29.01.2008
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Wind of Change in Belarus

The rules for entering higher education in Belarus are going to be changed soon. The attitude of the Belarusian state to higher education is also changing. The ministry in charge has already warned that there are too many specialists with higher education diplomas and a lack of labor force at the same time. What are the steps to be taken by the state to solve the problem?

On January 11, the Minister of Education announced that he is going to “redirect the management of schools, not to prepare them [students] for entrance to HEI but to help them settle down after school. Some must enter university, some must study at vocational educational institution, and some have to go to work”. According to the Belarusian minister, it is important to understand that to be successful there is no need for higher education.

Among other suggested innovations, the Minister promised to apply the “administrative resource” to control the proceeding of students of the 11th and 12th grades of secondary school, after which young people can enter higher education (at the moment it is not regulated and depends only on personal will of a secondary school student). It is interesting to know how exactly the minister is going to use the “administrative resource” for that purpose, especially taking into account the international image of the country.

The minister, Mr. Radzkow, also suggests school graduates to pay for centralized testing (10 000 Belarusian rubles for each), which they take at the end of their final year, and the results can be submitted to universities instead of entrance exams.

Mr. Radzkow’s most impressive suggestion is to introduce a letter of recommendation from local authorities as a necessary prerequisite for entering higher education. The minister said the requirement would apply to those who would like to be enrolled at Public Administration, International Relations, and Journalism departments, because graduates of these faculties may be appointed to “especially responsible government positions” in the future. The letter of recommendation would be based on the general education school report, and on the student’s character and personality.

According to him, those seeking to become students at such departments should not only be knowledgeable at required subjects but must also have experience of leadership; for instance, as a member of the Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRYU). “In this case, the applicant is better prepared for jobs such as a diplomat and an administrator,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, the BRYU is a pro-regime youth organization which officially proclaimed to be a descendant of Komsomol – the youth branch of the communist party in the Soviet Union. Thus, Mr. Radzkow’s suggestion seems as an attempt to limit the access to higher education to people who cannot be “trusted” by the state. It goes without saying the importance of these fields of studies for the democratic development of a country still struggling against authoritarian rule.

This view of the role of higher education is rather astonishing. Instead of improving the quality of higher education and the system of higher education in general, the Belarusian government prefers to deal with keeping ideological discipline at universities, using the boldest methods – i.e., closing the door to HE for those who may have different political opinion about what is happening in the country.When the European educational community has already agreed about the importance of HE for the social, economic and democratic development of the societies, Belarus is insisting on the opposite. However, it does make sense, but only under the political regime as the one in Belarus, where the state prefers to have the monopoly on the minds of the citizens. And the more educated society is, the more difficult it is for the authoritarian state to keep them under control.

It is widely believed that the special mission of the university system lies in teaching and training the leaders of tomorrow. Apparently, Belarusian government wants to decide on its own who is going to be among those leaders.

If the ideas announced by the Belarusian minister of education become law, it will push Belarus back 50 years into the Soviet past, with a legally established system of choosing who is better than others.

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