CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1With the disappearance of the USSR at the end of 1991, the Russian federal state – its financial capacities having collapsed in stunning fashion – abruptly found itself marginalized as a framework for decision-making and administration. It thereby lost most of its means for influencing and controlling regional powers, public services, crucial branches of the economy, and society more generally. A historic stroke of luck allowed it to reverse this trend in the mid-2000s, as oil profits gave it the ambition and the means to return in a dominant position.

2The aim of this article is to examine in more detail certain characteristics of the central state’s new grip on Russian society or, as it has been labelled by its proponents, the construction of a “power vertical” visible since Vladimir Putin became president in 2000. While the expression “power vertical” was first used by the federal executive, it has also quickly become an approach for analyzing the regime established under Putin. It covers those measures aimed at restoring the authority of the Center over the regions and other powers – economic ones and media, in particular – which gained in autonomy and exerted major influence on the Center during Boris Yeltsin’s presidency. The ways in which regional governors and “oligarchs” were brought to heel has tended to lend the “vertical” a highly coercive image. In 2004, governors ceased to be elected by universal suffrage, and were appointed by the federal executive, having lost a large part of their fiscal revenues to the Federation. [1] The Center has used denunciations of “scandals” (corruption, financial fraud, etc.) against certain governors and oligarchs. The precedents set by their legal vulnerability has succeeded in intimidating more generally the groups to which they belong. [2] But many authors have rightly noted that this vertical cannot be conceived of in exclusively coercive terms. It also deploys mechanisms of control based on the interests of different sorts of actors. [3] The notion of consensus imposed via co-option and forced integration of key actors by the central power forms part of this approach. [4]

3The purpose of the discussion here is to explore further the ways in which different actors’ interests play out within this “vertical”. A difficulty arises from the fact that many specialists of authoritarian and “hybrid” systems consider that such regimes suffer an intrinsic lack of “legitimacy”, and therefore contrast strongly with democratic regimes. In these accounts, such regimes are supposed to appeal more frequently than others to incentive mechanisms designed to draw the most senior officials in different sectors, regions, and organizations into the system of power. [5] Central authorities are believed to succeed better in this insofar as these actors’ interests and their own converge. [6] How such systems function may then be almost entirely explained by establishing how the “principal” imposes itself on “agents” by rewarding them. This assumption has a number of flaws. It often leads us to reduce interests to their purely economic dimension. It tends to present actors’ interests and identities so defined as stable attributes, and to focus attention chiefly on elites. Finally, within the “principal-agent” relationship it tends to ignore the thickness of social relationships and institutional factors, such as political technologies, which still constrain actors’ perceptions and practices and shape or alter how they define their interests.

4The push to re-establish the authority of the Center in modern-day Russia challenges the way we think about domination. Max Weber differentiated domination by virtue of authority (legal, traditional, charismatic, and so on), which rests on the “power to command and duty to obey”, and domination by virtue of a constellation of interests, in which “the dominated persons, acting with formal freedom, rationally pursue their own interests as they are forced upon them by objective circumstances”. [7] He was perhaps too hasty in contrasting these two ways of understanding domination. [8] As we will see, in analyzing the case of Russia it is probably counterproductive to separate them.

5I have chosen to explore the forms taken by this “return of the state” in Russia by focusing on a particular social sector, the university world. There has been much work done on the restoration project undertaken during Putin’s presidency which looks at the highest echelons of the political, economic, and media hierarchies attacked by the Center from the early 2000s onwards. Turning our attention to a far larger social world – one which is at first sight less important for the assertion of the Kremlin’s authority – we can, by attending as closely as possible to ordinary actors, better observe the social relationships which make up this authority and the way in which its assertion changes how institutions and their mechanisms function as a whole. [9] While less important, higher education is still an area of concern for central authority, which has chosen it, among others, to restore Russia’s greatness on the international scene. Many ambitious reforms have thus been undertaken to make universities more “high-performing”, to develop their research activities and to pick out an elite group of establishments which can compete globally; they also aim to eliminate less “efficient” universities.

6These reforms strongly resemble those underway in many other countries: in spite of the distaste proclaimed at the highest levels of the state for importing foreign political “models”, reformers conceive of the transformation of the university system in terms of “new public management”. [10] The focus here, however, is on how such reform both models the Center’s return to power, and yet is cannibalized by the control the Center now exerts.

7Our use of the term “Center” is justified only by its convenience and by the perception many actors have of it. It goes without saying that it covers a fragmented universe of disparate organizations and institutions. The Center is made up of sector-specific federal ministries, with four administrative agencies above them: on the one hand, the Ministries of Finance and Economic Development, whose prior agreement is necessary for any reform or draft law put forward by a federal ministry, and on the other the Presidential administration and the administration of the Prime Minister (called the “apparatus of government”), each of which has at its control sectorial departments which oversee the entire executive branch. These institutions obey their own social logics, compete with each other, and often clash to delimit their respective territories. [11] Despite the authoritarian or hybrid character often attributed to this political system, the summit of the “power vertical” is ridden with conflicts and rivalries, which may explain the complexity and ambiguities of the processes described here.

8Before examining, in the second section, the complex set of institutional technologies which brought about the state’s return to power in higher education from the mid-2000s, I first need to describe the state of universities in the preceding decade. [12] The forms of power present today can only be understood through the configurations of social relationships which crystallized in the 1990s, and which I will call “muddling-through communities”. As we will see in the final section of the article, these configurations, and the ways in which they survived, also help us understand universities’ present-day means of resistance, and the ambiguity of the Center’s response to them.

9The empirical basis of the article is a series of surveys in 26 higher education institutions (HEIs), official documents, gray literature produced by the Ministry of Education and Research (MER), official annual statistical reports, and the general and specialist press, as well as interviews (n=80) with university teachers and administrators, and accounts and discussions published on different social networks and websites. [13] This article focuses solely on public institutions, which employ 90% of teachers and educate 84% of students. [14]

Muddling-through communities

A dramatic drop in public funding

10The economic and political crisis which followed the fall of the USSR resulted in the collapse of industrial and agricultural production and GDP (-50%, -40%, and -50% respectively between 1990 and 1995), and in massive inflation which, having hit a record level of 2509% in 1992, went down progressively over the course of the decade, from 900% to 120%. [15] This had an immediate effect on the state’s budget. In higher education, public spending per student fell by 70% in real terms between 1990 and 1997. [16] All budget items were affected. From 1992 onwards, teachers’ basic salaries literally plummeted. After a modest rise in the middle of the decade, they slumped again, and in 2000 were at only 25% of the average income per capita (all available resources) (see Figure 1). Even if we add in the compulsory supplements for achieving a title (kandidat* or doktor*) or grade (dotsent* or professor*), salaries (basic salaries, supplements, and bonuses) remained below the average income per capita and sometimes came close to the official poverty line. [17] In the final decades of the Soviet regime the profession of university teacher had enjoyed a certain prestige which brought with it, among other things, relatively high basic salaries: for example, at the end of the 1970s those with the grade of professor received the equivalent of 280% of the average income per capita. [18] University teachers subsequently suffered a collective fall in status, made more striking by the fact that the 1990s were a period when fortunes, great and small, were being made.

