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Distribution of graduates after university: social guarantee or infringement of freedom of choice?


A delegation from the Empress Catherine II St. Petersburg Mining University paid a working visit to the Belarusian city of Polotsk, where it held a number of meetings with representatives of the local business and scientific and educational community. The parties discussed the most promising areas of co-operation, including academic exchange of students and teachers, as well as the creation of needle coke production at the Naftan Refinery using the technology developed by the scientists of the Russian university.

This high-margin product, which is in demand by metallurgical enterprises, is produced from oil distillation residues, i.e. from fuel oil, which is becoming less and less in demand due to the tightening of environmental standards. The management of the plant expressed interest in implementing this idea, and also assured the guests that they are ready to accept students from the city on the Neva for industrial practice at their site.

One of the tasks of the Petersburgers during their acquaintance with the Polotsk State University was to study the experience of the system of compulsory distribution of graduates after graduation in the Republic. As is well known, this system has been in place since Soviet times, but it has been noticeably transformed since then.

Горный университет
© Санкт-Петербургский горный университет

In Soviet times, young people were simply put before the fact and sent wherever their homeland required. Theoretically, of course, they could refuse to go abroad, but in order for this decision not to lead to major trouble, they had to get a so-called ‘exemption’. It allowed them to find employment on their own, but it was issued only due to some valid reasons, such as pregnancy or the beginning of service in the Soviet army.

Without this certificate, no state enterprise (and there were no others at that time) had the right to employ a young specialist until three years after graduation. That is, having entered into an unequal battle with the system, the graduate actually condemned himself to unemployment, which at that time was punishable by a real prison term.

Imprisonment, of course, was an extreme punishment, but by no means the only one. Among other things, young men and women who refused distribution lost many benefits and social guarantees. For example, they could not even count on a place in a dormitory. Given that the rental housing market did not exist at that time, this became a serious problem for yesterday's students.

Горный университет
© Санкт-Петербургский горный университет

As a result, the vast majority of them did not resist their fate and went wherever they were sent. Often to uninhabited settlements that had just been built around new large fields and processing plants. Many, by the way, assimilated there quite successfully and stayed forever, others were promoted and moved to district centres or even to the capital. In a word, everyone's fate was quite different, so it is certainly impossible to speak about the practice of employment of graduates in the USSR exclusively as a negative phenomenon.

In Belarus, which has preserved many features of the Soviet era, such as, for example, the incredible cleanliness of the streets, which the inhabitants of St. Petersburg today, especially in spring, can only dream about, the distribution system has survived. However, as mentioned above, it has been noticeably transformed, because time is inexorably moving forward and dictates new trends.

Thus, the best students in the Republic get the right of maximum choice among the most status companies of the country. As we were told in Polotsk State University, last year the excellent students, i.e. those who study at ‘9’ and ‘10’, were offered a list of vacancies of about 75 different options in their training profile. The rest had less choice, but there was still a choice.

© Форпост Северо-Запад / Павел Долганов

‘Graduates of higher, science-oriented or secondary specialised educational institutions in Belarus receive a certificate of employment for a period of two years after completing their studies. We consider this, first of all, as a social guarantee, because the dismissal of young specialists or their transfer to a position not related to the qualification awarded is not allowed during this period. Of course, with the exception of a number of cases established by law. As for those students who study on a paid basis, they can choose a job at their own will. More than 2 thousand graduates with higher and specialised secondary education use this right in our country every year. Last year, more than 55 thousand young specialists were distributed,’ said the rector of Polotsk State University, Yuri Romanovsky.

Students themselves also believe that the existing system is not an infringement on the freedom of choice, but, on the contrary, a source of confidence in the future. Young people find out where they can get a job in the future while they are still studying. First of all, we are talking about the university's partners, including not only industrial enterprises, but also large IT companies - residents of the Hi-Tech Park.

© из архива Артёма Грибанова

‘In our country, placement is seen as a guarantee that students will not remain unemployed after graduation, even though they do not yet have the relevant experience and the necessary competitive advantages. In addition, this practice makes it possible to ‘bring together’ two interested parties: the graduate who needs a job and the employer who needs staff. The business declares the number of young specialists it needs and is guaranteed to receive them. As far as I know, the control figures of admission to the budget are planned on the basis of generalised data for the whole Belarus,’ says Artyom Gribanov, a third-year student of the Faculty of Information Technologies of Polotsk University.

It is clear that our western neighbours do not have so many companies working in hard-to-reach, sparsely populated areas, which means that the risk that a graduate will be separated from the usual way of life for at least two years is minimal. In Russia, however, there are many such locations, which means that if a distribution system is introduced, young men and women may well find themselves in a different place after graduating from their alma mater than they dreamed of.

On the one hand, it is quite appropriate to remember that the state spent a considerable amount of money on their education, i.e., if we call things by their proper names, young engineers who studied at the expense of budgetary funds are in debt to the country. And, probably, they have to work it off in some way. On the other hand, if a person is not initially motivated to go ‘behind the fog and the smell of taiga’, he is unlikely to be effective in case of coercion. Most likely, he or she will slip into apathy or depression and will definitely not grow in professional or personal terms.

Viktor Slobodin, a fourth-year student at St. Petersburg Mining University, believes that ‘a return to the Soviet system of distribution of graduates, which did not imply any choice, is inappropriate. After all, in this case competition for the best of them among employers will obviously decrease. Businesses will be sure that they will fill up their talent pool in any case, and therefore will pay less attention to the issues related to preferences for their potential employees. At the same time, the Belarusian experience seems quite interesting to a young person.

© Форпост Северо-Запад / Павел Долганов

‘If we consider this system solely as a social guarantee, then, of course, it is a positive story. But, by and large, we can safely say that it has been implemented at our university for a long time. Almost every student, even if he/she is not a leader, even in the third year receives several offers from potential employers, has an opportunity to choose the most promising of them, undergo practical training at his/her site, and then get a job. Naturally, excellent students, winners of various case championships and Olympiads have more such offers. There is an obvious shortage of engineers in the country - metallurgists, miners, oilmen, chemical technologists, so there is a great interest in future specialists, especially those studying at flagship higher education institutions. Personally, I had an internship at the Krastsvvetmet enterprise, which is one of the world leaders in the field of refining precious metals,’ said Viktor Slobodin.

It should be noted that the issue of restoring compulsory distribution of Russian graduates has been repeatedly raised by employers. In their opinion, the return to this concept is necessary because many students of technical universities after graduation are ‘ready to work even as waiters’, as long as they stay in a big city and do not go ‘to the fields’. A number of business representatives believe that this idea should be implemented as part of a pilot project to improve the system of personnel training for the national economy, which is currently being implemented at the St. Petersburg Mining University. To date, this initiative is not an integral part of the process of modernisation of higher education.