It is no secret that in recent years or even decades, the value of a diploma of higher education has noticeably decreased. If earlier this document confirmed that its holder had received both fundamental, basic knowledge and competences necessary for further professional growth, today, in fact, it has turned into a mandatory "certificate" for employment. If you do not have it, then the vast majority of the most interesting and promising jobs are closed for you, if you have it, you can apply for them. No more than that.
The problem is that in such a situation employers cannot even approximately determine the level and potential of applicants for this or that position among university graduates. That is why they prefer to hire specialists with work experience, i.e. they cut off young, perhaps very talented applicants even before the interview stage.
One of the tasks of the process of improving higher education, which is going on in the country today, is to return the diploma to its former status - a ticket to the social lift, having received which any person, including representatives of low-income families, can count on a "bright future". This will be possible if the blue or red crust will have an internal content and carry a certain message. That is, it would clearly indicate that its holder is not a "bachelor-underachiever", but a person who has mastered the compulsory theoretical course, obtained the necessary skills during practical classes, as well as additional competences in IT, economics, management and so on. But is it possible in principle? Forpost decided to ask this question to experts from Russia, the USA and Australia.
St. Petersburg Mining University is one of the six Russian higher education institutions that are participating in the pilot project to improve the process of personnel training for various sectors of the national economy. The new educational model has already been implemented there.
Vladimir Litvinenko, rector of the university, believes that this project, initiated by President Vladimir Putin, was launched in a very timely manner. After all, "there is a growing tendency in society to distrust the education system", while in many segments of the labour market, including the highly profitable ones, "there is an obvious shortage of specialists". And this is one of the greatest paradoxes of our time, which requires urgent resolution.
"In order for new Lomonosovs and Kapitsy to appear in our country, the opportunity to enter and study in higher education should be available to every member of society on competitive terms. Therefore, one of our main tasks is to create such a competitive environment of trust. First-year students, for example, should understand that even if they do not get the necessary USE score to enter the field of study they dream of, they will be able to transfer there after three semesters. But for this purpose it is necessary to show oneself with the best side. And not only in their studies. During the first year and a half, which will be taken to master the "core of higher education", i.e. the same for all general technical and humanitarian disciplines, the guys will gain "credits". For academic performance, regular attendance at classes, participation in research activities, social work, and so on. As a result, the leaders will have the opportunity to continue their studies in more prestigious specialities," said Vladimir Litvinenko.
The university creates the most favourable conditions for young people - it provides them with comfortable places in dormitories, introduces augmented and virtual reality technologies into the educational process, purchases modern laboratory equipment, and sends them to internships at flagship companies. And then it all depends on the students themselves. If they are ready to work hard, to limit themselves in some momentary pleasures for the sake of future successes, to grow professionally and personally, then the doors of the social lift are open for them, if not, then sorry... Education cannot be free, someone always pays for it. Either the state or business, interested, first of all, in motivated students. Only such people will be able to benefit both their employer and their country in the future.
In the USA, by the way, it is much more difficult to get the coveted ticket to "move up" today. Phil Johnston, President and CEO of Johnston Associates, who used to work as Minister of Social Affairs in Massachusetts, says that it was his university studies that became the launching pad for his future successes, fundamentally changed his life and set the vector of his development.
"In the autumn of 1963, I arrived on the campus of the University of Massachusetts. My parents were highly educated people. My father worked as a leading health care specialist in a state department, my mother as a public school teacher. Consequently, they didn't earn a lot of income. But a semester at that time cost $1200. That's why people from all walks of life went to college. We all knew that higher education was our affordable ticket to a bright future," recalls Phil Johnston.
Today, a year of study at UMass costs almost $60,000. For many people, this is an unaffordable sum, which means that the system of higher education in the United States has gradually turned from a social lift to the prerogative of the elites. And that's a real problem that many experts believe is exacerbating inequality.
"For my friends, for me and for many other people, the state system of higher education in the Commonwealth (so officially called four states in the United States, including Massachusetts - ed.) has borne fruit. But now that path to success is no longer available in the way it was available to us. Rising prices have made degrees from our local colleges, schools and universities unattainable for applicants, especially African Americans and those from low-income families," said Phil Johnston.
Australia's Education Minister Jason Clare announced in July that the country had embarked on tertiary school reform, which aims to "close the opportunity gap" between applicants from wealthy families and "lower social strata of society". However, according to Dr Kay Wilson of the University of Melbourne, the steps proposed by the government "do not appear to address the very real financial, psychological and cultural barriers".
"Going to university is an expensive endeavour. In order to get a degree, unless of course you have rich parents, you have to take out a large loan from the bank. Some students can put up with the exorbitant rent, the high cost of living and the need to pay back the loan in the future. But for some, university is still out of reach," says Kay Wilson.
Among the reasons preventing Australian universities from becoming real social lifts, he says, is the fact that school friends and acquaintances of students from low-income families start earning money "here and now". And even if the amount of their earnings is insignificant, especially in comparison with the prospects that are open to graduates of higher education, this can be an unnecessary reason for a young person to abandon the idea of going to university. Or face a serious psychological problem by enrolling there.
"Studying requires a lot of self-discipline. Every day you have to attend lectures, write some essays, learn new skills or prepare for exams. Competition for professional jobs is fierce, and therefore it is impossible to achieve results without diligence. But this result will not come today or tomorrow, but after many years. You have to realise that. Otherwise, you will never be able to get rid of the feeling that you are missing out on a lot, or that you are far behind those with whom you used to be on a par. Especially if your fellow students look down on you as someone who had the nerve to go to college without going to the 'right' school or living in the 'right' postcode," said Kay Wilson.
Russian young men and women are spared many of the problems that prevent their Western peers from realising their potential. The opportunity to study on a budget or on the basis of grants from large companies, which usually add motivation, eliminates the need to get into debt. There is no gradation of students into poor and rich in most universities. For example, at the St. Petersburg Mining University, all students are required to wear uniforms, which not only disciplines them, but also erases social differences. It is almost impossible to understand whether you are the son of a top manager of a large oil and gas company or a low-income family, if you don't have any introductory information.
But as for hard work, diligence and readiness to work in the future both for one's own career and for the good of the state, everything is the same as in the West. Yes, many of your friends already have noticeably more money than you. But that's why you're "chewing on the granite of science", so that by the time you're 25-30 years old you can overtake them "on the turn" and become a financially self-sufficient professional.
"Studying is very hard, routine work, which can only be done if you have the ability to self-organise. But persistence in acquiring knowledge and skills will definitely pay off a hundredfold in the future. After all, basic higher engineering education, which, starting from this year, can be obtained by all students of St. Petersburg Mining University entering the first year, is a huge potential, a serious advantage in the labour market. Today our country needs, first of all, not bachelors, but specialists capable of ensuring the process of succession of generations in real production. The transformations that are currently taking place in the system of higher education are aimed at popularising the engineering profession and restoring its former attractiveness. And this can be done only in one case: if young people are sure that education received at a technical university will really become a starting point for future career growth," summarised Vladimir Litvinenko.
Russia's first technical university used to be such a platform, as it retained in its educational programmes a specialised course, the graduates of which were, without exaggeration, in high demand. However, the government allocated fewer places there than at the bachelor's programme. Starting this year, everything has changed. Every first-year student enrolled in the four-year programmes was offered to sign an additional agreement to the contract with the Mining University and receive a full-fledged basic higher technical education. This is the ticket to the very social lift, which is much talked about today both in Russia and in the West, but which is still more often under repair than working.