Figure 1

Basic salary in higher education as a percentage of average revenue per capita

Figure 1

Basic salary in higher education as a percentage of average revenue per capita

11Faced with this unprecedented situation, actors in HEIs were inventive about finding ways to survive. They created new courses, set up private institutions (between 1990 and 2000, the number of HEIs almost doubled) and local branches in other regions, rented their buildings and offered services for businesses, developed lifelong-learning programs, and set about creating places for fee-paying students. [19] Alongside so-called “budget” places – that is, those financed by the state and free-of-charge for students who hold them – these fee-paying places, neither explicitly allowed nor disallowed by law, were spectacularly successful in public universities: their number rose tenfold in a few years, going from 229,000 in 1995 to 2,300,000 in 2002, while the number of “budget” places remained relatively stable (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

Number of “budget” and fee-paying places in Russian higher education (in thousands)

Figure 2

Number of “budget” and fee-paying places in Russian higher education (in thousands)

Sources: Vinokur, Les transformations du système éducatif; Obrazovanie v Rossiiskoi Federatsii. Stat. sbornik (Moscow: CISN, 2003); Obrazovanie v Rossiiskoi Federatsii. Stat. sb. (Moscow: VShE, 2007, 2010 and 2012); Obrazovanie v tsifrakh: 2013: kr. stat. sb. (Moscow: VShE, 2013 and 2014); Indikatory obrazovaniya: 2016.

12The growing student population certainly helped the survival of HEIs – numbers more than doubled between 1992 and 2002, going from 2,600,000 to 6,000,000 students – but was not the main factor: this new “demand” might not have been in response to the “offer”. In most institutions, the success of survival strategies was due to the emergence of local configurations of social relations, most of them appearing for the first time, which gradually crystallized into muddling-through communities. [20] It was these communities that invented and deployed such strategies. The aim here is not to reconstruct the process by which such communities emerged, but simply to present some of their fundamental characteristics which will allow us to understand the developments that followed.

The autonomization of universities and the power of administrators

13These new configurations originated in the decay of the central state, in the drying up of public funding, and in the autonomization of HEIs which resulted from it. Not only did the USSR, and then Russia, traverse a long period of crises between 1989 and 1993 which weakened the hierarchical chain in all areas, but, after 1992, the federal state was unable to finance public services even minimally. Those supplementary revenues which muddling-through strategies could provide – that is, which did not come from the controlling ministry – became a powerful factor in the autonomization of HEIs. [21] 1991 also saw the disappearance of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), which had exercised political control over all organizations. The importance of this control in universities should not be overstated, however, as university leaders often served in positions of responsibility in CPSU committees within their own institutions. Finally, the autonomization of the HEIs was reinforced by a new development at the end of the 1980s: rectors* were henceforth elected by their institution and no longer appointed by the ministry.

14In practice, dependencies on the Center dissolved, or at least became looser. Even if such autonomization matched the political orientation of the leaders of perestroika and of the first Russian government under Boris Yeltsin’s presidency, no one anticipated its rhythm and the forms it took.

15The central authorities, conscious of this movement but powerless to curb it, opted for tolerance. They often turned a blind eye to HEIs’ violations of the rules, particularly when the number of fee-paying students in economics, management, and law rose past the limit of 25% imposed in 1996 by the legislature, which feared that the most popular courses would become entirely filled by such students. HEIs which did not respect this quota were never really punished.

16Autonomy bolstered a particular group within universities: administrators (comprising rectors, vice-rectors, deans of faculties, vice-deans and department heads). For the most part, these were not “mandarins” in the usual meaning of the term, i.e. teachers recognized by their peers who enjoyed marks of prestige such as the grade of professor or the title of doktor. [22] In the Soviet era, they were appointed by the ministry in charge with the agreement of the Party. [23] This new type of administrator class was therefore not based solely on academic prestige (even if some of its members may have enjoyed some local academic authority), but also on relationships within local or national political and economic circles. When the Party and the USSR collapsed in 1991, HEIs’ survival centered around this social group. Representing 10-12% of the teaching body, it was made up of two distinct segments: one, at the summit of these institutions, which included rectors and vice-rectors, and the other comprising local leaders such as deans, vice-deans and department heads. [24] Two major factors transformed the relationship between these segments over the course of the 1990s. First, the introduction of elections for rectors, mentioned already, made the two segments highly dependent on each other. Deans and department heads acquired a decisive weight in such elections, as they tended to control the ad hoc assembly convened to select the rector. [25] The rector of the prestigious Bauman Moscow State Technical University was one of the first to experience this new balance of power to his cost: Aleksei Eliseev – a graduate of Bauman, a cosmonaut and then a company director – had remained involved with his alma mater, where he ran a department before becoming rector. Appointed to this post at the end of 1985, he had to confront hierarchs within the University who opposed his selection for the role and the transformations which he introduced: as soon as they could, at the end of his mandate in 1991, they got rid of him and elected a candidate they found more acceptable. [26] The second change is connected to the emergence of “extrabudgetary” resources and the considerable role these played in the financing of HEIs: it was deans and department heads who controlled revenues from their subdivisions (notably, income from fee-paying places), while the central management of HEIs received almost none. The proportion of these revenues in university budgets only continued to grow over the course of the 1990s.

17If the ways in which rectors were elected and the vital importance of “extrabudgetary” resources incontestably played a role in the relationships of interdependence between rectors and local hierarchs, to the advantage of the latter, these relationships were more complicated than this might lead us to think. This is shown in particular by the successive renewal of many rectors’ mandates – in some cases, for almost twenty years. [27] This is the result of the modus vivendi they managed to establish with local dignitaries and, more importantly, of the co-operative links they were able to build during the difficult task of organizing their institutions’ survival.

Reconfiguring clientelism

18The final feature of muddling-through communities involves the way in which the situation in the 1990s affected relations between administrators and core faculty (that is, those without administrative responsibilities). Let us briefly recall the fundamental character of these relations in the Soviet period. At each point in their career, faculty relied on the good will of their “patrons”, the deans and department heads. This was the case when they were recruited, when their jobs were renewed every five years, and when they advanced to the grade of dotsent or professor, but also when their individual teaching load was defined. University faculty were all the more vulnerable in that, even at the highest grades, they did not benefit from a lifetime guarantee of employment equivalent to tenure in the United States or to the status of ordinary professor in Germany or public servant in France. [28] Nonetheless, from the mid-1950s onward the possibility of being laid off co-existed in various ways with a relatively high level of actual job security. [29] Even if their relationships with deans and department heads had a legal-rational appearance, in practice they more closely resembled clientelism, interpersonal relationships of reciprocal expectations which are stable but highly asymmetrical. [30] Faculty were burdened with all sorts of chores not only because they could be fired, but because there was very little mobility between universities. [31] They had to serve their superiors and in return might legitimately count on their protection in difficult situations.

19At the beginning of the 1990s, these relationships underwent sudden transformations as the resources of the “dominant” became insufficient to satisfy the “needs” of the “dominated”: the latter could no longer count on their “patrons” to compensate the dramatic fall in their incomes. The “patrons” themselves faced new constraints: not only did they, like others, have to find the means to guarantee their own survival, but they were forced to safeguard their own positions and to fulfill the “duties of their rank” towards their subordinates. [32] They had to be even more active in the search for solutions, for they did not have many more ways out than their subordinates did, and since they were older their options were in some ways more limited. Core faculty were partly forced to get by without their “patrons”, finding secondary jobs in their own institutions or elsewhere, including in entirely different spheres, or else giving private lessons. While university faculty in the Soviet period also held multiple jobs, it was typically only those at the lowest grades who did so. [33] From the 1990s, facilitated by the boom in numbers of HEIs and their regional branches, it became common practice at all levels.

