How does a private college operate, whose director was deprived of accreditation for his civic position?

For names in “Chronicle of the Persecution of Scientists”, which is joint­ly con­duct­ed by T-invari­ant and CISRUS, is the sto­ry of the strug­gle of spe­cif­ic peo­ple for civ­il and aca­d­e­m­ic free­doms in Russia. Therefore, we decid­ed not only to record these cas­es, but also to tell in detail who and why decides to go against gov­ern­ment pres­sure in sci­ence and education.

Many peo­ple think that in mod­ern Russia it is impos­si­ble to pub­licly speak out against war with­out dire con­se­quences for the per­son and for the orga­ni­za­tion he leads. The sto­ry about inspec­tions and refusal to accred­it one of the largest col­leges in Russia, Novokolledzh, the deci­sion of its direc­tor, can­di­date of his­tor­i­cal sci­ences Sergei Chernyshov to leave his post against the back­drop of an anti-war posi­tion and refusal to con­duct “Conversations about impor­tant things”, infor­ma­tion about numer­ous denun­ci­a­tions addressed to him, about The fact that he instills in his own son the “val­ues of paci­fism” part­ly con­firms these fears. But not real­ly. Although Sergei was rec­og­nized as a for­eign agent and left the post of direc­tor of the col­lege, the col­lege itself suc­cess­ful­ly start­ed the aca­d­e­m­ic year, and its new direc­tor Yuri Lobanov and Sergei Chernyshov him­self do not give up their pro­fes­sion­al and civic positions.

How does a pri­vate col­lege oper­ate with­out a license? What allows its lead­ers to head an edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tion with a non-stan­dard approach to learn­ing in the mod­ern rigid net­work of Russian edu­ca­tion? Should you be afraid to express your opin­ion? Yulia Chernaya spoke with the for­mer and cur­rent lead­ers of Novocollege — Sergei Chernyshov and Yuri Lobanov.

Not vocational school

The idea of open­ing a pri­vate col­lege, unusu­al for Russia, with rea­son­able fees for stu­dents, was con­ceived by a young his­to­ri­an from Novosibirsk, Sergei Chernyshov, in 2017-2020, when he was study­ing for a mas­ter’s degree at the Higher School of Economics:

— We were told how uni­ver­si­ties can be struc­tured accord­ing to the mind. Nothing new: indi­vid­ual edu­ca­tion­al tra­jec­to­ries, unique skills, open edu­ca­tion­al envi­ron­ment, human-cen­tric­i­ty, etc. At HSE itself at that time, a lot was being imple­ment­ed. Returning to Novosibirsk, I looked again at the uni­ver­si­ty where I worked then. The same ideas were expressed in words. But in real­i­ty it turned out to be a com­plete fraud. A lot of things coin­cid­ed, there were peo­ple who were also excit­ed about the idea. And since I was a neo­phyte in sec­ondary voca­tion­al edu­ca­tion, I had no col­lege expe­ri­ence, so I was able to try to orga­nize some­thing as close as pos­si­ble to the ide­al­is­tic idea that every­one is talk­ing about. Many teach­ers came with expe­ri­ence in sec­ondary voca­tion­al edu­ca­tion. We have expe­ri­enced sev­er­al crises when we could have tak­en the path of con­di­tion­al voca­tion­al school No. 5.

Sergey Chernyshov

Today Novocollege is one of the most large edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions where it was pos­si­ble to imple­ment a mod­el of indi­vid­ual edu­ca­tion­al tra­jec­to­ries. With this mod­el, an indi­vid­ual sched­ule is drawn up for each stu­dent with his own list of sub­jects, depend­ing on his vision of the future and his per­son­al capa­bil­i­ties. Monitors col­lege man­age­ment and atten­dance. Approximately 5% of stu­dents study for free for their aca­d­e­m­ic suc­cess, but to receive this ben­e­fit you need not only to pass the sub­jects well, but also to attend them carefully.

Each stu­dent choos­es sub­jects in one way or anoth­er relat­ed to their future spe­cial­ty, explains the cur­rent direc­tor of NovoCollege, Yuri Lobanov. For exam­ple, there is a set of 60 dif­fer­ent cours­es relat­ed to design. Of these, our stu­dent choos­es 30 that he needs as a design­er, for exam­ple, cloth­ing, inte­ri­ors or a web design­er. Of course, the stu­dent must make an effort and decide what exact­ly he will study. Yes, tutors, teach­ers, and par­ents will help him, but the fun­da­men­tal deci­sion must be made by the stu­dent him­self. Perhaps this respon­si­bil­i­ty for one’s choice, for one’s life, scares some­one away from our col­lege; per­haps it is eas­i­er for some­one to have the direc­tor or par­ents decide every­thing for them. But Novosibirsk is a big city where dif­fer­ent peo­ple live, includ­ing those who want to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for their lives. They are pre­cise­ly the ones who need our Novocollege today.

