A new requirement for Russian institutions to have a rector for the moral development of students was seen by scholars as another sign of a country reverting to Soviet-style thought control.
Created during the Soviet era, the position of pro rector in charge of vospitatel’naya rabota– which roughly translates to “character building” – was once a common feature in universities. These people were responsible for benign activities, such as organizing volunteer work and scholarships, as well as more insidious ones, namely instilling state propaganda in their young proteges.
The position still exists in many universities, but it will now be mandatory in all. Announcing the measure, Russian Deputy Education Minister Petr Kucherenko stressed the importance of developing students not only as specialists in their fields, but also as “full citizens of Russian society”. “, according to the official media.
Scholars said the move was reminiscent of times when communist Russia stepped in more strongly to shape the worldview of young people.
“Since the old system is gone, the Russian re-Soviets are looking for opportunities to recreate similar structures in their universities,” said Anatoly Oleksiyenko, a post-Soviet higher education policy studies specialist based at the University. ‘University of Hong Kong.
“They are looking for someone who will personally be in charge of the student masses and so be conveniently punished – as a scapegoat – on behalf of the entire system in the event of student protests.”
Oleksiyenko said that at this time it was uncertain whether Moscow would select candidates for the post, but entrusting the selection to rectors could be a shrewd political maneuver.
“Most likely, the Kremlin will hand this responsibility over to rectors, so that they also feel more responsible – and thus become more careful and anxious – in the admissions and student development processes,” he said.
Igor Chirikov, a senior fellow at the Center for Higher Education Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, agreed that the move reflected a broader trend of “re-Sovietization of Russian universities,” with institutions “resurrecting or reinventing” Soviet rhetoric. .
He said Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has drawn protests from academics and students even as the Kremlin shows less tolerance for political dissent, “certainly plays a role” in the pro-government sector. past, but that the universities had moved in this direction. for years.
“The Kremlin already has considerable influence,” acknowledged Maria Popova, an associate professor of political science at McGill University, adding that it was “a way to make the process of achieving political goals in the academic setting more efficient and effective.” more centralized.
She noted that, generally, the pressure on universities to rein in students “was strong around elections”, but predicted that now “political control will be definitely institutionalized” and that the appointment of pro-rectors in all fields would be used to put institutions “on an even shorter political leash.
Still, Popova disagreed with Oleksiyenko’s assessment that the move to establish moral development advocates was “an indication of growing anxiety among Russian politicians who expect massive protests.” population” due to economic depression and growing frustration with the war.
“There is no evidence that massive protests are brewing and I doubt the regime has any indication of that,” she said. “It’s rather preemptive. It covers all its bases, so if an anti-war movement were to emerge and grow stronger, it could be nipped in the bud.