Russian Education

The Russian educational system is very similar to those of other European countries. Students are provided with free public education until they reach the age of 18, when they graduate from a small school or a slightly larger gymnasium. Following graduation, students who wish to continue their formal education take a series of examinations that are used to determine their potential for entering any university in the country.
The examination process is the greatest difference between the Russian and American education systems. In Russia, while secondary education is important in terms of gaining knowledge and skills that might enable a student to do well on entrance exams, the Russian transcript, with rare exceptions, has no bearing on admission to a university. Some outstanding students may be accepted to a university without taking examinations, or after only taking one and doing well on it. But for most students, the entrance examination process is the doorway to higher education.
A Russian student in the Republic of Karelia receiving tutoring from her instructor.
Also different from the American higher education model, Russian students do not attend universities to pursue a general education. Instead, they choose a 'department,' or major field of study, before they enter, and the examinations are tailored to test skills or knowledge of specific departments. After taking the examinations, a small percentage who do exceptionally well on their exams are admitted to the universities and do not have to pay tuition. The next group of students -- those who pass the exams but do not do as well as the first group -- are admitted but have to pay tuition in order to attend.
In Petrozavodsk, the capital of the Republic of Karelia, the tuition payments for each of the two universities -- the Petrozavodsk State University and the Karelian Pedagogical University -- average about $500 to $1000 per year in American dollars. However, because income levels in the Republic are so low -- the average salary was reported in Nov. 2002 by the Karelian government as $160 US dollars -- this sum is a significant obstacle for students wishing to continue their education. In the rural areas of the Republic, where greater poverty often results in a poorer educational system, far fewer students are able to gain admission or afford to attend any university.

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