20The possibility of implementing these survival strategies relied on the good will of the “patrons” who “covered up” their subordinates’ practices and even participated themselves when they could. Deans and department heads had no hesitation about putting university resources (rooms, electricity, heating, etc.) at the disposal of teachers for the purposes of making money (by creating new courses, privates HEIs, consultancies, etc.). They themselves were best placed to turn to local public figures for help. Finally, they allowed faculty to take on extra teaching loads or, by contrast, to reduce their workload in order to invest their time more heavily elsewhere. There has been a rise in the number of permanent part-time staff who have become temporary lecturers, either within their own HEI or in other HEIs. As Annie Vinokur has shown, working in an institution often served only as the necessary condition for accessing resources elsewhere. [34] As a consequence, the ratio between revenues drawn from principal and auxiliary activities often appeared paradoxical: wages were so low that they represented only a tiny part of teachers’ revenues, and it was instead additional resources gained from extrabudgetary earnings that made up by far the largest part of their incomes. As a case in point, Vinokur describes a foreign language teacher who, at the start of the 2000s, received a part-time basic salary making up only 2% of his income (and 20% of his teaching hours), the rest coming from extra hours in his own university (13% of his income, 31% of his teaching hours), and in another institution preparing high school students for university entrance (85% of his income, 49% of his teaching hours). [35]

21Such practices led to huge confusion between public and private resources and a transformation of the teacher’s job, which became closer to that of a tutor. [36] While research had traditionally played only a relatively modest role in most universities, it now became a residual activity.

22Finally, classic forms of clientelism in the Soviet period have tended to be replaced by more novel asymmetric relationships. The accumulation of jobs gave teachers relative autonomy in relation to their direct bosses, since they did not entirely depend on them. [37] The balance of the reciprocal dependence between clients and patrons sometimes reached equilibrium, or even reverse. The dominant parties in these relationships had a crucial need for the labor which teachers offered if their new courses and private satellite institutions were to function. They were sometimes compelled to push core faculty to quickly acquire expertise in new fields (economics and law, in particular) to cover classes which would attract fee-paying students. In some cases, teachers may have had resources the patron did not: those who knew English, for instance, could become indispensable for building relationships with foreign universities. This set of processes did not entirely erase the old relationship between patron and client, but instead loosened the traditional constraints and expectations attached to them. These processes have also led to the emergence of co-operation between the dominant group and core faculty, founded on largely unprecedented local principles of “solidarity”. This can be seen in the employment rate within HEIs. We might have expected the collapse of public funding to lead to dismissals, particularly as unemployment, supposedly nonexistent in the USSR, had become officially recognized and authorized in the 1990s. But numbers of teachers were instead strangely stable over this chaotic period (see Figure 3). The tacit norm of avoiding layoffs not only persisted after the disappearance of the Soviet regime, but was even reinforced as muddling-through communities took shape.

Figure 3

Numbers of permanent teachers in public HEIs (in thousands)

Figure 3

Numbers of permanent teachers in public HEIs (in thousands)

Sources: Vinokur, Les transformations du système éducatif; Obrazovanie v Rossiiskoi Federatsii. Stat. sbornik (Moscow: CISN, 2003); Obrazovanie v Rossiiskoi Federatsii. Stat. sb. (Moscow: VShE, 2007, 2010 and 2012); Obrazovanie v tsifrakh: 2013: kr. stat. sb. (Moscow: VShE, 2013 and 2014); Indikatory obrazovaniya: 2016.

The central state’s return to power

23The practices and social relations which formed the basis of muddling-through associations in the 1990s lasted into the subsequent decade. Between 2000 and 2008 numbers of both students and HEIs continued to rise. From 2006, the number of fee-paying places in public HEIs surpassed the number of “budget” places. Basic salaries barely reached the average income level. Nationally, practices of survival have led to a protean and chaotic “university map”, characterized by enormous organizational disparities. In the mid-2000s, when the central authorities – who, as we have seen, had up to then opted for tolerance towards these new practices by HEIs – regained their financial capacities through oil profits and conceived the ambition to intervene actively in university management, they were faced with a difficult situation; in reality, it was above all this cumbersome present, and not the Soviet past, which the “return of the State” ran up against.

How the central state tightened its grip on universities

24I am interested here more specifically in an institutional arrangement which underlies the general management of reforms that embody this return to power. This arrangement is distinct from the coercive techniques normally associated with the “power vertical”, and refers to the imaginary of government through the market or, more precisely, to mechanisms typically conceived as “functional” substitutes for the market.

25Above all, it concerns means of funding for HEIs. After a period of trial and error, the budgetary autonomy now enjoyed by these institutions legally represents a double abandonment by the central state – the abandonment of stable funding, supposedly sufficient for the universities’ ordinary functioning, and of the state’s responsibility to act as last resort in case of HEIs’ insolvency – even though the public nature of the institutions has not been challenged. [38] HEIs consequently bear complete responsibility in financial matters.

26Nonetheless, the Center has not stopped funding HEIs. On the contrary: from the mid-2000s, its spending has risen considerably. [39] But this funding now obeys new forms meant to reproduce the logic of the market. The regular funding HEIs are allocated each year is no longer based on their needs (for staff, equipment, and operating costs), but on the number of “budget” places allotted by the Ministry of Education after universities have competed with each other (see box). Their budget could therefore vary greatly from one year to the next. The crucial point is that this mechanism is not supposed to meet day-to-day expenses. The remainder of the funding is expected to come from universities’ “commercial” activities, and particularly from fee-paying places and the resources brought in by contracts with businesses and government bodies.

HEIs’ basic allocations and “monitoring”

The basic allocation, calculated since 2012 according to the number of “budget” places allocated to each institution, depends on two factors:
  • rankings of institutions by discipline and region, established each year as the result of “monitoring”, an extremely high-pressure evaluation by the Ministry of Education introduced in 2012, whose results are often unpredictable. The “monitoring” aims to sort HEIs into three categories – “efficient”, “showing signs of inefficiency”, and “inefficient” – and to “optimize” the last of these, either by absorbing them into another university or by closing them.
  • the size of the student body, which has been in decline for a number of years (-31% between 2008 and 2014, see Figure 2). Numbers are expected to fall until 2019, and then rise slowly until 2030. This fall has had an immediate effect on the higher education budget: while the total number of “budget” places between 1992 and 2013 was calculated as a percentage of the country’s entire population, it is now based only on the age groups from 17 to 30, whose numbers are falling faster than the rest of the population. [40]

27In another new development, federal funding is no longer restricted to this basic allocation: the Ministry of Education grants substantial supplements, decided though tenders which aim to rank HEIs, to reward the best, and to make them more “competitive”. Thirteen such tenders have been held since 2006 to single out universities with “innovative” teaching programs, those which perform particularly well in research, those which contribute to regional development, and those (the most prestigious) which might figure in international rankings. In addition to competitions for the purposes of ranking are those run by public bodies, guided by the central state, designed to finance scientific projects and making up the principal source of funding for public research. From this intense concern with ranking there arises an elite of about 60 universities (12% of public HEIs), followed by about 100 well-performing HEIs supported by the state (20%), with the rest waiting in a sort of purgatory for the fate reserved for them. Whatever their position, all HEIs are subject to constant evaluation through tenders and “monitoring”.

28This mechanism of control orients and transforms the activities of HEIs and their members, shapes their interests, and influences their expectations. It directs the resources allotted to theoretically autonomous HEIs toward objectives which the Center defines. In general, it corresponds to what Max Weber describes with the metaphor of the “iron cage”: an “order […] which to-day determine[s] the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism […] with irresistible force”. [41] The image of a hamster wheel could also serve as a metaphor for this process, with actors compelled to run and largely unable to escape their fate. Paradoxically, then, the autonomy of HEIs has become a way of reinforcing the Center’s hold over them.

29The Center explicitly claims the right to regulate this “market” and supposedly autonomous activities. For instance, it prohibits universities from charging fees lower than the amount allocated by the state for “budget” places on the same course (a ban on “dumping”), determines the fate of institutions which have done poorly in the “monitoring” procedures by itself organizing their integration into other institutions (and so their elimination as autonomous bodies), declares the need to substantially raise faculty salary levels, or demands a fall in faculty numbers following a decline in the student body since 2008.

The modus operandi of control

30Let us focus briefly on these two final points, which will allow us to see in more detail how the Center’s control functions, and how it affects the practices and social relations which underlie the muddling-through communities which emerged in the 1990s.