This year, dur­ing the first wave, 350 fresh­men were enrolled in NovoCollege (in total there are about 1.5 thou­sand peo­ple study­ing at the col­lege). This is a lit­tle less than We take into account the num­ber of fresh­men last year (there were 400). But Yuri Lobanov looks at the sta­tis­tics with optimism:

Firstly, there are 350 fresh­men at the moment. In October-November, based on the expe­ri­ence of last year, we will most like­ly have an addi­tion­al intake: the edu­ca­tion sys­tem in state insti­tu­tions did not suit some­one, some­one want­ed to see if we could enroll the first year, they decid­ed to do so after lis­ten­ing to reviews, etc. 

Secondly, this year we increased the fee by one and a half times. That is, col­lege income has increased by at least 20-30 per­cent com­pared to last year. This allowed us to increase, for exam­ple, teach­ers’ salaries. We have the high­est teach­ing salaries in Novosibirsk sec­ondary edu­ca­tion by a large mar­gin. We bold­ly com­pete with uni­ver­si­ties for teach­ers in this regard. The min­i­mum cost of an hour at Novokolledzhis 390 rubles, in some uni­ver­si­ties this is how much a professor’s hour costs. And the max­i­mum cost of an hour is555 rubles, the cost of an hour depends on the rat­ing of teachers. 

Thirdly, we enrolled a full-fledged first year with­out accred­i­ta­tion. This is a very impor­tant case for us, and, per­haps, for all Russian edu­ca­tion. We are very glad that in our case, accred­i­ta­tion turned out to be less impor­tant than a unique edu­ca­tion­al prod­uct and atmosphere.

Accreditation or death?

NovoCollege real­ly doesn’t have accred­i­ta­tion right now. Yuri Lobanov says that in this case there are only two waysall ways to get it or just work with­out accred­i­ta­tion. But will the lack of accred­i­ta­tion be a death sen­tence? College accred­i­ta­tion gives the stu­dent the oppor­tu­ni­ty to receive a state diplo­ma. It is need­ed pri­mar­i­ly for work in gov­ern­ment agen­cies, Yuri Lobanov explains the sec­ond option. But gov­ern­ment agen­cies These are a few per­cent of vacan­cies on the labor mar­ket. And for most employ­ers, nei­ther a state diplo­ma, nor even a diplo­ma from NovoCollege, or any oth­er is impor­tant. A port­fo­lio, expe­ri­ence in spe­cif­ic projects and skills are much more impor­tant to them. A state diplo­ma is also impor­tant for those who are going to go to a state uni­ver­si­ty with­out it it will not be pos­si­ble to enter there. But sta­tis­tics say that only 10% of col­lege grad­u­ates try to enter uni­ver­si­ties, although approx­i­mate­ly 40% of stu­dents plan to receive high­er edu­ca­tion in their first year. Where does this 30% “dis­ap­pear”? They are prob­a­bly mak­ing a dis­cov­ery: they have already received every­thing they need for life in col­lege, and the uni­ver­si­ty will not give them any­thing fun­da­men­tal­ly new.

I think for those who did not give NovoCollege accred­i­ta­tion this was one of the ways to kill it, says Sergey Chernyshov. The cur­rent Minister of Education Sergei Kravtsov, head­ing Rosobrnadzor, mas­sive­ly closed pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties, often depriv­ing them of accred­i­ta­tion for com­plete­ly flim­sy rea­sons. 99% of uni­ver­si­ties, hav­ing lost their accred­i­ta­tion, actu­al­ly closed: a state diplo­ma is is the main thing that stu­dents went to these edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions for. There are two excep­tions — Shaninka (Moscow Higher School of Social and Economic Sciences) and the European University. I think that these two uni­ver­si­ties gave their stu­dents not only a state-issued piece of paper, but also a unique edu­ca­tion­al prod­uct (which includes knowl­edge, an idea, a com­mu­ni­ty, acquain­tances, and much more). 

