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Vyacheslav Nikonov: Education Is an Inertial System, and Sharp Changes Are Dangerous

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Vyacheslav Nikonov: Education Is an Inertial System, and Sharp Changes Are Dangerous

22.03.2013

On March 20, the United Russia faction in the State Duma recommended appointing Vyacheslav Nikonov as Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Education. Mr. Nikonov currently serves in multiple positions, including Chairman of the Russkiy Mir Foundation Management Committee, Dean of the Moscow State University School of Public Administration and First Deputy Chair of the State Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs. This recommendation will be brought up for a vote before the Duma on March 22, and Mr. Nikonov is expected to be appointed.

– Many know you as a political scientist and not as a specialist in education. What do you know about this sphere?

– I for many years have been working as a teacher. Furthermore, I am the Dean of the School of Public Administration at Moscow State University. So I am not only a political scientist but primarily a teacher.

– How will you get along with the Minister of Education Dmitry Livanov? Do you know him?

– Yes, we are acquainted but I cannot say that we have worked closely on any issue. This is yet come.

– How do you relate to him?

– Objectively.

– Will you criticize him?

– If I do not agree with something, then I will state my opinion.

– Do you have a meeting planned yet with the minister?

– No, but one will take place in the near future.

– Have you prepared some questions? Will they be tough questions?

– Why should they be tough questions? To start with we need to agree upon the agenda for legislatively supporting the educational process. For us it is important to have a line of communication open with the teaching community, with the ministry, with university rectors and with parent groups as well.

– Livanov did not agree with the position of the State Duma on the Dima Yakovlev Law.

– Here we have some clear disagreements. I was in favor of this law. It’s time we put an end to this disgrace – the child adoption business. To the turning over our children to who knows who without the possibility of controlling who these people are.

– Yes, the children’s ombudsman Pavel Astakhov complained of this…

– Because the agreement between Russia and America is not working. We cannot determine what is happening with our children. And monstrous things are happening about which many already know.

– How do you get along with Astakhov?

– We get along well; we are friends.

– Nowadays many are saying that education is being turned into a paid system.

– I do not see any such signs. They simply do not exist. They criticize everything that the government and authorities are doing. I do not know one step that the government has taken which has not caused criticism. Sometimes it is grounded, and I also believe that our education system is underfunded. This is not in doubt. As far as paid education is concerned, this could partially be the case and I do not see anything frightening about this.

– But could it turn out that paid education will crowd out free education?

– If the sphere of free education is not cut back, then it will not be crowded out. The number of free spots in universities is fixed.

– How do you feel about the system of rating universities?

– I would be very careful about compiling such ratings. Reputations are earned over the course of decades and they are the legacy not only of a particular university but also of the country. When with on stroke of the pen universities are declared ineffective, this reputation is destroyed, and there is not use in that.

It’s another thing when the criteria used by the Ministry of Education are, to say the least, debatable. If we judge by the proposed criteria, then one of the best universities in the world – California Institute of Technology, where I once taught – would be categorized as ineffective. But this university never falls below the top ten worldwide and is often in the top three. There are no teachers there who finished that particular university. The university forbids those who studied at that university from teaching there. The classes sometimes had only three students. Nonetheless, this is a top university in the number of Nobel Prize winners. It is not possible to use a standard approach to all universities!

– What is your view of the Unified State Exam. Will you lobby for the removal of the USE and return to the old system?

– Education is an inertial system and sharp moves are probably dangerous. In recent years this has quite dramatically shaken up our system.

If we go and cancel the USE now, it would be a colossal blow. The only thing that needs to be worked on is developing adequate tests for the USE and ensure that there is no room for corruption. Take a look at the experience of other countries. This isn’t our know-how. And there it is functioning rather well.

– Are you acquainted with you predecessor as chairman of the committee Alexander Degtyarev?

– Prior to the State Duma we were not acquainted. But within the chamber we have had the opportunity to communicate. Moreover, I invited him to deliver lectures at our School of Public Administration at MSU. He is a real professor and good teacher.

– Does the name of your grandfather Vyacheslav Molotov help you?

– It depends. I cannot say unequivocally. The first fourth of my life I belonged to a family that was considered an enemy of the party. On the other hand, I learned many things earlier than my peers. Much of what I know and understand about contemporary history and world order I learned first-hand.

Press Service of the School of Public Administration, Moscow State University

   
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