31An ukaz by Putin in May 2012, at the start of his third presidential mandate, imposed an ambitious goal on HEIs: by 2018, the average salary of university teachers should be double that of the average salary in their region. [42] In conjunction with the mechanism of control, this goal’s realization is likely to consolidate the dual structure of salaries which arose in the 1990s, where an insufficient basic wage is to be supplemented with additional sources of revenue. Since 2009, the federal state guarantees only a very low minimum income, which rose in 2015 to 10,000 rubles, 32% of national average revenue per capita. [43] While the government announced an exceptional subsidy for HEIs to enable them to cope with the demand for higher salaries, this additional sum did not come close to meeting their needs. [44] Increasing salaries has forced HEIs to rely on their “extrabudgetary” resources.

32According to those in the Ministry of Education promoting these reforms, effectively this increase should primarily take the form of bonuses connected to teacher performance. The mechanism of control imposes a major constraint here: insofar as HEIs are compelled to increase their “extrabudgetary” resources with potential supplements from the Center arising from the tenders just described, they have a strong incentive to redirect the activities of their teachers to meet the new performance evaluation criteria. Alongside this development, the Ministry of Education requires HEIs to introduce “efficiency contracts” (effektivnyi kontrakt) which commit them to awarding bonuses, on a scale which they themselves define, when teachers meet certain goals (a publication, a presentation at an international conference, defending their kandidat or doktor thesis, supervising dissertations or theses, taking out a patent, etc.). This reorientation of activity also affects HEIs which have not succeeded in tenders, but which strive to meet the efficiency criteria set by the “monitoring” in order to avoid downgrading, or even closure. As we can see, the dual structure of salaries has been maintained but its content and meaning have entirely changed: it has almost nothing in common with the means used by HEIs to assure their teachers’ material survival in the 1990s.

33In term of the tacit norm of avoiding layoffs, the goal loudly declared by the government is to reduce faculty numbers in response to the declining student population. It pushes institutions to get rid of their “lowest-performing” teachers so others can be better paid (the state cannot make dismissals itself, as teachers are not civil servants but employees of their institutions). [45] A certain number of layoffs have already taken place: more than 27,000 teachers left their jobs in 2014-15. [46]

34The reasons for the “success” of the new direction promoted by the Center also form part of the mechanism of control. With a budget that remains static, even shrinking, HEIs cannot maintain the same levels of employment while raising salaries. [47] But the norm of avoiding layoffs is perhaps even more under threat from another process at work in the control mechanism. Uncertainty about annual funding levels, which partly depend on the results of the “monitoring”, leads HEIs, often in spite of themselves, to increasingly offer teachers contracts of one year (rather than three or five) to conform to the efficiency criteria set by the “monitoring” and revised each year. [48] University heads are thereby compelled to weaken the protections previously guaranteed to teachers.

The mechanism of control and the erosion of muddling-through communities

35In the two examples given, the implementation of reforms depends on institutional forms inherited from the past. These reforms sometimes make use of such forms, as with the case of salary structure, thanks to which present reforms appear to be “natural” (insofar as HEI administrators still hold “extrabudgetary” resources dear as they were an important element in their institutions’ de facto autonomy in the 1990s). Sometimes, by contrast, they attack them: the loss of job security, for instance, flies in the face of the tacit norm of avoiding layoffs.

36But these two illustrations only allow us to see a limited part of the impact of the mechanisms of control. The reforms which they underlie considerably affect the social logics of the HEI sphere. [49] Here, I distinguish between several types of effects which are in reality closely interlinked. One, which the ministry has set as a goal and is described above, is to create competition between HEIs. Universities are forced to play this game, whether or not those in charge adhere to the imaginary of the market, for it becomes extremely costly not to do so. For some it is a question of survival. Other, more diffuse effects influence even more directly the relations of solidarity and protection which constitute muddling-through communities. As a result of budgetary autonomy, all “decisions” concerning faculty now weigh entirely on the heads of HEIs. In particular, it is up to them to draw up the pay scales which serve locally as reference points for the income that different categories of teacher can expect, and to decide what proportion of their total revenue will be set aside for salaries and bonuses. They are also required to set individual salaries, and to promote and demote faculty according to the new performance criteria. All these decisions must be taken even while, as we have seen, HEIs do not have full control over their own resources. Willingly or not, core faculty are placed in local situations of competition between individuals, formalized through the “monitoring” process and tenders. Such individualization is made public by certain HEIs who now put faculty members’ individual “performances” online, or who offer sometimes extravagant bonuses to those who most “deserve” them. [50] Finally, it is up to HEIs to determine which teachers are to be sacrificed – that is, fired or, as we will see, demoted to a lower grade or ranking. The symbolic stake of such “sacrifices” is of course extremely high, not only because locally they mark the erosion of the tacit norm of avoiding layoffs, but more importantly because HEIs publicly submit to the Center’s ambitions by offering the layoffs they have or will “perform” as proof of their engagement with the new rules of the game.

37Another type of effect concerns the broader restoration of the Center’s “authority”. The mechanism of control works somewhat like a lever, allowing the effects of power to multiply with relatively little effort or explicit work of domination (and little budgetary spending) – that is, to obtain from actors in HEIs the behavior federal authorities expect. This act of “multiplying power” does not presuppose, of course, that most university administrators have been won over to these reforms or are convinced of their “legitimacy”. Their obedience, which is uncertain, as we will see below, comes above all from the overlapping of the heterogeneous interests of different actors or, in Weber’s expression, the emergence of a particular constellation of interests: those of the Center, but also of groups of administrators, and even of certain core faculty. The autonomy of HEIs is not only a financial matter; it is also the means by which the federal state re-establishes its formal authority, compelling institutions and teachers to act according to its own interests, which they do all the more willingly insofar as they have – or think they have – an interest in doing so.

An ambiguous assertion of control

38If these reforms aim to help Russian universities recover, they are not necessarily put into effect with these institutions’ complete support. Compelled to obey them and to compete, HEIs do not entirely play the game, developing forms of resistance or evasion which make the Center’s control ambiguous. In reality, university heads try in various ways to protect their faculty and institutions, marking a survival of social relations inherited from the 1990s. The Center accommodates these resistances. When the stakes appear crucial, however, it ceases to do so, and seems even to distrust in some measure the technologies which form the basis of its control, thereby injecting vagueness into the mechanisms of its domination.

Resistance through the manipulation of categories

39Resistance only rarely takes the form of mobilizations by core faculty. Successful mobilizations– which sometimes make federal executive power retreat – usually come about through the initiative of “mandarins”, joined by teachers and students, which perhaps also bears witness to the survival of social links and practices inherited from muddling-through communities. [51]

40Even if they lay teachers off, HEIs try to avoid doing so on too large a scale, and “sort it out” – that is, cheat a little with the goals they set themselves. The sometimes impressive figures they announce – the Federal University of the Urals (UrFU, Yekaterinburg) plans 800 layoffs between 2014 and 2020, and five HEIs in Volgograd claim to have fired 600 teachers between 2014 and 2015 – could very well be, in large measure, smoke and mirrors. [52] In reality, the figures often concern the number of full-time equivalent positions to get rid of, rather than individuals to lay off. [53] Caught between a rock and a hard place, university heads are forced to rely on ambiguity, for they must both appease the central state, which demands sacrifices, and their teachers, who hold to the norm of avoiding layoffs. The situation leads them sometimes to publicly reveal the game they are playing, often clumsily, like the vice-rector who explained to the press that his rector’s announcement of “the firing of more than 900 teachers is f’ictional’”, designed to “respect the letter of the law” but affecting 80 people at most. [54]

