The Russian educational system today faces two global challenges: improving productivity (which currently stands at less than 50% of the average for OECD countries) and encouraging innovation (only 9% of Russian companies have adopted innovative technology). However, the country's educational system in its current state is incapable of meeting these challenges, said Kirill Vasiliev, lead author of the report and Manager of Education Projects at the World Bank Moscow Office, as he presented the report on May 24, 2013.
The economy is placing ever greater demands on social and behavioral skills (such as problem solving, goal achievement, communication and time management skills) which the graduates of Russian universities do not have.
Research has revealed that employers resent a lack of these skills in their employees even more than a lack of technical skills or foreign language proficiency. 30% of the employers surveyed report an unmet need for relevant skills in least one category of employees (workers, managers or specialists), and the crosscutting skills required in all these categories include regular communication with colleagues and an ability to solve problems as they arise.
"Inadequate skills and training is a key problem which inhibits company growth, coming third after corruption and high taxes," the study says. At the same time, hardworking, self-motivated, and emotionally stable individuals have more employment opportunities and higher incomes.
The study has found that the gap between required and available skills increases at every subsequent level of the education system and peaks as university graduates enter the labour market.
The situation is best in the elementary school. Here, Russians lead in basic skills, such as reading and maths. However, secondary school students in Russia already lag behind those in other countries. Further on, skills mastered by Russian university students include 'writing texts', followed by 'proficiency in a foreign language' and 'making a presentation'. Cooperation with others is the least mastered skills, even though employers rank it as one of the most important. "It appears that universities train people for something entirely different from what the employers expect," Vasiliev concludes.
Relevant skills are higher in those students who combine their studies with a job; they are more likely to experiment, and they are more extrovert, more reliable, better organized, etc.
The problem is not only and not as much the poor quality of teaching, but rather the irrelevant standards established for universities. "Just three of the skills required by the market are adequately reflected in university standards, namely: regular reading for Bachelors, reading and writing for Masters, and teamwork," the report says.
This situation is partly the legacy of an educational system which used to be centrally managed and highly regulated by the state. Today, the 'skills development system' no longer looks to the state as its only customer for educational services. However, a fully functional relationship between employers and educational establishments has yet to be developed, so the providers often develop their courses based on what is possible for them, rather than what is required by their customers and service users.
Informational asymmetry also contributes to an imbalance between the demand and supply of skills. Russia lacks an established system for collecting, analyzing and reporting on labourmarket data which can then be used to inform the country's educational policy. Therefore, little information is available about the situation in the labour market, educational and career pathways, and employment opportunities to guide students, workers, and employers.
Interestingly, students and employers often have very different ideas on which skills are required in the labour market. For example, many students believe foreign language proficiency to be one of the most important skills (second only to the specific technical skills of a job), whereas employers do not find this skill so significant and rank it 12th in order of importance. Conversely, employers find an employee's 'ability to come up with unconventional solutions' very important, but students generally consider it to be of little value.
Head of the HSE Subdepartment of Labour and Population Economics Sergei Roschin highlights two specific features of the Russian system of education. Firstly, Russia has embarked on a path of total higher education, therefore "it is difficult to speak about the demand for education in general."
Secondly, "education has developed based on its own internal criteria … The market of educational services has been the leading party. This 'dictatorship of education' has causeda loss of feedback from the labour market," says Roschin.
Economists at the World Bank and the Higher School of Economics propose a series of steps to guide the educational system towards meeting the market demand and training future employees in the skills required by their employers.
Firstly, they recommend creating effective incentives (financial, institutional, and organizational) for changing the content, form, and method of training. Such incentives should be applied in both the public and private sectors. Education providers should be encouraged to help their students build marketable skills and competences.
To achieve this, the authors recommend introducing outcome-based performance evaluation criteria for educational services and rewards for the best providers. They also suggest that employers should have the authority to provide guidance to the educational system.
Another potentially useful step would be to strengthen the providers' skills-building capacity by introducing modern administrative practices, broadening the range of vocational training courses, involving industry professionals in vocational training, and massive training of teachers in contemporary methods of building and assessing their students' skills and competences.
Yet another useful step would be to reduce the exisiting information asymmetries, in particular by creating a system for labour market needs assessment through periodic surveys and providing an information framework to link educational and occupational pathways.
A comment from Natalia Zolotareva, Head of Department at the Russian Ministry of Education and Science:
The main focus in the educational system should be on what the student achieves as a result, rather than on what he or she has studied. There is a demand for those who can achieve results, not for those who know about the process. Teachers as well as students should be results-oriented, and their performance should be measured accordingly.
A comment from Dmitry Peskov, director of the Young Professionals Section at the Agency for Strategic Initiatives:
Investment in competences is the key to change. The current system of public administration is not competent enough to change the situation. Similarly, employers do not always have the right skills and cannot formulate their requirements to employee competences, and more broadly - to the educational system in general.
I believe that in order to change the situation we need to tap into the international experience and encourage universities to set up innovation-driven companies. Then the relevant skills may well be developed.