The Plod of Sectorial Higher Education? The Case of Agricultural Universities in Russia
Russia's agriculture produces around 3.7 per cent of the country's GDP, employs 9.2 per cent of the national workforce and contributes around 6 per cent of the country's exports. The sector has shown remarkable resilience in the face of wider economic turbulence. Self‐sufficiency rates for the main agricultural commodities are relatively high. Agricultural exports have grown very significantly since 2000 especially for wheat and meslin (wheat and rye mixture). Meat production has been growing steadily, particularly in the poultry and pork sectors. Whilst the agri‐food sector has great potential to play an even more prominent role in Russia's economy, it suffers from relatively low productivity and an outdated technological base. The main drive for efficiency has come mainly from the relatively large‐scale agricultural firms, who generated more than half of the total value of agricultural output in 2016. Foreign policy instability, including economic sanctions, the devaluation of the national currency and declining economic growth have weakened the sector and caused an increase in the prices of imported goods and equipment. At the same time Russian products have replaced high value‐added imports and Russia's agricultural producers are expanding into new markets.
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.
Drawing on the discourse analysis of the higher education policy documents from 1950s to 2013 and interviews in two Russian universities, the chapter addresses the transformations in the purposes of higher education. The findings show that the main dichotomy in regard of the purposes of higher education unfolds between economic instrumentalism (vocational training) and social instrumentalism (personal development). In the Soviet documents, higher education was considered both as an instrument of national socio-economic development (through vocational training) and an instrument of individual growth. The latter role was predominant as education was an essential part of the broader social project of constructing a “new Soviet man”. In the transition period of mid-1980s–mid 1990s the policy discourse reflects an attempt to depart from economic instrumentalism and focus on the humanistic and social nature of education. Later documents present the transition to the economic instrumentalism emphasizing the economic role and economic rationales in higher education policy, which reflects the nature of the recent neoliberal reforms in the country. However, at the institutional level, social reality is more complex: there are significant tensions between economic purposes of higher education, utilitarianism, interiorized by administrators and faculty since the Soviet time, and social mission of higher education they face every day. Revealing the continuities in the discourse over several decades, the chapter shows that the predominance of economic discourse leads to the distortion of the educational mission of higher education, and in the environment impoverished by economic rationales, the importance of the social purposes of higher education has been rising.
Institutions affect investment decisions, including investments in human capital. Hence institutions are relevant for the allocation of talent. Good market-supporting institutions attract talent to productive value-creating activities, whereas poor ones raise the appeal of rent-seeking. We propose a theoretical model that predicts that more talented individuals are particularly sensitive in their career choices to the quality of institutions, and test these predictions on a sample of around 95 countries of the world. We find a strong positive association between the quality of institutions and graduation of college and university students in science, and an even stronger negative correlation with graduation in law. Our findings are robust to various specifications of empirical models, including smaller samples of former colonies and transition countries. The quality of human capital makes the distinction between educational choices under strong and weak institutions particularly sharp. We show that the allocation of talent is an important link between institutions and growth.