Russian test answers posted online amid clash between politicians and academics

May 29, 2013

Answers to Thursday’s nationwide high-school graduation exams in Russia have been posted online, leaving the politically embattled Education Ministry scrambling for a quick fix.

It was not clear late Wednesday whether the answers are the correct ones, but at a time when academic standards are increasingly clashing with political imperatives, it was plain that someone is trying to undermine Russia’s education officials. As it happens, the ministry that runs the country’s schools and universities has been taking heat — but because of an altogether different order of cheating.

For the past year, top ministry officials have been investigating the widespread practice among leading politicians and bureaucrats of buying doctoral dissertations and then passing them off as their own with the connivance of Russian universities. The effort has won the officials few friends in high places, and on Tuesday, the deputy minister leading the investigation, Igor Fedyukin (who has a doctorate from the University of North Carolina), was forced out of his job.

The education minister, Sergei Livanov, said Tuesday evening that he might have to follow — and the disclosure of answers for the new, and admittedly unpopular, high-school exams could be the tipping point.

On Wednesday, one of Livanov’s chief critics, Valentina Matviyenko, said it was too soon to call for his resignation.

“He should be given a chance to respond to criticism, rectify the situation, level it out and show that he can effectively run the ministry,” Matviyenko, speaker of the upper house of parliament, said in remarks reported by the Itar-Tass news service.

Livanov, in office a year, has support outside political circles. Andre Geim, a Nobel Prize winner in physics who works in Britain, returned to his native Russia this week to endorse the minister’s efforts.

But even as Geim was arriving, a prominent liberal economist, Sergei Guriev, head of the New Economic School (NES) here, was leaving, after what his supporters have characterized as a politically motivated police investigation and a blow to academic freedom.

Guriev, who has advised Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and been the face of Russian economic reform at international gatherings, was questioned about his role on a panel that cast doubt on the criminal conviction of the oil baron Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

But Guriev’s associates believe his real offense was his support of Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption crusader and nemesis of President Vladimir Putin.

Guriev apparently left for Paris last weekend to join his wife. Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said his departure was a serious loss for Russia. In a tweet that has since been taken down, he reportedly wrote, “Better Paris than Krasnokamensk,” the prison camp where Khodorkovsky was incarcerated in 2005 and 2006.

Colleagues said Guriev has quit his job as head of the NES. The school said Wednesday that he is on vacation. Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said Guriev’s departure was not related to politics.

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