Academic Rights in Russia and the Internationalization of Higher Education

By Dubrovskiy, Dmitry; Beecher, David | Academe, Fall 2019 | Go to article overview

Academic Rights in Russia and the Internationalization of Higher Education


Dubrovskiy, Dmitry, Beecher, David, Academe


Modernizing reforms in Russia carried out under the banner of "Westernization" and "Europeanization"-and this has been their character throughout history-tend to treat modernization as a technical process, ignoring institutional transformations, not to mention the democratic values embedded in the modernization project. The implementation of educational reform in Russia thus raises a question: How does the incorporation of Russia into the system of international higher education affect academic rights and academic freedom? Can integration into that system by itself guarantee academic freedom within the Russian academy? To answer this question, one must first understand the role academic freedom played in Soviet scholarship and education.

THE SOVIET ERA

The autonomy of the university and freedom of inquiry and education in the Soviet Union were, of course, illusory, primarily because of the role that higher education and science played in the Soviet modernization project, which aspired not only to technological and military-industrial development but also to the education of the "new communist person." The natural sciences were closely monitored by the special security services because they were associated with military production, while the human and social sciences came under close scrutiny because they were part of the Soviet ideological project. Only a small portion-no more than 7 or 8 percent-of Soviet scholars enjoyed some freedoms within the Academy of Sciences, a research institution. The government granted much greater freedom here than in the broader system of higher education in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in order to keep science as such from completely disappearing. The system in general was rigidly centralized, uniformly administered both vertically and horizontally. It lacked competition and was based on single-channel funding. Civil society, of course, played a minimal role.

In practice, the nature of Soviet control was uneven, and it was especially weak in the wake of Khrushchev's moderate de-Stalinization in the 1950s. A wide gap existed between official decrees and real practices in the institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences and in universities, one that persisted until the last days of the Soviet Union and led to the emergence of protodemocratic processes such as the election of rectors and deans. Symbolic capital-especially international recognition as scientists-accorded privileges that might be viewed as a limited form of academic freedom to a very small percentage of scholars. Moreover, even during the Cold War, communication and cooperation with foreign countries did not cease, although it was severely limited and tightly controlled by the party, state bodies, and the state security agency, the KGB.

Nevertheless, it was this qualified freedom that led some research scientists to become founders of the Soviet human rights movement. Despite the near disappearance of this movement by 1980, perestroika and especially the first and last free elections in Russia in 1989 turned a number of academics, including A. A. Sobchak, A. D. Sakharov, and G. V. Starovoitova, into leaders of the new democratic movement. Scientists had been elected deputies before, but according to the logic of Soviet parliamentarism, those who became legislators had tended to come from the Academy of Sciences, prominent scientists who saw their political participation as a "social burden" and did not have any particular understanding of their role and tasks as elected representatives. The new wave of scientists in politics was different: it was not by chance that of the 24 percent of representatives of science, education, and culture who were members of the last Supreme Soviet legislative body, most joined the democratic wing.

NEW DIVISIONS

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Iron Curtain, the situation changed significantly. For a long time the Russian Academy of Sciences and other educational institutions granted scholars considerable academic freedom, and the institutions themselves enjoyed a high degree of autonomy, albeit with very little state funding. …

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