Frozen out by Rus­sian of­fi­cials, St Peters­burg univer­sity faces un­cer­tain fu­ture

Still with­out teach­ing li­cence, EUSP may be un­able to ad­mit stu­dents this year. El­lie Both­well re­ports

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - El­lie.both­well@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

Rus­sia’s “Euro­pean” univer­sity is con­tem­plat­ing a fu­ture as a re­searchonly in­sti­tu­tion after the lat­est twist in a long-run­ning bat­tle with the coun­try’s au­thor­i­ties saw its ap­pli­ca­tion for a new teach­ing li­cence re­jected.

The Euro­pean Univer­sity at St Peters­burg, a pri­vate post­grad­u­ate in­sti­tu­tion, has been wran­gling with the gov­ern­ment since last year, when it en­dured a se­ries of snap in­spec­tions by au­thor­i­ties and had its teach­ing li­cence sus­pended.

Of­fi­cials claimed that EUSP, which has just 250 stu­dents and of­fers cour­ses in the so­cial sci­ences and hu­man­i­ties, had vi­o­lated up to 120 rules and reg­u­la­tions. In­frac­tions in­cluded not pos­sess­ing its own gym (the univer­sity rents one in a dif­fer­ent build­ing) and lack­ing stands dis­play­ing anti-al­co­hol mes­sages.

How­ever, the univer­sity said that the in­spec­tions were in­sti­gated by an of­fi­cial com­plaint from Vi­taly Milonov, a mem­ber of the Rus­sian par­lia­ment for Vladimir Putin’s United Rus­sia Party, who ex­pressed con­cern about the teach­ing of gen­der stud­ies at the in­sti­tu­tion.

“I per­son­ally find that dis­gust­ing, it’s fake stud­ies, and it may well be il­le­gal,” Mr Milonov told the Chris­tian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor.

Since then, the univer­sity has been at­tempt­ing to ob­tain a new li­cence, but its lat­est ap­pli­ca­tion was re­jected at the end of Septem­ber. In a state­ment on its web­site, EUSP said that “the re­sults of the [build­ing] in­spec­tion are di­vorced from re­al­ity and do not elab­o­rate on the sub­stance of the vi­o­la­tions”. It added that the univer­sity was pre­par­ing a new li­cence ap­pli­ca­tion.

But Oleg Kharkhordin (pic­tured inset), pro­fes­sor in the depart­ment of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence and so­ci­ol­ogy, who stepped down as the in­sti­tu­tion’s rec­tor in June, told Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion that it was now “highly un­likely” that EUSP would be able to teach cur­rent stu­dents or ad­mit new ones dur­ing the 2017-18 aca­demic year. Uni­ver­si­ties are re­quired by law to be­gin the new term by 1 Novem­ber.

“It means that we would just be re­duced to a func­tion of a re­search in­sti­tu­tion; we can do pub­lic out­reach lec­tures but we can­not teach reg­u­lar stu­dents,” he said. “The main peo­ple who will suf­fer are the cur­rent stu­dents who were in their sec­ond year of study for a PhD.”

How­ever, the re­moval of the teach­ing li­cence is al­ready caus­ing is­sues around re­search fund­ing.

As a pri­vate in­sti­tu­tion, the univer­sity is funded largely by “ma­jor pri­vate do­na­tions from Rus­sian busi­ness­men”, some of whom are now ques­tion­ing the value of do­nat­ing to a univer­sity that can­not teach, ac­cord­ing to Pro­fes­sor Kharkhordin. “Some pri­vate donors are say­ing that they were fund­ing the stu­dents rather than any­thing else, that they would like to see young peo­ple de­velop into top lead­ers in sci­ence,” he said. “Some donors have sus­pended their fund­ing un­til we are re­in­stated with our li­cence.” Pro­fes­sor Kharkhordin said that he was not aware that any schol­ars had left the univer­sity be­cause of the li­cence re­vo­ca­tion, adding that he thought some aca­demics might “even re­joice” at the prospect of a year spent solely on re­search.

But he ad­mit­ted that teach­ing al­lows pro­fes­sors to hone their stud­ies.

“With pub­lic out­reach lec­tures, we will hope­fully not suf­fer ma­jor set­backs [be­fore we re­gain] a teach­ing li­cence and hope­fully get our stu­dents back next fall,” he said.

Grig­orii Golosov, pro­fes­sor of com­par­a­tive pol­i­tics at EUSP, said that he was con­cerned that the gov­ern­ment would also try to “stop the re­search projects” at the in­sti­tu­tion, al­though how it might do so is un­clear given that uni­ver­si­ties in Rus­sia are not re­quired to have a re­search li­cence.

Dur­ing the sum­mer, the univer­sity was re­moved from its premises in the Small Mar­ble Palace (be­low), one of the most iconic build­ings in St Peters­burg, but it has since pur­chased an­other build­ing for its home.

“The Euro­pean Univer­sity was in­spected by no less than 10 dif­fer­ent gov­ern­ment agen­cies. It was the ed­u­ca­tional agency that was fi­nally se­lected by some­one to in ef­fect close the ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­i­ties of the Euro­pean univer­sity,” Pro­fes­sor Golosov said.

“But the very sys­tem­atic and ap­par­ently co­or­di­nated char­ac­ter of this move sug­gests that there was some­thing wider be­yond this wellor­gan­ised and ef­fi­cient at­tack. So the ques­tion is: ‘what was the ul­ti­mate pur­pose?’”

The “ul­ti­mate goal”, he said, might be “sim­ply to close down any kind of ac­tiv­i­ties of the Euro­pean univer­sity”.

De­spite the con­cerns, both aca­demics ex­pressed con­fi­dence that new stu­dents would still apply to the in­sti­tu­tion if it re­gains a teach­ing li­cence be­fore next Septem­ber.

Prospec­tive stu­dents “un­der­stand that if you want to do mod­ern so­cial sci­ences, which the coun­try needs, there is hardly a bet­ter place to do it than at our univer­sity”, said Pro­fes­sor Kharkhordin.

On ice ‘the main peo­ple who will suf­fer’ are cur­rent PhD stu­dents

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