Leading Russian professor talks of youth dissatisfaction with education and government

Russian police at an anti-corruption rally on March 26 Cover credit: Wikimedia

Russian police at an anti-corruption rally on March 26
Cover credit: Wikimedia

Professor Mikhail Sokolov of the European University at Saint Petersburg has shed light on the lives young people in Russia lead in an interview with Open Democracy talking about the future of education and the nature of the country.

As a member of the department of political science and sociology, Sokolov spoke of several gaps in Russia’s university system. He noted that the social science and humanities division was not a priority for the Russian government, who instead choose to focus on more competitive fields such as science and technology. This has resulted in research gaps that often see students traveling abroad to pursue social science degrees elsewhere.

While university staff still have time on the side to pursue research, there is a great imbalance when it comes to students and how they engage with the education system.

This year on March 27, young people made up some of the groups who protested against corruption in more than 80 cities around Russia, some of whom were also pushing for a stronger, more comprehensive education system, despite being labeled a “teenage protest” by some officials. This build-up of discontent in the nation’s youth has grown steadily following the discussion of Crimea’s annexation between teachers and students several years ago. In turn, this fueled a new opposition to Russia’s current government led by Alexei Navalny.

The professor also made mention of the propaganda machine that has populated Russia for decades, stating that young people: “The gigantic Soviet machine seems to have completely devalued the values it was set up to inculcate in the public. And it turned a large number of people, who didn’t like having stuff forcibly drummed into their heads, into stalwart anti-communists.”

With social sciences and humanities being subjects that encourage the questioning of current events, will more young people be spurred to challenge the country’s current government and approach? Until then, Sokolov hopes that Russia’s education can catch up while also engaging its youth in the process. “We can’t write Russian science and scholarship off as incapable of improvement, even if it’s not so hot at present,” he said. “Changes can happen very quickly.”