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Article

Where Soviet and neoliberal discourses meet: the transformation of the purposes of higher education in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia

Higher Education. 2017. Vol. 74. No. 6. P. 1091-1108 .

This paper studies transformations in the role of higher education in Russia as represented in official Soviet and post-Soviet policy documents between the 1950s and 2013. The focus is on the categories defining the purposes and tasks of higher education in the larger context of society and economy. There is a basic dichotomy in relation to the purposes and role of higher education, between vocational training (which is seen as a determining factor in the economic development) and personal development/education (seen as a condition of social development). The balance of these two poles, economic instrumentalism and social instrumentalism, changes throughout the history. The Soviet documents emphasized the importance of both, with the predominance of the social instrumentalism. The transitional period of the late 1980s and early 1990s is characterized by increasing humanistic discourse in regard to higher education. Later post-Soviet documents, reflecting neoliberal policies, largely abandon social instrumentalism and more exclusively promote the economic role of higher education. Economic instrumentalism is the meeting point of two historical eras, with their respective ideologies and political agendas. Connecting Soviet and neoliberal discourses highlights the importance of historical legacies in regard to the economic, applied nature of higher education, and underlines the crucial role of the state, which facilitated acceptance of neoliberal agendas in Russian society. The analysis also contributes to further understanding of the nature of the neoliberal reforms globally and in post-socialist countries.