By Olga Pimenova
Many say that so many young people now undertake higher education that it has lost its previous significance. Over the past five decades, the number of students has risen 6-fold, with 90,000 people entering universities annually. In Minsk alone, 70 percent of eleventh graders continue on to take a higher degree. Of course, quality of learning is essential; universities are being urged to raise their standards ever higher. Naturally, this is no simple task. From September 1st, most universities and institutes will be following new rules, with the current ‘five year diploma’ perhaps becoming a thing of the past.
Between theory and practice
Changing the approach towards higher education cannot be achieved overnight, since alterations will undoubtedly affect both first degrees and Master’s degrees. Belarus’ Education Minister, Sergey Maskevich, explains that syllabuses are being revised, with practical elements being given more attention. In May, university representatives are to approve new syllabuses for September, so what should we expect?
Special attention is being paid to the socio-humanitarian bloc — especially four modules: philosophy, political science, history and economics. Each module is to include a set of obligatory and optional subjects for study and aims to avoid the senseless repetition of past learning. There are exceptions to every rule but, according to universities, there is no question of cutting any element at departments where disciplines from the socio-humanitarian bloc are profile. History modules will keep their previous status in history departments while the number of hours spent on economics, sociology and pedagogics will be reduced. Economic disciplines will naturally remain foremost in economic departments. Meanwhile, P.E. is to be removed from socio-humanitarian module (although will remain compulsory for four hours a week through until graduation courses).
The issue of foreign languages remains one of contention, with some worried that hours will be reduced. However, universities assure us that this won’t be the case, although language students will be given more time for independent study, as Natalia Baranova, Rector of the Minsk State Linguistic University, confirms. She notes, “Foreign languages, as well as Belarusian and Russian, are obligatory disciplines at our university. However, cultural studies are also to be taught at the Intercultural Communication Department.”
More intense learning
Heads of universities believe that ‘compressing’ the programme will allow one or two terms to be saved. From September 2013, it may be possible to gain a university diploma within 4-4.5 years. However, a Master’s degree may be increased to two years. Few universities are in a hurry to adopt a final decision, since it’s clear that training for certain specialties (such as becoming a doctor or translator) cannot be easily accelerated. Ms. Baranova shares this opinion, saying, “As far as education terms are concerned, the next year won’t see any change. It’s vital for us to retain our quality of training. Accordingly, we plan to keep the five year term for ‘Modern Foreign Languages’ (practice and theory of translation). Students study two languages, where one is often rare and quite challenging.”
According to universities, it’s vital to ensure that the shift to new educational programmes is gradual, with all aspects weighed carefully. New curriculums should enable the quality of education to be maintained — or enhanced.