The FPPE, placed in the context of conceptual blueprints to reform Russian education, sets goals and lays guidelines, but fails to provide specific methods or mechanism to attain its goals, even though economic and organizational mechanisms are tremendously important for achieving the objectives it outlines. This generally vague character of the education program cannot, of itself, be viewed in negative terms: programs as tools for government regulation differ greatly from programs that existed in the centrally planned economy and were understood as a predetermined train of specified events. Since programs in a market economy are designed (more precisely, are to be designed) to foster coordination between public institutions and non-public organizations that do not obey orders from on high, specific measures can only be incorporated in such programs as they get under way, through regular talks and contracts between public management agencies and independent organizations. The quality of the FPPE as a program document can only be evaluated in terms of adequacy of its goals and guidelines to the current problems confronting education in the Russian Federation.
The FPPE comprises two stages -1999-2001 and 2002-2005. The first stage of the Program includes measures aimed at (a) maintaining the existing network of educational institutions and (b) staging a series of experiments in the regions, to be followed by large-scale innovations at the second stage of the Program. Specific measures are expected to be adopted within the program framework at government level, with necessary funds allocated annually from the budget to carry them out.
To maintain the existing network of educational institutions, the program developers take the beaten track of requests for funds being sent to the Federal Center. The total outlays needed to develop the educational system and put the innovative proposals of the program into effect are to be calculated on the basis of education-related laws, including provision of government guarantees to participants in the educational process. The budget section concerned with funding for the educational system proposes to “provide for a gradual growth in allocations for both the operation of the system [the “Education” section of the budget] and measures and projects (innovations) of the Program with the ultimate aim of meeting, by the year 2005, the estimated requirements for funding.” This approach casts serious doubts on the feasibility of the Program and, therefore, on the possibility of securing financing for all the measures outlined in the Program.
As regards the choice of a specific course of action and measures specified in the Program, it is typically lacking clearly articulated priorities whatsoever. In particular, a highly important goal lost among the general objectives of the Program is “improving the economic mechanisms sustaining the educational system.” In fact, it follows a long way behind such goals as “protecting and promoting the development of ethnic cultures in education” and “developing and comprehensively coordinating and regulating academic, scientific and technological activities of higher education establishments.” The list of development guidelines for individual levels of education includes such objectives critically important for stability in education funding as “adoption of statutory financing” or “maintaining independence of educational institutions,” which again trailing much less important goals as “conducting leading-edge research in social and humanitarian sciences,” “developing measures to stimulate a wide-scale involvement of students in scientific research projects,” and so on.
The structure of outlays to be provided, under the Program, from the Federal Budget and extra-budgetary sources to finance Program measures and projects (innovations) and year-to-year capital outlays inhibits correlation of these outlays at different education levels, suggesting the need for Program priorities to be put in focus.
Of all the experiments to be carried out during the first stage of the Program, attention must, in our view, be focused on two: (1) adoption of 12-year schooling in selected general education establishments in a full-scale experiment format (preparatory and initial stages) and (2) return of all unlawfully privatized educational institutions, torn out of their public context, to the educational system after comprehensive tests.
As we already said, the first of these innovations is profoundly important from the viewpoint of its economic and social implications for general education, while the second one is highly dubious from the perspective of elaboration of procedures and mechanisms for its implementation and its possible social implications. The inclusion of these two innovations in the FPPE for experimental trials is, to our mind, evidence of insufficient attention having been given to the results of discussions of Program concept proposals held in the fall and winter of 1998.
A major flaw of the Program is that it almost completely ignores the possibility of coexistence of different scenarios (hypotheses) for Russia’s economic development in the medium term. With the Russian economy unstable as it is now and disregard for factors outside education, including macroeconomic forces, the feasibility of the measures it proposes looks uncertain.
Actually, the FPPE, therefore, only provides a framework for specific annual target programs that will, with proper amendments in priorities and economic organizational mechanism, allow real reforms to be carried through in education. The fact that, seven years after work started on the FPPE, the Program, a revised version of the original, has been given an official status is certainly a positive sign.
Decree No. 1134, Additional Support for General Education Institutions in the Russian Federation, signed by the Federal President on August 31, 1999, is an important milestone in the development of public management principles and economic and organizational backing for general school funding. As it is unlikely to expect a sharp increase in funding from local budgets in the short term off-budget financial inflows have come to play a prominent role in school life, the Decree attaches importance to a wide-scale establishment of school boards of trustees as public bodies stimulating an influx of additional off-budget funds to schools and supervising their commitment to intended uses.
It is significant that the Education Law passed back in 1992 raised a possibility of boards of trustees being set up at every school to encourage the flow of off-budget funds into school budgets and to enforce citizen control over their commitment. According to the Education Ministry, however, boards of trustees operated at some 8 per cent of all schools in Russia, at best, by the end of 1999. This small percentage is explained, first, by the absence of express laws regulating the activities of such boards; second, the sponsors’ low economic interest in investing funds in school needs; third, a lack of adequate organizational support from local and regional authorities; and, fourth, existing differentiation in opportunities the students’ parents have to give financial support to boards of trustees.