41HEIs ordinarily try to conceal their game, for instance by inventing ways of removing the “lowest-performing” teachers (those who do not publish enough) from the category of “teaching personnel” without getting rid of them. They set out to produce “dead souls” who, unlike Gogol’s, are still employed but are invisible when calculating performance. Keeping them has the advantage of maintaining the range of lectures offered. To do so, HEIs create new statuses, which may confront teachers with problems of identity and income, but which nonetheless allow them to keep their job. At UrFU, those the university wants to hide could potentially become “lecturers”, “tutors”, or “consultants”, and no longer be counted as professors, dotsent, starshii prepodavatel’*, prepodavatel’*, and assistants*, categories which still define the profession of teacher. [55] For the last three years, the Higher School of Economics (VShE, Moscow) has turned some university teachers into service providers with commercial contracts (grazhdansko-pravovye dogovory). [56] Deprived of the status of salaried employees, they are no longer protected by employment legislation. This does not stop VShE from setting the price of their services, reproducing the status hierarchy of professor, dotsent, etc. [57] These new forms of insecurity are thus based on the status of salaried employees, but with certain essential elements removed. As we can see, layoffs or the possibility of layoffs push HEIs to think up institutional oddities which create a great deal of vagueness, destructuring the social relations which emerged in the 1990s.

42In another ambiguity arising from these reforms, in response to the competitive environment certain universities seek to attract and win over the best teachers by offering a simulacrum of tenure. Although an ardent promoter of competition between teachers, VShE has created the status of “ordinary professor”, held by 27% of its professors (excluding regional branches). [58] This involves “a higher salary [including a permanent bonus [59]], specific rights and an informal commitment to renew their contract for as long as the teacher wants”. [60] This last feature is legally fragile, as employment legislation explicitly bans jobs for life in higher education. [61] The position of ordinary professor is thus far from being tenured, even if some senior managers in the School often label it as such. [62]

43Performance bonuses are another stumbling block to reform. As we have seen, since 2008 the government has called on HEIs to increase the proportion of bonuses within teachers’ pay. Four years later, the government noticed that bonuses were not typically being distributed according to teacher performance, but in a more or less egalitarian manner, as a percentage of teachers’ basic salaries, in order to compensate for low salary levels. [63] By resisting salary individualization, HEIs protect their faculty. The Moscow State University (MGU), for instance, gives all its faculty a monthly supplement of 50% of their basic salary, augmented by an annual bonus of one or two months’ salary paid in rotation. [64] Not without a measure of cunning and duplicity, the government denounces such practices as unjustified because they benefit all faculty independently of merit – which provides a reason, in its eyes, for the introduction of “efficiency contracts”.

44In other cases, university leaders use accounting tricks to try to protect their institutions, announcing salary increases which appear to meet the demands made by the President. According to national statistics, the 2012 ukaz on salary growth has borne fruit: in 2013, teachers’ average salary reached 135% of the average national salary, and 145% in 2014. [65] But when these figures are broken down by institution, they come as a surprise to teachers, like those from Tomsk State University who are reported to receive 55,300 rubles each month: “It’s an average, of course, but the difference is just too far from what we get in reality: […] our salaries are half that size”. [66] HEIs do not seem to conform entirely to the goals set from on high. The average salary they announce does not always correspond to what is received in reality, but to a full-time workload that almost no one undertakes, given the large increases in course loads. [67] A teacher who worked full-time before the reforms now receives the same salary for the same number of hours, but is considered to be working part-time; this allows the pay rate for full time to be artificially inflated. University heads, forced to present their institutions in the most favorable light possible, turn to many strategies – which undoubtedly fool no one – to meet the expectations of public bodies.

The ambiguities of the Center

45The Center accommodates these acts of resistance: it introduces certain reforms cautiously, itself manipulates figures, and puts up with HEIs’ “adjustments”. The principle of distributing basic allocations via competition, and on the wide variations these show from year to year – arising, as we have seen, from a law made in 2010 – initially had almost no effect on the amounts HEIs received. This led university managers to view the mechanism of control as harmless. It is only in the last two years, now that it has become part of the landscape, that this mechanism has come fully into play.

46The Ministry of Education and Research (MER) has itself permitted the greatest vagueness regarding the number of teachers to be laid off. This is perhaps a way to protect itself from control by higher political authorities (the President, the Presidential Administration, the apparatus of government, etc.). The “roadmap” defining government objectives to reach by 2018 presents statistics in such a way that one cannot put a number on the expected level of layoffs. [68] On the one hand, it indicates the total number of students in 2013 (whether studying full time, in evening courses, by correspondence, or in public or private HEIs) and its projection for 2018 (-26.8%); and on the other a teacher-student ratio (projected to go from 1:10.2 to 1:12 in the same period) which by all appearances only concerns full-time students in public HEIs and permanent faculty. [69] The “roadmap” is silent on the number of full-time students projected for 2018, and so one cannot put a figure on the goal for layoffs which the ministry has set itself. In such conditions it will be hard to reproach the ministry with anything if, as it probably anticipates, the HEIs do not lay staff off in large numbers. Such vagueness leaves this possibility open to them.

47Finally, it is likely that some of the manipulations HEIs use to protect themselves are convenient for the Center. Such is the case when data – concerning the growth of average teacher salaries, for instance – become politically sensitive, seen as an indicator of the MER’s “effectiveness” in meeting a goal set by the President, and his own capacity to make the bureaucratic machine obey him. Let us note in passing that the many statistical adjustments and manipulations employed by both the federal executive and HEIs bear some resemblance to Soviet planning practices.

48But there seems to be a threshold beyond which the Center is unwilling to compromise or to turn a blind eye and where, remarkably, it does not even entirely trust its own new mechanisms of control, whose effects are undeniable. Its policy on rectors illustrates this other ambiguity. As key agents in the implementation of reforms, we have seen that rectors occupy a crucial place in the power structures within HEIs which were inherited from the 1990s. If they managed to keep their university afloat during that difficult period, they acquired an established position locally which sometimes resulted in extraordinarily long tenures as leaders of their institutions. Undertaking reforms therefore involves detaching these rectors from their local connections and their “rank and file” (deans, department heads, and core faculty) – i.e., to make them more dependent on the Center.

49When they feel stakes are high, central authorities prefer to go back to the brute imposition of authoritarian constraints by the superior on the subordinate – that is, on the coercive conception of the “power vertical”. In elite HEIs, which are to help restore Russia’s image and greatness on the international scene by figuring in global rankings, rectors are named by the federal executive itself (whereas elsewhere they are elected). [70] As the central authorities’ control over these HEIs grows, deans and department heads increasingly lose their hold on rectors and other positions of power. In top institutions, where rectors are appointed, scientific councils*, the strongholds of local mandarins, have effectively lost most of their jurisdiction to supervisory boards, largely made up of external members, including representatives of the MER (usually deputy ministers).

50This distrust of the new mechanisms of control is all the more significant insofar as the federal government has, in principle, powerful means of control over rectors. First of all, the government tolerates their sometimes extravagant incomes, even if for the sake of form they may invite them to bring them closer to those of their faculty. In 2013, 35% of rectors earned more than 10 times the average faculty salary, or e8470 each month, and 43% of these earned between e12,000 and e31,500 each month, or between 14 and 37 times the average faculty salary. [71] The tolerance rectors enjoy here recalls the situation of entrepreneurs who made their fortunes in the 1990s, some of whom, who had not played the game to the Kremlin’s satisfaction, went on to reap unpleasant consequences. Rectors know they could be denounced at any moment. Furthermore, the Ministries in charge of universities have the legal option of removing from an election any candidate for rector they judge undesirable, and can easily dismiss any rector currently in post. [72] This sort of stranglehold, even if limited to the topmost universities, is enough to affect the whole sector once it becomes clear that the elite is vulnerable.


