Presenter: Gordey Yastrebov (EUI)

Co-authors: Yuliya Kosyakova (Institute for Employment Research, Nuremberg) and Dmitriy Kurakin (Higher School of Economics, Moscow)

When: Thursday 15th December, 14.00-15.30.

Where: Seminar Room 3, Badia Fiesolana

Abstract: This paper was motivated by a peculiar phenomenon of increasing popularity of technical college education in post-Soviet Russia. The demand for this type of education remained in steady decline throughout the 1990s ever since Russia’s market transition, largely being pushed aside by increasing demand for higher education. However, this tendency has suddenly reversed in 2009. Interestingly, 2009 was also the year in which the Unified State Examination (USE) has been introduced nationwide – a reform, which was thought to foster equal opportunities in access to higher education and efficient allocation of talent in the educational system. Since successful passage of USE has become the primary (and in many cases the only) eligibility condition to access higher education, it has increased the risks associated with poor academic performance in secondary school and, quite possibly, has forced many students to abandon plans for higher education (and switch to vocational). We argue, however, that the introduction of USE has not so much diverted poor performers away from higher education as it has redefined the educational strategies leading to it. This is deemed the most likely outcome given the specific institutional context of Russia’s educational system: Whereas the state obliges all higher education institutions to consider USE as the primary admissions criterion for all academic track takers, it allows the institutions to waive this requirement for vocational track takers and to substitute it with their own admissions criteria. Vocational track thus simply becomes a less challenging pathway to higher education for those risking the USE failure. Moreover, it potentially becomes one of the mechanisms by which socioeconomically advantaged families can easily guarantee their children access to higher education (and thus maintain social reproduction) even if the latter show little academic aptitude in school (i.e. the compensatory effects of social background). We test the validity of these and other related arguments using data from Trajectories in Education and Occupations project – a national longitudinal survey which traces a sample cohort of Russian students based on the 2011 TIMSS sample (N = 4,893). The findings are discussed in the context of efficiency and consistency of the USE reform, and the institutional adaptation of the Russian educational system in the years following its implementation.