Russia pilots exam to stamp out bribes

The days of corrupt university professors taking bribes from students sitting entrance exams could be numbered if a Russian education ministry scheme to extend a pilot scheme of written school-leavers' tests goes ahead.

Vladimir Filippov, Russia's education minister and former rector of Moscow's Peoples Friendship University, hopes that by replacing a haphazard system of entrance exams with standardised school-leaving certificates, corruption can be stamped out.

A system based on carefully controlled written papers should remove opportunities for corrupt officials to demand bribes from students competing for university places.

Mr Filippov acknowledges the existence of corruption but contends that it is a small problem, mostly confined to private colleges or those faculties of state universities that are oversubscribed, such as economics.

Vladimir Shadrivkov, the deputy education minister responsible for testing and accreditation, said that acceptance of the new system was growing within universities.

But the experiences of university staff and parents keen to see their children enter good universities, suggest that corruption is not easy to stamp out.

Sasha Gavrusev, a 16-year-old student from Berezniki in central Russia who has taken the new test, said he would weigh up his options when the results came through. Good results would free him from a summer of cramming for traditional university entrance exams.

"These new written tests were optional and I thought they were much easier than our usual oral exams, as we were given a choice of questions," he said.

Russia's traditional oral school-leaving exams are widely disliked. Students must revise dozens of questions and then face a "sudden death" test where one question is picked at random for them to answer before a panel.

A similar system is used for university entrance and because assessors tend to be the same lecturers responsible for admissions, the temptation for a poorly paid professor to demand a bribe for a pass is strong.

Sasha Gavrusev was unaware that the pilot written tests were designed to combat corruption, but he snorted derisively when asked how effective they might be.

"They won't do any good," he said. "This is Russia." His mother, Zhenya Gavruseva, said she welcomed a system that promised to combat corruption but admitted she would be prepared to pay a bribe if it meant the difference between her son being accepted at university or not.

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