stories

Regulators have revoked their accreditation of the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, one of Russia's last major private colleges

Meduza
22:43, 21 june 2018

The Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, known as “Shaninka,” is one of Russia’s main universities for the study of the humanities.

The school was founded in 1995 by the British sociologist Teodor Shanin, who’s credited with pioneering the West's study of Russian peasantry. He’s also the author of 14 books and an advocate of interdisciplinary research that fuses history, economic philosophy, and political science. In 1974, Shanin joined the faculty at the University of Manchester, where he’s a professor emeritus today. From 1995 until 2007, he served as the rector of the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, before becoming its president.

Shaninka offers Master’s programs in law, sociology, public history, international politics, media management, urban studies, socio-cultural project management, applied psychology, and education management. The school has roughly 300 students a year, and graduates receive not only a Russian diploma, but also diplomas from different partner universities in the UK, including the University of Manchester.

The school’s founders set out to create a Russian institution of higher learning that would rival the best universities in the world in all the most important ways, and Shaninka’s quality of education reaches the level of instruction at top schools internationally. The school’s current faculty includes historian and publicist Vasily Zharkov, sociologist Viktor Vakhstain, fashion historian and writer Linor Goralik, theater critic Pavel Rudnev, and sociologist and philosopher Grigory Yudin.

Rosobrnadzor determined that Shaninka doesn’t observe Russian education standards, and now the school can’t issue state-recognized diplomas.

On June 20, Russia’s Federal Education and Science Supervision Agency (Rosobrnadzor) refused to re-accredit Shaninka, explaining in a statement published on its website that its ruling was based on an accreditation review. Inspectors concluded that the school violates state education standards. The agency’s report says Shaninka’s undergraduate and graduate programs fail in many areas to maintain “professional competence corresponding to the designated professional activities.” The re-accreditation commission also ruled that some instructors’ level of education does not meet the state’s criteria.

These inspections are carried out every five years, and any institution of higher learning is supposed to confirm its state accreditation. Federal regulators told Meduza that Shaninka’s loss of accreditation does not constitute grounds for shutting down the school, which can operate as long as it maintains its education license. The school's graduates, however, will no longer receive Russia's common state-recognized diplomas. Instead, they’ll get a document recording the end of their education at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences.

Students who no longer wish to study at Shaninka, following its de-accreditation, can transfer to other institutions with the same status, which new universities must honor. Students can also transfer to other schools on their own, but these individuals wouldn’t be guaranteed any particular status.

Sergey Zuyev, Shaninka’s rector, said in an announcement published on the school’s website that department administrators will be meeting soon with students to discuss the recent developments. Speaking to Meduza, Zuyev said he agrees with some of the inspectors’ findings, but categorically rejects others, including several factual discrepancies, he says. “For example, they write that we lack an up-to-code courtroom for our law students. Not only do we have this facility, but we showed it to the commission members,” Zuyev says.

The school’s rector says Rosobrnadzor inspections typically ignore minor details that proved decisive this time. “Shaninka is known for the quality of its instruction. In terms of our graduates and their careers, we’re one of [Russia’s] most successful, albeit smallest, educational institutions. What claims could anyone possibly make against the quality of education here? Were there some technical issues? Yes. But you can find that in any university, large or small,” Zuyev says. In his official statement, he stressed that the inspectors’ findings “should become the focus of careful analysis and further substantive discussion, both here [at Shaninka] and, if possible, with the authors of the report.”

The inspection was planned, and Shaninka was prepared. An unconfirmed report suggests that the results were obvious before they were announced.

The school says it only learned about Rosobrnadzor’s decision on June 21, when it saw the regulator’s report posted on its website. Olga Lukinova, the head of Shaninka’s marketing and information policy department, told Meduza that the accreditation inspection was planned and carried out normally. Lukinova confirmed that graduates will continue to receive diplomas from Shaninka and its partners in the UK, such as the University of Manchester.

“We believe that our prospective students are people with critical thinking skills, and we think they come here for knowledge, not a scrap of paper, which is why we’ll continue to provide a quality education,” Lukinova said, adding that the school will soon post a warning that it no longer has state accreditation.

A source in Russian academia familiar with Shaninka’s situation (who asked to remain anonymous) told Meduza that the inspectors’ hurriedness alerted administrators to possible problems. The review board was only on campus for two days (one less than the standard minimum. “On the morning of the third day, Rosobrnadzor summoned the whole commission, and they all went back, just to finish a few formal things and sign some papers,” Meduza’s source says. “The procedure was as formal as possible: they requested the documents without making any comments, and avoided any contact with the department heads.”

Meduza’s source believes that Shaninka lost its accreditation for the same reasons that the European University in St. Petersburg suffered this fate. “Shaninka is in very good standing, and its graduates even go on to work in the federal government. [But] in reality it’s also Russia’s last remaining private higher education institute. There used to be three places at this level: there was the New Economic School (which became almost a branch of the Higher School of Economics, and avoided these showdowns) and there was the European University. Shaninka was the last one.”

Shaninka’s extensive international connections offer another explanation for the school’s loss of state accreditation, says Meduza’s source, who calls Rosobrnadzor’s ruling a “political decision” tied to “Russian law enforcement agencies’ mind-boggling suspicion of all things related to foreign contacts.”

James Harris, a professor at the University of Leeds who's worked at Shaninka as an external examiner, told Meduza that the decision to revoke the school’s accreditation is a “strange and troubling move.” “I don’t want to speculate about the reasons, but higher education in Russia is a very politicized field. I don’t want to comment on the Russian government’s possible motives, but I will say that I disapprove of this move, revoking the accreditation of such a high-quality educational institution. Without any doubt, Shaninka is a high-quality school on par with European and British institutions,” Harris told Meduza.

Text by Olga Strakhovskaya and Sasha Sulim, translation by Kevin Rothrock