We were treat­ed sim­i­lar­ly: they did not give us accred­i­ta­tion every­thing should fall apart. But mea­sur­ing peo­ple by your­self is a big and com­mon mis­take. The same is true of peo­ple who are sure that if I myself hold lib­er­al views, then I will active­ly impose them on others.

Sergey men­tions two more dis­ad­van­tages of study­ing at an unac­cred­it­ed col­lege. Firstly, young peo­ple do not have a defer­ment from the army (which is very sig­nif­i­cant in cur­rent real­i­ties). Secondly, Novocollege stu­dents are not enti­tled to a dis­count­ed trav­el pass.

Chernyshov and Lobanov believe that this is illegal.

College it’s fashionable

According to the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation, today 60% of 9th grade grad­u­ates and 30% of 11th grade grad­u­ates choose sec­ondary voca­tion­al edu­ca­tion pro­grams. Yuri Lobanov says that such growth is asso­ci­at­ed with the demo­graph­ic and eco­nom­ic situation.

On the one hand, the chil­dren of the baby boom of the late 2000s grew up to col­lege. There are just a lot of them demo­graph­i­cal­ly. On the oth­er hand, real incomes of the pop­u­la­tion are falling in the coun­try. As a result, few­er and few­er house­holds are will­ing to sup­port a child for at least 5 years, and at the most pay for his edu­ca­tion, and then wait a cou­ple of years until he gets “real expe­ri­ence” by work­ing for pen­nies. Many choose sec­ondary spe­cial­ized edu­ca­tion, which is cheap­er, short­er, and, as a rule, more practical.

Yuri Lobanov

Yuri Lobanov says that many uni­ver­si­ties have also begun to open col­leges. And enroll­ment in such sec­ondary edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions may be high­er than in the uni­ver­si­ties “at which” they open..

Most pri­vate col­leges in Russia actu­al­ly copy the edu­ca­tion sys­tem in pub­lic col­leges, it’s just that the web­site design is more fun, and the edu­ca­tion­al con­tent the same, — explains Yuri Lobanov. It’s like fast food: cheap, famil­iar, with­out any prob­lems. It may not be very tasty and not very healthy, but it’s on every cor­ner. Novokolledzh is more like a decent small restaurant.

Sergey Chernyshov draws my atten­tion to anoth­er inter­est­ing nuance in the 2023 col­lege admis­sions campaign.

What do you think were the lead­ing spe­cial­ties in sec­ondary edu­ca­tion? Wreli­able and uncon­di­tion­al first place in the spe­cial­ty “Law Enforcement.” In Novosibirsk, one of the col­leges this year recruit­ed 13 groups in this spe­cial­ty and only three groups of pro­gram­mers. And so it is everywhere.

“Talking about important things” and teachers

Sergey Chernyshov believes that it was the refusal to hold “con­ver­sa­tions about impor­tant things” at NovoCollege that became the rea­son for the inspec­tions and revo­ca­tion of accred­i­ta­tion. However, this does not stop Sergei from con­tin­u­ing to repeat that “teach­ers who teach such lessons will go to hell.” 

This word­ing influ­enced his rela­tion­ship with col­leagues, who removed him from the chat of the heads of pri­vate col­leges in Russia. Formallynot because of “lessons talk­ing about impor­tant things.” And for his com­ments about the direc­tors of pri­vate col­leges, first col­lect­ing sig­na­tures against the threat of mobi­liza­tion of their stu­dents, and then, with no less zeal, extras for a ral­ly on Red Square in hon­or of the acces­sion of four new regions. Sergei believes that the very exis­tence of NovoCollege and the posi­tion of its lead­er­ship is a reproach to oth­er teach­ing staff:

Teachers and prin­ci­pals often say that they sim­ply have no choice, that they are forced to do some­thing heinous or to car­ry out for the sake of their stu­dents, school, col­lege or uni­ver­si­ty. But the exam­ple of Novokolledzh lit­er­al­ly screams the oppo­site. My exam­ple says that the direc­tor can say that war - is bad and he will not sup­port it. And here I am, alive, healthy, a trig­ger for those who were afraid to do this.

The new head of the col­lege, Yuri Lobanov, is not going to return “Conversations about Important Things”. 

Firstly, New College sim­ply does not have the tools that would allow these lessons to be con­duct­ed the way they were intend­ed orga­niz­ers. We sim­ply can­not “ensure turnout”: stu­dents them­selves choose which sub­jects to take. And I have not heard from a sin­gle stu­dent or his par­ent a desire to attend such a course. These are free peo­ple who pay for edu­ca­tion­al ser­vices. No one can force them to pay and attend this course. 

