Russian, U.S. colleges differ -- people much alike
By Reggie Ponder
Sunday, May 6, 2018
Dean Roughton returned from his trip to Russia convinced that both countries have something to teach each other about higher education.
Roughton, College of The Albemarle’s dean of arts and sciences and secondary education, visited Russia from March 30 - April 14 as part of a Fulbright Scholars group made up of American community college administrators.
All of the scheduled visits were in cities, with the smallest city visited being the 250,000-population Yoshkar-Ola, Roughton said.
“They don’t have the regional airport infrastructure that we have,” Roughton said, adding, some trips inside the country were by train, including one lasting 13 hours.
There were some sightseeing opportunities but mostly the group visited Russian universities and colleges.
“They don’t really have community colleges,” Roughton said, explaining that the colleges in Russia are devoted entirely to career and technical education, while universities offer four-year and advanced degrees in arts and sciences.
Russia does not have anything like the college transfer programs at American community colleges.
“They had no idea what we meant by transfer,” Roughton said.
Even within the United States, Roughton said, North Carolina is ahead of many other states in terms of articulation between community colleges and universities.
Russian students in ninth-grade opt for either a career pathway or an academic, college preparatory pathway. Students who choose the career pathway may work for a few years and then return for additional training.
Roughton said he was impressed with the equipment he saw in the technical education labs, including a simulator for an automated tree-cutter.
“They have got top-of-the-line stuff,” Roughton said of the tech education equipment — adding “it hasn’t always been that way.”
But right now Russia is making education a top priority.
“They’re investing a lot of money in their education infrastructure,” Roughton said.
Much of the high-tech equipment being added to college classrooms and labs in Russia now is being funded partly by industry groups.
“They have a real tight network with their industry,” Roughton said.
Roughton noted COA has some up-to-date technical equipment, including some purchased with industry help and some funded through a Golden Leaf grant. The welding program has 16 self-contained welding booths, a Lincoln welding simulator, a 48-inch hydraulic shear and other recent upgrades.
Machining equipment at COA’s Regional Aviation and Technical Training Center in Currituck includes a CNC 5axis vertical milling machine valued at $125,000, a CNC water jet valued at $65,000 and a three-dimension printer.
Roughton said he visited a forestry school in Russia and “a couple of culinary institutes that were really high-end,” Roughton said.
COA already is looking at a partnership with Russian schools in the culinary area. Roughton said Leslie Lippincott, who teaches culinary arts at COA’s Edenton-Chowan Campus, is interested in trading recipes with culinary institutes in Russia and also swapping videos of students preparing the dishes using the recipes.
Russia currently is placing an enormous emphasis, Roughton said, on developing expertise in information technology and has built a city called Innopolis with the intention of developing it into a tech community to rival California’s Silicon Valley.
Roughton said that Russia has committed a lot of money for scholarships but does not operate its scholarship programs the way the federal grants and loans in the United States work. While the federal government here provides grants and loans directly to students and allows them to be used for any accredited program, the Russian system consists of block grants to colleges and universities to award scholarships in fields that are found to be needed based on economic studies, he explained.
The Russian system in that way ties educational scholarships very directly to economic development efforts and identified needs in workforce development. Roughton said that while leaders in North Carolina have begun to focus a great deal on workforce development, there remains a great deal of freedom of choice in educational scholarships — especially at the federal level.
Roughton pointed out that even under the Russian system, students can study whatever curriculum they want as long as they pay for it themselves.
In addition to the technical education opportunities that Russia is making available, there are a number of different cultures in Russia, and in some places there are educational programs designed to preserve a particular culture, Roughton said
Despite the differences in the Russian and American systems of higher education, Roughton said he left Russia with an appreciation for how people in the different countries are still much the same.
“Students are students, people are people, and, really, if we take the language out of it, we were on a people level more alike than we were different,” Roughton said.