52* * *


54Beyond recognizing that the coercive dimension of the “power vertical” is far from exhausting the mechanisms by which the central state succeeds in reasserting its authority in Russian society, this study of the world of HEIs also demonstrates the art of management of the federal state. An increase in public funding acts as a Trojan horse for it to regain a foothold in the university sector. But it is by making use of the interests of HEIs and their agents, and of the competition in which they become wholly absorbed, that the state succeeds in placing them in a relationship of subordination. This study has revealed a set of technologies which multiply power like “the most beautiful machines”, where “art uses the fewest movements, forces, and gears possible”: [73] by raising spending, but keeping it below the level needed to cover day-to-day expenses, the Center can gain considerable political results.

55This exploration also invites us to broach other lines of questioning, particularly concerning the means by which forms, practices, and know-how inherited from the past survive. The Center has announced its intention to eliminate the institutional forms and social relationships which emerged in the 1990s, but its practices remain ambiguous. That is, on the one hand, because it cannibalizes these forms: it maintains them as a facade while attempting to modify what they in fact are (salary structure, rectors). On the other, it is because the Center declares that it wants to root out these practices (the tacit norm of avoiding layoffs) but, anticipating resistance, conceives strategies which camouflage its possible failure and thus reinforce the possibility that they may persist. But survival does not mean that practices remain unchanged, as shown by the fate of the norm of avoiding layoffs. The Russian case analyzed here might thus push us to revisit the expectations of the theoretical model of path dependency, which, it is often forgotten, aims to explain the transformation of institutions as well as their reproduction. [74]

56Finally, let us note that the different techniques of government used by the Center fit well with the precepts and practices of neomanagerial reforms deployed around the world over the last 30 or so years. From what I have just described, Russia may appear as an exceptionally gifted importer of “new public management”. A system in which teachers are subject to dismissal, given incentives to bring in money to their university, where the state can play a major role in the strategy of inter-university competition at relatively low cost, and where more than half of students pay substantial fees for the right to enroll, could even serve as an exemplar for reformers in many other countries. They may believe they are drawing on the Anglo-Saxon model, but it may be the Russian one they dream of importing. [75]



Assistant:Lowest grade of permanent teacher, accessible without a thesis.
Doktor:Title gained after defending a second thesis (300-400 pages in human and social sciences). [76]
Dotsent:Function and/or grade, accessible with a thesis (of kandidat or doktor).
Kandidat:Title obtained after defending a first thesis (120-150 pages in human and social sciences).
Prepodavatel, “starshii prepodavatel”:Grades of permanent teacher between assistant and dotsent, accessible without a thesis.
Professor:Function and/or grade accessible with the title of doktor (or, before 2014, of kandidat).
Rector:Equivalent of a university president.
Scientific council:Plays the role of both administrative and research councils.


