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#13 - JRL 7269
RIA Novosti
July 30, 2003 
By Anatoly Korolev
RIA Novosti analyst

The website of one of Moscow's most prestigious higher-educational institutions, the Higher School of Economics, has turned into a battlefield, with university entrants living in Moscow, on the one hand, and those arriving from the provinces, on the other, flinging mud at each other with enthusiasm. The reason for this unique outburst of hatred splitting the Russian school-leavers in two, is the so-called Single State Exam for those wishing to enrol in a university or institute. The man behind this reform is Russia's Minister of Education Vladimir Filippov.

Judging by the official statistics, almost every school-leaver has the chance to continue his or her education at a higher education establishment: 1.5 million have finished school, and colleges are ready to admit about the same number of students. The problem is, most colleges and universities are concentrated in Moscow and St. Petersburg (around a thousand in each), while other cities, even big ones like Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and Kazan have two or three dozen at best. Even so, those colleges could admit all those who applied; however, provincial university education cannot be with Moscow's. Apart from the prestige , provincial students are also motivated to go and try their luck in Moscow by the Single State Exam (EGE), which provides them with certain advantages over Muscovites. All they have to do is tick boxes in a set of uniform multiple-choice tests. Those who get acceptable scores can, theoretically, be admitted to any college of their choice, including in Moscow. The minister's idea was to eliminate corruption common at entrance exams (examiners are bribed in order to give better grades), and to give everyone equal chances of receiving an education in Moscow.

Still, however equal the chances may have become, it was instantly clear that provincial applicants now had a better opportunity to force their way into Moscow and St. Petersburg universities. Those who got good EGE scores back home immediately packed and headed off to Moscow to apply. In other words, to grab a seat in a university classroom pushing a Moscow applicant aside.

The situation reached boiling point at the Higher School of Economics, which eventually admitted only a few Muscovites this summer. However, the School's director who is one of the authors of the EGE idea, says his school serves as a sort of "mixer" of social layers which will eventually form the real national elite. True, Muscovites also refer to themselves as "the national elite" and are ready to be "mixed" with whoever , but paradoxically they were practically excluded from the "mixing" process at the Higher School of Economics. The native speakers of the "Moscow dialect" are not at all happy with the situation. They claim they have been discriminated against and attribute the provincials' easy success to corruption in the provinces.

They are hardly right here, of course, because it is practically impossible to "buy" the tests in advance. Moreover , the results are processed here in Moscow, and all the sheets are anonymous, so it is impossible to give a specific applicant a better score. Only ten percent eventually got the highest scores.

Everything seemed to have been considered; but some of the applicants still managed to get round the smart reform authors. They simply ticked the boxes at random, using the "lottery principle." Some indeed had enormous luck - just like in a raffle - and got the highest score.

Dr. Viktor Sadovnichy, Director of MGU (Moscow State University), the country's most prestigious establishment, was the first to publicly disagree with the minister's opinion. He said he was rather wary of the absolute proliferation of EGE tests and thought them unacceptable for MGU as the only entrance test. "We need to know who we are admitting," he said. Sadovnichy even appeared at the exams to see to the traditional procedure and personally draw and announce the essay topics, eliciting cheers from the would-be students.

At MGU, Muscovites and their peers from the provinces have to pass the exams on a par, but the "guests" are still not scared away by the harsh competition. The number of those applying for one scholarship here is extremely high, but they still want to risk it. It is a great honour to be an MGU student. This year, 3,500 people will become full time students entitled to free tuition at the country's most prestigious university . Sociological surveys show that the bulk of the applicants (33 percent) consider the university's prestige the top priority; 14 percent ticked the prestige of the profession they would be pursuing ; 12 percent proved indifferent to the choice of institute , while the same number of the respondents mentioned the school's proximity to where they lived as a key criterion. What is surprising though, is that only 3 percent of the Russian boys said they had applied to college to have their military service deferred.

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