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We, the Students: Going back to school a positive change for Russia

It’s never too late to become a student again. Sometimes it means finally doing what you’ve been dreaming of. Getting a second university degree — with one already in hand, after years on the job market or married life — is a new trend in Russia.

Going back to school in their late 20s and 30s, there are various goals that these people are after. While some of them want to challenge themselves and conquer a new discipline, others seek to make real their unrealized ambitions and dreams or get a leg up for a more successful career.

Since the educational system in Russia presupposes neither scholarships nor loans, going back to school also means having a fat wallet. At the same time, it means an improvement in the quality of the content taught at such degree programs. Mature and financially independent, those students, who pay from their own pockets, will no longer tolerate negligent or inefficient teaching. Their social status and experience make them demand more from professors without buying into the latter’s authoritarian and condescending air, as is often the case with young students. The magical words, “You are only a student here,” no longer have power.

The power of knowledge itself has withered in Russia for some time. Although higher education is officially free, hardly any student can get through the grid of entrance exams without attending an expensive preparatory course.

Furthermore, the four or five years of study will involve numerous gifts and presents to the faculty, organizing and paying for a festive graduation party and other tokens of attention.

None of those is considered to be a bribe or an attempt to grease somebody’s hand: Students, with little exception, view it as a normal part of their routine as students, the best and most reckless years of their lives. Not surprisingly, many school dropouts do not appreciate their university studies.

Most of them regard it as a necessary step to start earning their own living: “Whatever, I just need that piece of paper.” The reason why it happens is that, in Russia, without a diploma one is simply unemployable. Others, dependent on their parents’ money and opinion, attend a university to avoid conflict and family drama: “After all, I won’t need any of the crap they teach there in the future.” Compiled together, those aspects have led to a sinister devaluation of higher education in Russia.

But things change: People grow mushy, develop their interests, and learn to stand for their dreams.  Now that they are fortified with a stable income and smugly married, no parents, professors or peers can hold them from accomplishing what they really want.  Getting a second degree, grown-up students draw from their previous academic and practical experience. They rethink and reassess themselves and the society around them; they learn to make judgments and conclusions. They learn to be individuals and create their life and reality.

The Russian system of higher education is witnessing a process of twisted revival. Getting a second degree is becoming more and more popular among young professionals in Russia.  Either dissatisfied with their first degree or still hungry for knowledge, young Russians return to school, signaling positive changes in society.

Nadja Panchenko is a graduate student studying journalism and American studies who attended Ohio University last quarter and is a columnist for The Post. She is continuing her studies at Leipzig University. Email her at np577711@ohiou.edu.

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