  • [1]
    Nikolai Petrov and Darrell Slider, “Regional politics”, in Stephen Wegren (ed.), Return to Putin’s Russia: Past Imperfect, Future Uncertain (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013), 63-82. The election of governors was reintroduced in 2012.
  • [2]
    On legal vulnerability, see Gilles Favarel-Garrigues, “La gestion des illégalismes économiques: des pratiques soviétiques aux dynamiques globales”, habilitation thesis, 2014, EHESS, 22; Alena Ledeneva, How Russia Really Works: The Informal Practices that Shaped Post-Soviet Politics and Business (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006).
  • [3]
    See, for instance, Graeme Robertson, The Politics of Protest in Hybrid Regimes: Managing Dissent in Post-Communist Russia (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 149-55; Françoise Daucé, Une paradoxale oppression. Le pouvoir et les associations en Russie (Paris: CNRS Éditions, 2013), 14.
  • [4]
    Vladimir Gel’man and Sergei Ryzhenkov, “Local regimes, sub-national governance and the ‘power vertical’ in contemporary Russia”, Europe-Asia Studies, 63(3), 2011, 449-65.
  • [5]
    See, for instance, Jennifer Gandhi and Adam Przeworski, “Cooperation, cooptation, and rebellion under dictatorships”, Economics and Politics, 18(1), 2006, 1-26; for a presentation of different analyses of strategies of co-optation, see Yumin Sheng, “Authoritarian co-optation, the territorial dimension: provincial political representation in post-Mao China”, Studies in Comparative International Development, 44(1), 2009, 71-93.
  • [6]
    Barbara Geddes, Politician’s Dilemma: Building State Capacity in Latin America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 193.
  • [7]
    Max Weber, Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, ed. Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 943. For the original text see Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. Grundniss der verstehenden Soziologie (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1972), 542-4.
  • [8]
    As suggested by Michel Dobry (“Légitimité et calcul rationnel: remarques sur quelques ‘complications’ de la sociologie de Max Weber”, in Pierre Favre, Jack Hayward and Yves Schemeil (eds), Être gouverné. Études en l’honneur de Jean Leca [Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2003], 127-47) and Béatrice Hibou (Anatomie politique de la domination [Paris: La Découverte, 2011]).
  • [9]
    The university sphere is not a priority for Putin: efforts to bring it back under the control of the Center began only in the mid-2000s.
  • [10]
    For resemblances to reforms elsewhere see, for instance, Giliberto Capano, “Government continues to do its job: a comparative study of governance shifts in the higher education sector”, Public Administration, 89(4), 2011, 1622-42; Joshua Ka-Ho Mok, “From state control to governance: decentralization and higher education in Guangdong, China”, International Review of Education, 47(1), 2001, 123-49; Christine Musselin, “Les politiques d’enseignement supérieur”, in Olivier Borraz and Virginie Guiraudon (eds), Politiques publiques. 1. La France dans la gouvernance européenne (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2008), 147-72. On “new public management”, see especially Christopher Hood, “A public management for all seasons?”, Public Administration, 69, 1991, 3-19; Tom Christensen and Per Laegreid (eds), New Public Management: The Transformation of Ideas and Practice (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001); Christopher Pollitt and Geert Bouckaert (eds), Public Management Reform: A Comparative Analysis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). For the Russian case in particular, see for instance Carole Sigman, “Le ‘nouveau management public’ en Russie: tribulations d’une transposition”, Gouvernement et action publique, 2(3), 2013, 441-60.
  • [11]
    This type of analysis of the state, of decision-making, and of public action has already been clearly addressed in Graham Allison, Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (Boston: Little, Brown & Co, 1971), and exists in France in Michel Crozier and Erhard Friedberg, L’acteur et le système. Les contraintes de l’action collective (Paris: Seuil, 1977).
  • [12]
    Certain theories of the “tools” or “instruments” of public action converge here with my own analyses of political technologies when they examine the effects of procedures, techniques and arrangements on power relations, the resources which actors have, and the constraints which imprison them. See especially Christopher
    Hood, The Tools of Government (Chatham: Chatham House, 1986); Walter Kickert, Erik-Hans Klijn and Joop Koppenjan, Managing Complex Networks (London: Sage, 1997); Pierre Lascoumes and Patrick Le Galès, “Introduction: l’action publique saisie par ses instruments”, in Pierre Lascoumes and Patrick Le Galès (eds), Gouverner par les instruments (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2005), 11-44.
  • [13]
    I have anonymized the interviews and, in certain cases, the institutions concerned.
  • [14]
    Indikatory obrazovaniya: 2016. Stat. sb. (Moscow: VShE, 2016), 147 and 229.
  • [15]
    Pekka Sutela, “Economic policy”, in Wegren, Return to Putin’s Russia, 173.
  • [16]
    Tat’yana Klyachko and Irina Rozhdestvenskaya, Obrazovanie (Moscow: IEPP, 1999), 5.
  • [17]
    Terms marked with an asterisk are included in the glossary at the end of the article. In 2001, the salary of a dotsent, including compulsory supplements, stood at 95% of this threshold, and that of a professor at 138% (Tat’yana Klyachko, “Gosudarstvennye garantii prioritetnosti obrazovaniya i ikh obespechenie sredstvami federal’nogo byudzheta”, in Mark Agranovich et al., Sistema finansirovaniya obrazovaniya. Analiz effektivnosti [Moscow: Tekhnopechat’, 2003], 53-4).
  • [18]
    Mervyn Matthews, Education in the Soviet Union: Policies and Institutions since Stalin (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1982), 147. These basic salaries were augmented by more modest bonuses (see Boris Lebin et al., Nauchnyi rabotnik (Prava i obyazannosti) [Leningrad: Nauka, 1982], 181ff).
  • [19]
    The number of HEIs went from 514 to 965 (including 358 private HEIs, authorized since 1992) (<>, accessed on 15 March 2017). There were few local branches before 1991, but almost 1700 existed in 2002, of which 80% belonged to public HEIs (Obrazovanie v Rossiiskoi Federatsii: 2010: stat. sb. [Moscow: VShE, 2010], 354). The list of strategies given here is of course not exhaustive. For a more detailed analysis, see Annie Vinokur (ed.), Les transformations du système éducatif de la Fédération de Russie (Paris: IIPE/Unesco, 2001), 154-5, 168-9 and 171; Arielle Bianquis Haakenstad, “Pratiques de survie et survie de pratiques dans l’enseignement supérieur pendant la période Eltsine. Itinéraires socio-professionnels d’universitaires russes”, PhD thesis, 2011, Sciences Po Paris, 2011.
  • [20]
    One should not, however, attribute to these communities too emotional a character: they are based to a large degree on convergences of interests which the parties found themselves caught up in.
  • [21]
    These resources, whether public or private, are called “extrabudgetary”.
  • [22]
    Even in 2014, only 38% of deans and department heads had the grade of professor, and 46% – less than half – the title of doktor (Obrazovanie v Rossiiskoi Federatsii: 2014. Stat. sb. [Moscow: VShE, 2014], 137).
  • [23]
    They belonged to the nomenklatura (Valerij Petrik, “Istoricheskii opyt podbora i rasstanovki nauchno-pedagogicheskikh kadrov na rukovodyashchie dolzhnosti v vysshikh uchebnykh zavedeniyakh Sibiri (konets 50-kh-nachalo 90-kh gg. XX v.)”, Izvestiya Tomskogo politekhnicheskogo universiteta, 307(2), 2004, 183-6).
  • [24]
    Obrazovanie v Rossiiskoi Federatsii. Stat. sb. (Moscow: CISN, 2003), 74.
  • [25]
    Not only is half of the assembly composed of members of the HEI’s scientific council, that is – in addition to the rector and vice-rectors – almost exclusively of deans and department heads, but these local leaders, for reasons we will see, tend to dominate the largest part of the other half of the assembly: those elected from the teaching and administrative staff and, in all likelihood, student representatives. This dependence does not just run in one direction: the rector must give an opinion on the candidacy of deans and department heads before their election by the scientific council.
  • [26]
    Aleksei Eliseev, Krutoi povorot [Moscow, n.d.] (<>, accessed on 15 March 2017).
  • [27]
    To cite just a few examples, the rector of Moscow State University (MGU) has been in his position for 24 years; the rector of the Moscow State University of Railway Engineering (MIIT), for 19; the rector of the Samara State Aerospace University (SGAU), elected in 1990, has directed his institution for 20 years; and the rector elected in 1995 to the head of Tomsk State University remained in the role for 18 years.
  • [28]
    A tenured position is one “which cannot be terminated, except in the case of very serious misconduct or a department’s closure for financial reasons” (Christine Musselin, Les universitaires [Paris: La Découverte, 2008], 105).
  • [29]
    According to a study conducted in 1961 in 84 HEIs, only one or two people in each institution over a period of four years did not have their jobs renewed after an evaluation (Boris Lebin, Podbor, podgotovka i attestatsiya nauchnykh kadrov v SSSR [Moscow-Leningrad: Nauka, 1966], 220).
  • [30]
    See in particular Shmuel N. Eisenstadt and Louis Roniger, “Patron-client relations as a model of structuring social exchange”, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 22(1), 1980, 42-77; Jean-Louis Briquet, “La politique clientélaire: clientélisme et processus politiques”, in Jean-Louis Briquet et al., Le clientélisme politique dans les sociétés contemporaines (Paris: PUF, 1998), 7-37.
  • [31]
    See Mikhail Sokolov, Politicheskie rezhimy v vysshem obrazovanii. Feodal’nye, absolyutistskie i oligarkhicheskie universitety: kakie sushchestvuyut tipy universitetskikh politicheskikh sistem?, 27 May 2013 (<>, accessed on 15 March 2017).
  • [32]
    Paul Veyne, Le pain et le cirque. Sociologie historique d’un pluralisme politique (Paris: Seuil, 1976), 340-1.
  • [33]
    Arielle Bianquis Haakenstad, “Pratiques de survie”, 146.
  • [34]
    Vinokur, Les transformations du système éducatif, 155.
  • [35]
    Vinokur, Les transformations du système éducatif, 155.
  • [36]
    Annie Vinokur, “Public, privé… ou hybride? L’effacement des frontières dans l’éducation”, Cahiers de la recherche sur l’éducation et les savoirs, 3, 2004, 17-37.
  • [37]
    This phenomenon is comparable to the emancipation of musicians who were contemporaries of Mozart from their traditional “patrons” as a result of the competition between princes to secure musicians, meaning that the latter could serve several princes simultaneously (Norbert Elias, Mozart. Sociologie d’un génie [Paris: Seuil, 1991]).
  • [38]
    This is the purpose of a law (no 83-FZ) adopted in 2010 concerning the majority of public institutions across all sectors (see Carole Sigman, “Le ‘nouveau management public’ en Russie”).
  • [39]
    This spending rose by 140% between 2004 and 2009 in constant rubles, before a slight dip after the global financial crisis (author’s calculations, based on Obrazovanie v Rossiiskoi Federatsii [Moscow: VShE, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2014], and Indikatory obrazovaniya: 2016).
  • [40]
    Frants Sheregi et al., Chislennost’ uchashchikhsya i personala obrazovatel’nykh uchrezhdenii Rossiiskoi Federatsii (Prognoz do 2020 goda i otsenka tendentsii do 2030 goda) (Moscow: Social Forecast and Marketing Center, 2013), 120.
  • [41]
    Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (London: Routledge, 2001), 123.
  • [42]
    Ukaz Prezidenta no 597, 7 May 2012.
  • [43]
    Rosstat, Srednedushevye denezhnye dokhody naseleniya po Rossiiskoi Federatsii (<>, accessed on 15 March 2017).
  • [44]
    Moreover, its level was 10% lower than predicted in 2015 (“Liberaly zapasa: novaya model’ ekonomicheskogo rosta zarabotaet, kogda konchatsya den’gi na staruyu”, Kommersant, 17 March 2015).
  • [45]
    See Rasporyazhenie Pravitel’stva R.F. no 722-r, 30 April 2014.
  • [46]
    “Dmitrij Livanov otvetil kak na ekzamene: Gosduma pred’’yavila pretenzii glave Minobrnauki”, Kommersant, 28 January 2016.
  • [47]
    Those most affected are temporary lecturers, who the university can lay off at lower cost than permanent staff and who, paradoxically, count for as much as permanent staff in the calculation of per-teacher efficiency criteria.
  • [48]
    See the round table organized 2 March 2015 by the Social Chamber, an official institution designed to bring together representatives of “civil society”: “Effektivnyi kontrakt v vysshei shkole: voprosy i resheniya” (<>, accessed on 15 March 2017).
  • [49]
    In the sense of the notion developed by Michel Dobry, Sociologie des crises politiques. La dynamique des mobilisations multisectorielles (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 1986).
  • [50]
    The database Istina (an acronym meaning “truth”) of the Moscow State University shows for each teacher, among other things, the number of articles and works published; citations in journals indexed by Scopus and Web of Science; patents taken out; and theses supervised (<>, accessed on 15 March 2017). Teachers are ranked according to the number of points earned in these activities. Their ranking determines whether their new contract will last for one, three, or five years (<>, accessed on 15 March 2017). For a publication in a journal indexed by Scopus or Web of Science, the Higher School of Economics gives its author a monthly supplement of e1500 for two years (interview with K., university administrator, Moscow, 28 July 2015). Since 2016, such largesse has extended only to articles published in journals in the first quartile of one of the two databases.
  • [51]
    For instance, in order to combat a merger, as was the case in 2016 at the Russian University of Chemical Technology (RHTI) or the Moscow Automobile and Road Construction State Technical University (MADI) (“Nastuplenie na vuzy prodolzhaetsya”, Rosbalt, 12 February 2016).
  • [52]
    “Na mitinge protiv sokrashchenii v UrFU predlozhili uvolit’ Koksharova”, Novyi den’, 29 June 2015; “Professura ukhodit po-tikhomu: v volgogradskikh vuzakh ne privlekayut vnimanie k massovym sokrashcheniyam”, Kommersant, 29 April 2015.
  • [53]
    “Vuzy smykayut ryady: saratovskie vysshie uchebnye zavedeniya ozhidayut sokrashcheniya prepodavatelei”, Kommersant, 19 March 2015.
  • [54]
    “Nad GUU navisli uvol’neniya”, Rosbalt, 16 May 2014.
  • [55]
    “‘Zachem togda voobshche prepodavateli?’, – sotrudniki krupneishego vuza strany gotovyatsya k uvol’neniyam iz-za novoi kadrovoi politiki”, Novyi den’, 25 June 2015.
  • [56]
    According to the account given by G., a teacher at the Moscow State University (MGU), Moscow, 5 May 2014.
  • [57]
    This price also allows their employer to lower costs.
  • [58]
    <>, accessed on 15 March 2017.
  • [59]
    From an interview with J., teacher at the Higher School, Moscow, 12 June 2015.
  • [60]
    Isak Froumin, “Establishing a new research university: the Higher School of Economics, the Russian Federation”, in Philip Altbach and Jamil Salmi (eds), The Road to Academic Excellence: The Making of World-Class Research Universities (Washington: The World Bank, 2011), 293-321.
  • [61]
    The Code (law no 197-FZ of 30 December 2001, article 332) provides either for contracts of five years maximum, obtained in competition (it is in this context that one-year contracts were introduced), or for contracts of indeterminate length, with an evaluation every five years which may result in termination. This second option – which is the exception rather than the rule – offers distinctive protections for university teachers because, while their post must be regularly renewed, it does not depend on competition (teachers are simply re-elected or not, without having to compete with each other). If they are not re-elected they can challenge the reasons for their dismissal before a tribunal; their colleagues with fixed-term contracts do not have this right, as competition juries are not required to justify their decisions (interview with G., teacher at MGU, Moscow, 19 December 2015).
  • [62]
    See the remarks by Vadim Radaev, premier vice-rector, at a seminar at VShE, Moscow, 7 October 2014.
  • [63]
    “Programma poetapnogo sovershenstvovaniya sistemy oplaty truda v gosudarstvennykh (municipal’nykh) uchrezhdeniyakh na 2012-2018 gody”, Rasporyazhenie Pravitel’stva R.F. no 2190-r, 26 November 2012, 2.
  • [64]
    Interview with G., 5 May 2014.
  • [65]
    Indikatory obrazovaniya: 2016, 107.
  • [66]
    “Prepodavateli TGU napisali obrashchenie k rektoru po povodu svoikh zarplat”, Novosti v Tomske, 19 December 2012.
  • [67]
    Interview with D., teacher in a Moscow university, Moscow, 28 March 2014.
  • [68]
    Rasporyazhenie Pravitel’stva R.F. no 722-r, 30 April 2014, 49.
  • [69]
    See the official statistics for 2013: Indikatory obrazovaniya: 2016, 229.
  • [70]
    The practice of appointing rectors has been established gradually since 2006; today, about 30 institutions, or half of elite HEIs, have rectors appointed by the state.
  • [71]
    Svedeniya o dokhodakh, ob imushchestve i obyazatel’stvakh imushchestvennogo kharaktera za period s 1 yanvarya 2013 g. po 31 dekabrya 2013 g., 577 pp. (, accessed on 15 March 2017). This includes only the rectors of 282 institutions under the supervision of the MER.
  • [72]
    Article 278-2 of the Labor Code gives the supervising ministry the right to fire the director of an organization without giving a reason.
  • [73]
    Montesquieu, De l’esprit des lois (Geneva: Barillot, 1748), Book 3, Chapter 5.
  • [74]
    See particularly Brian Arthur, “Competing technologies, increasing returns, and lock-in by historical events”, The Economic Journal, 99, 1989, 116-31.
  • [75]
    My warmest thanks to Annie Vinokur, the anonymous readers at the Revue, and the Russian university staff, whose anonymity I wish to preserve, with whom I had many fruitful exchanges. This project was supported by the Labex “Les passés dans le présent” (Investissements d’avenir, ANR-11-LABX-0026-01).
  • [76]
    Recommended length (<http://эац-ран.рф/Dissertation/Obiem-dissertacii.php>, accessed 17 March 2016).

