of the century are completely unviable in relation to Russian reality. As is the fact that "the destruction of any nation does not require atomic bombs or high-precision long-range missiles. All that is required is a reduction in the quality of education and the permission for students to cheat in exams. This is written on the walls of Stellenbosch University in South Africa.
Russia has tremendous potential to realize its unique natural and intellectual capital, as well as the tremendous groundwork left to us by the Soviet higher school. On this foundation, we need to nurture a new generation of talented, highly qualified scientists and engineers capable of transforming our country into a high-tech, self-sufficient power. All the prerequisites for this exist. The main thing is not to try to distort the meaning of our President's message, but to roll up our sleeves and start working on its practical implementation.