Decentralisation and re-centralisation in post-1991 Russian higher education : a case-study of the Republic of Sakha and Yakutsk State University
It has been more than ten years since the Russian federal government announced decentralisation as one of the main aims in the reform of the Russian higher education (HE) system. However, to date there has been only limited research on the impact of decentralisation on individual regions and HE institutions (HEIs) in Russia; therefore this thesis sets to examine the ways in which the policy of decentralisation has been formulated and implemented at the federal level and its impact on the geographically largest region of the Russian Federation, the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), especially its oldest and largest HEI, Yakutsk State University. In view of the size of Russia with all its diversity, any meaningful analysis of the post-1991 HE reform should include the examination of the regional and institutional dimensions. Decentralisation in this thesis is defined as a shift of decision-making authority over key HE areas from the federal to the regional level, as well as the granting of autonomy to individual HEIs. Drawing on documentary analysis, interview data and personal observation, this thesis examines decentralisation in three key HE areas, namely general aspects of governance and management, finance, and academic matters. It investigates the extent to which the case-study region and university have received decision-making authority from the federal level over these matters in the framework of decentralisation, and how the relationships between various levels in the system have changed. The findings show that immediately after the break-up of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the previously centralised control over key HE areas was transferred to the lower levels, but due to political and economic uncertainty this transfer was ad hoc rather than well planned. From 1996, the Russian federal authorities, whilst politically and ideologically promoting decentralisation and university autonomy, started to recentralise previously transferred powers. By 2003 the federal authorities had almost fully reinstated their central control, leaving the lower levels in the system very limited room for manoeuvre. Thus the thesis concludes that despite the rhetoric of decentralisation over the last decade, centralisation of control at the federal level over all three HE areas under consideration remains dominant in present-day Russian HE. Reasons are offered for the divergence between the rhetoric and its actual implementation.