Since Vladimir Putin arrived in office in 2000, how has the Russian central government regained its footing in strategic sectors which largely escaped its control after the collapse of the USSR? On the back of oil profits, Central authorities are in a position to confront the legacy of social relations which effectively marginalized the state in the 1990s. The main thrust of the article is the way the Centre imposes itself as the dominant actor through the so called “power vertical”. Through an analysis of the field of higher education, the article seeks to demonstrate how new authority relations and modes of control and influence are established by the political regime.


  • authoritarian regime
  • domination
  • Russia
  • higher education
Carole Sigman
Carole Sigman is a tenured researcher at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), based at the Institut des sciences sociales du politique (CNRS/Université Paris Nanterre/ENS Paris-Saclay). She studies the political sociology and transformation of authoritarian systems. She has worked on political mobilization in Russia during perestroika, and her publications include Clubs politiques et perestroïka en Russie. Subversion sans dissidence (Paris: Karthala, 2009), translated into Russian (Politicheskie Kluby i Perestroika v Rossii: Oppozitsiya bez dissidentstva [Moscow: NLO, 2014]), and “Les clubs politiques ‘informels’: acteurs du basculement de la perestroïka?”, Revue française de science politique, 58(4), August 2008, 617-42. She is currently researching the sociology of the state and of higher education in Russia. She has recently published “Les transformations de l’enseignement supérieur en Russie: évolution de la sphère publique et stratégies d’établissements”, Revue d’études comparatives Est-Ouest, 45(1), 2014, 21-54, and “Le ‘nouveau management public’ en Russie: tribulations d’une transposition”, Gouvernement et action publique, 2(3), 2013, 441-60 (Institut des sciences sociales du politique, Université Paris Nanterre, Bâtiment Max Weber, 200 avenue de la République, 92001 Nanterre cedex).
Uploaded on on 14/02/2018
Distribution électronique pour Presses de Sciences Po © Presses de Sciences Po. Tous droits réservés pour tous pays. Il est interdit, sauf accord préalable et écrit de l’éditeur, de reproduire (notamment par photocopie) partiellement ou totalement le présent article, de le stocker dans une banque de données ou de le communiquer au public sous quelque forme et de quelque manière que ce soit.
Loading... Please wait