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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Annals of Russian "Education"

The Globe & Mail reports:

College student Renat Nasipov doesn't have time to go to class. He works full time driving a moving van to pay his tuition bills and support his single mother. When exam time came in January, Mr. Nasipov, 21, knew he would fail. Instead, he paid his course supervisor nearly $900 in exchange for passing grades on all of his exams. If all goes to plan, Mr. Nasipov will graduate this June, without ever having attended a seminar or lecture. "I pay bribes for all my exams," said Mr. Nasipov, who is finishing an automotive mechanics course at a small college. "I can't afford to attend class because I have to pay for my education, which is $1,200 a year, and I have to feed myself and my mother."

Mr. Nasipov doesn't feel guilty that his college diploma will be purchased, not earned. His life circumstances left him no other choice, he said. Besides, he doesn't think he missed much by skipping classes. He plans to open an automotive repair business after graduation. "I already drive a car. I know how it all works. I don't need to study mathematics for that."

Mr. Nasipov's story wouldn't shock fellow Russians. While not every student is purchasing a postsecondary education, most adult Russians have, at some point in their lives, slipped money to a public official in exchange for a favour or exemption from a rule. Russians pay bribes to avoid passport-renewal lineups, to obtain driver's licences, to get their kids into top universities or keep them out of the dreaded army.

Corruption is so widespread in Russia today that some activists say the word "corruption" itself is misleading because it implies that there is an aberration of standards. In a recent poll, only a third of Russians said they believe corruption can be rooted out. The country's top leaders admit corruption is tearing at Russia's economy and threatening its economic development. Most of the talk in policy circles concerns the toll that corruption has wrought on struggling small- and medium-sized business, where it's estimated to cost between $1,800 and $41,000 in bribes to start a new company.

But it's not just the Russian economy that is affected. Countless college and university graduates, including medical students, have entered demanding professions using bogus educational credentials. And public safety is jeopardized by motorists who have purchased their driver's licences or paid off inspectors during annual auto safety inspections. Salesman Mikhail Balashov paid $700 for his driver's licence after failing the test four times. Mr. Balashov said he suspected the driving inspector was failing him on purpose because he hadn't offered a bribe. After his fourth failed test, Mr. Balashov arranged to pay the inspector through a mutual acquaintance. On his fifth attempt, after the inspector was paid, Mr. Balashov passed his exam. Like Mr. Nasipov, Mr. Balashov said he felt no remorse. "In this country, you can't survive without giving a bribe. It is just the law of living, not a crime." A few weeks later, he paid a safety inspector $150 to give his car the green light. He said he didn't have time to stand in the day-long queue.

Georgy Satarov, the founder of the Moscow think tank INDEM, which has published numerous reports on corruption, said most Russians don't think of the long-term, broader consequences of state-sanctioned cheating. Few equate Russia's high car-accident death rate with rampant corruption in the motor vehicle sector, he said. "The people who will heal us, the people who will build our bridges; if their diplomas aren't real, it's creating a dangerous situation," Mr. Satarov said. Elena Panfilova, director of the Russian branch of Transparency International, agreed. "Unfortunately, people in Russia still don't understand why it's bad to pay a bribe to a public official," Ms. Panfilova said.

So far, corruption has not deterred short-term investors in high-tech sectors, Ms. Panfilova said. But there is a concern that Russia's endemic corruption could scare off long-term investors who might be considering large capital investments. And the problem is getting worse. Last year, Transparency International ranked Russia 141 out of 180 countries in a ranking of corruption perceptions, a drop of 20 places from 2006. In 2002, Russia placed 71st. Earlier this week, President Vladimir Putin suggested chopping off the hands of corrupt public officials. The President didn't mean this literally, but his comments reflected how serious the issue has become.

His successor, president-elect Dmitry Medvedev, has vowed to tackle the problem anew and has promised to introduce an anti-corruption bill. Many aren't holding their breath. Ms. Panfilova and Mr. Saratov said Russian leaders have been promising for years to crack down on corruption. Despite signing two international treaties aimed at curbing corruption, Russia still has few laws in its criminal code that address the crime, she said. While corruption exists to some extent in every society, the Russian brand began to flourish in the legal vacuum that was left after communism collapsed in 1991 and Russia turned to a market economy.

Over the past few years, the government has introduced a raft of anti-corruption measures, but many initiatives have failed. Mr. Saratov blamed the top-down regime structure created by Mr. Putin, who also doubled the size of the bureaucracy. At the same time, the President stifled the organizations that traditionally scrutinize public officials, namely the media and opposition groups. "It's a dictatorship of the bureaucracy," Mr. Saratov said. Ms. Panfilova said Russian citizens need to be more aggressive about their rights when confronted with corrupt officials. "There is no public control over public servants, she said. "There is no obligation for civil servants to reply to a citizen who has a complaint."

Eventually, corruption could blunt Russia's long-term economic recovery, Mr. Saratov said. Small- and medium-sized business operators feel increasingly strangled by the ever-changing demands of public officials. Ask Alla Abushayeva, who operates two small grocery outlets in Samara, about 850 kilometres southeast of Moscow. Each month, she pays her local tax inspector $125 to keep other municipal officials and inspectors at bay. Ms. Abushayeva said most fines for regulation breaches are set so high - $1,200 for failing to hand a customer a receipt - that business owners must pay bribes to get exemptions.

"If I had been paying all the fines that the tax inspectors and police imposed, I would have been bankrupt a long time ago," she said.


Anonymous said...

Here is a link the latest results of the intel/IBM sponsored top programming competition:

A Russian provincial university crushes the USA best school (MIT) and 5 of top 10 universities are Russian. The USA education is the laughinstock of the world.

La Russophobe said...

Laughing stock? FAR more foreigners come to the USA to study than go to Russia. The USA has a FAR higher standard of living and MUCH longer adult lifespan.

This article is about CORRUPTION. Your attempt to change the subject is neo-Soviet in character and encourages Russia to leave corruption in place, destroying the country. Why do you hate Russia so much as that?

Anonymous said...

Why are there so many Russian computer programmers studying here, working here, and emigrating here if we are such a "laughingstock"?

Anonymouse said...

Knowing the Russian Potemkin proclivity for cheating at competitions for no better reason than to try and make their country look better, I would actually be a little surprised if the "students" in this competition weren't actually professors and other post-docs working "undercover" - as is all the rage these days in Putin's Chekisti Playground - egged on by the Kremlin. In the U.S., of course, everyone is too busy preparing for REAL jobs in a REAL economy to engage in this sort of childish cheating. They also know what the consequences would be for their schools' very valuable reputations if they got caught. But not in Russia, where the President himself is a known plagiarist and all the Russians just sort of chuckle knowingly at this. As for Intel/IBM, they probably don't much care, since in the process of awarding the prizes they'll probably come in contact with some of those "assisting" post-docs/professors, and can recruit them to work at one of their research centers in the U.S... contributing to that enormous sucking sound which is all of Russia's most talented people heading overseas, never to return. But who cares? In the words of Putin, if you have a brain drain, it means you still have some brains. For once, I have to agree with the man.