Ministers hope a new end-of-school exam will foil those hoping to buy off admissions staff, reports Simon Pirani.
THE Russian government is to replace university entrance exams with a standard end-of-school test in an attempt to stop people paying bribes to get into higher education.
But opponents of the plan, including the universities themselves, say it will just transfer the corruption problem to schools.
Generations of Russian school-leavers have had to take oral entrance exams at the university to which they apply. Education minister Vladimir Filippov proposes to scrap these and replace them with an A-level-type final exam. University applicants would be judged on their performance in this exam.
Mr Filippov says the new exam will end the bribery of admissions staff, a chronic problem.
But sceptics say that, since the new tests are almost certain to be marked in schools, the bribes will just be paid there instead.
Alexeii Gusev, who heads the admissions commission at the history faculty of Moscow State University, told The TES: "Most people in education believe that the proposals will simply transfer corruption to schools."
The Union of University Rectors is opposing the move.
According to the proposals, exams will be marked by "people who have not participated in the educational process".
The plan is part of broader economic and social reforms proposed by economics minister German Gref. His planis strongly backed by President Vladimir Putin and is being bulldozed through government departments.
A key attraction of university is that students avoid military service. Avoiding conscription is the biggest worry of many parents of male teenagers. Even if the boy avoids service in Chechnya, he is likely to fall victim to the notorious bullying regimes and forced labour rackets run by officers.
Mr Gusev said desperation to avoid army call-up had heightened the bribery problem.
"If our commission rejects an application from a male student, it is likely that his parents will come to see me. They will break down in tears and say that, for the sake of a couple of marks, the boy's life will be ruined.
"It is difficult to disagree with them; after two years in the Russian army, a person's taste for higher learning has often disappeared," he said.
As well as bribing tutors, affluent parents can send their children to the mushrooming number of fee-paying universities, licensed by the state.
Many of these new private universities brazenly advertise that students will be excused from military call-up.
The Gref plan also proposes replacing direct financing of universities with financing paid per student, as in the UK.
But universities fear it will do little to stop the rich buying the best opportunities for their children. Mr Gusev said the reforms would be "another nail in the coffin of free tertiary education".