To implement the presidential decree, the Federal Education Ministry has drafted model regulations for a board of trustees of a public or municipal educational institution. The regulations actually only list the key functions and possible work scope of a school board of trustees, leaving such matters as its elections and powers to be specified in the school statute taking account of the local specifics of each general education establishment. Moreover, focus is to be given to such elements essential for the operation of this novel body as (a) forms and methods of supervision over the spending of off-budget funds received by a school; (b) a mechanism of coordination and cooperation with local education management bodies and financial agencies; and (c) enforcement of openness and accessibility of reports on the performance of boards of trustees to the public.
Of course, the publication of the presidential decree cannot of itself guarantees a rapid rise in the influx of additional funds into school budgets. The objectives the decree sets, namely, legalization of off-budget inflows and work to enhance the efficiency of their utilization by broadening the range of local citizen control, highlight an important reserve capable of stabilizing the economic situation of general education establishments. To turn boards of trustees into really effective citizen control bodies, it is important that:
(1) the statute of each school specify exactly the kind of public self-management and supervision body operating in the school and its functions and powers, so that unwarranted duplication of functions of the boards of trustees, parents’ committees, school committees, and other bodies could be avoided;
(2) a complex of economic measured be developed and adopted at the municipal and regional levels to attract sponsor contributions and donations for the needs of schools;
(3) considering the wide-ranging opportunities different schools have for maintaining boards of trustees, regional and local authorities render organizational and methodological assistance to schools, such as (a) putting representatives of the local authorities, employers, patrons, and other interested parties on the school boards of trustees; and (b) setting up regional boards of trustees, such as those for a number of small rural schools, for example. Finally, any possible discrepancies are to be removed between the Budget Code of the Russian Federation, just put into effect, and the regulations of boards of trustees regarding the schools’ powers and degree of freedom in spending off-budget financial funds.
The slow development of the new labor market institutions has seriously aggravated the problem of employment for graduates of higher education establishments, technical secondary schools, and vocational training schools. Apparently, in a situation when an overwhelming majority of potential employers are in the non-public sector, new approaches are required to develop and implement measures to improve the young people’s adaptability and raise their competitiveness on the labor market. At the initiative of the Russian Association of Professional Organizations of College and University Students and Graduates, the Federal Education Ministry and the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Development issued a joint Order (No. 175, of October 4, 1999) on Measures to Promote the Efficiency of a System to Assist Graduates of Vocational education Institutions in Finding Employment and Adapting to the Labor Market.
The chief measures to improve young people’s conditions on the labor market include: (1) providing school leavers, junior and senior students, and graduates of educational establishments with guidance and counseling based on regional information science centers, new information technologies centers, consulting centers at educational establishments of the Federal Education Ministry and territorial youth counseling centers of the Russian Labor Ministry; (2) authorizing education management bodies in Federation members and territorial employment service agencies, jointly with government-run educational institutions, to identify, on the basis of forecasts of changes in the job vacancy structure, size and occupational skills of the work force on the territorial and sectoral levels, the needs of enterprises, offices, and organizations, regardless of ownership form and business organization, for skilled young graduates; (3) establishing in each Federation member a database on job openings, with access to an integrated national database network; and (4) developing regional and municipal programs to assist graduates of vocational education institutions in finding jobs and adapting to the labor market.
No doubt, implementation of these measures will require serious efforts to review the list of college specialties: to give an example, engineering colleges have cut their specialty lists from 305 to 72, in a bid to achieve a more flexible specialization through multi-level training.
It is common fact, however, that a law or any other statutory act passed in Russia these days is no guarantee that the law will be complied with. Besides some notorious facts (of which the fate of Presidential Decree No. 1 is the most striking example), this skepticism is reinforced by the results of a survey of educational establishments at all levels and with various ownership forms conducted by the Federal Ministry of Antimonopoly Policy. Its goal was to verify compliance with the laws on protection of consumer rights to receive paid educational services. The survey was conducted in 62 of Russia’s regions, in an average of two educational establishments (public or municipal and non-public) of each type - preschool, general school, primary, secondary and higher vocational education - in each region, or ten educational establishments in each region (a total of 657 educational establishments, including 325 public, 159 municipal, and 173 non-public). No infringements of federal laws were found in only 56 (or 8.5 per cent) of all the educational institutions surveyed. Of the total 712 instances of infringement, 350 were infringements of consumer rights to know details about a service provider and the kind of educational services provided; 362 had to do with the execution of contracts for paid educational services and the incorporation of contractual conditions infringing consumer rights as compared to the rules specified in consumer rights protection laws. The survey materials testify to a rapid growth of the market for paid educational services, but mostly because an increasing number of public and municipal institutions begin providing paid educational services, while the number of non-public educational establishments has been rising only insignificantly in recent years. In other words, the survey confirmed the familiar conclusion that privatization and commercialization of public education has got under way spontaneously.