Secondly, you need to under­stand well that among the stu­dents of this course there will def­i­nite­ly be peo­ple with dif­fer­ent views. We have those whose loved ones are right now par­tic­i­pat­ing in hos­til­i­ties on the ter­ri­to­ry of Ukraine, there are chil­dren of those killed or wound­ed there, and there are those who cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly do not sup­port the war. Our teach­ers learn to talk about war in the class­room with such dif­fer­ent atti­tudes, teach and learn to hear each oth­er. But they are just learn­ing, and this is very, very dif­fi­cult. We need spe­cial teach­ing tac­tics and a spe­cial lan­guage of speaking. 

Yuri says that at NovoCollege it’s cus­tom­ary to dis­cuss every­thing open­ly, you can’t just “lis­ten to the les­son and leave.” That’s why Lobanov thinks he’s too busy to car­ry out such This is pos­si­ble only after good prepa­ra­tion, and until then it will not ben­e­fit either those who con­duct them or those who par­tic­i­pate in them. 

Problems of school and teachers

Teachers are, with­out a doubt, a very impor­tant social group and the largest group influ­enc­ing the for­ma­tion of soci­ety in any coun­try. In the case of Russia, accord­ing to Sergei, this is often not the best part of it.

How does a per­son get to school? He, most often, goes through dou­ble neg­a­tive selec­tion, Sergei assures me. First he enters the ped­a­gog­i­cal insti­tute, because he was not accept­ed any­where else on the bud­get. And then, if he couldn’t get a job with more mon­ey, he goes to work at school. These are the major­i­ty of young teach­ers. And old­er teach­ers, unfor­tu­nate­ly, often have rub­ber brains, which are best able to oscil­late in res­o­nance with the “par­ty line.” When was the last time the aver­age his­to­ry teacher opened an aca­d­e­m­ic book or research paper on his­to­ry? Sergey is a can­di­date of his­tor­i­cal sci­ences, and is now prepar­ing to defend his doc­tor­ate in the same dis­ci­pline. He sus­pects that “the lev­el of sup­port for CBOs is high­ly cor­re­lat­ed with a per­son­’s lev­el of his­tor­i­cal illit­er­a­cy.” It is impor­tant that Sergei him­self is a can­di­date of his­tor­i­cal sci­ences, and is cur­rent­ly prepar­ing to defend his doc­tor­ate. Therefore, he can ful­ly appre­ci­ate the degree of this very his­tor­i­cal illiteracy.

26% of teach­ers in Russia are pen­sion­ers , the aver­age age of a teacher is offi­cial­ly 47 years old, Yuri Lobanov describes the sit­u­a­tion in an ordi­nary high school or col­lege. — That is, these are peo­ple who have been teach­ing approx­i­mate­ly the same thing for about 25 years. And these are peo­ple who, as a rule, work two jobs, because oth­er­wise they sim­ply can­not feed their chil­dren. Do you think they are ready to move to new pro­grams? Give up every­thing and learn to work in a new way? And it’s not even about the peo­ple them­selves — the resources they have do not allow them to do this pure­ly technically.

Does this mean that there is no oppor­tu­ni­ty to influ­ence the change in teacher per­son­nel? Sergei Chernyshov believes that Russia has pos­i­tive expe­ri­ence in this area:

There is a rather suc­cess­ful exam­ple with the “Teacher for Russia” project. Graduates of the best uni­ver­si­ties in the coun­try are offered to work as teach­ers in a rur­al school. They are paid an addi­tion­al 20-30 thou­sand per month in addi­tion to their salaries. By the way, even if we paid all teach­ers extra, it would cost us much less than the mil­i­tary oper­a­tions that we are cur­rent­ly wag­ing. They also rent hous­ing and help method­i­cal­ly. Of course, you need to send 2-3 such teach­ers to a spe­cif­ic school at once, oth­er­wise they will eat you. 

Chernyshov says that this project has actu­al­ly been work­ing for sev­er­al years and in just two or three years the school is becom­ing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent. Why?

— Firstly, chil­dren get a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent social expe­ri­ence; they see in prac­tice that they can study not in the near­est town, but at uni­ver­si­ties in Moscow and Novosibirsk. Secondly, the teach­ers them­selves are chang­ing. They are grad­u­al­ly turn­ing from an ever-whin­ing com­mu­ni­ty into peo­ple who need some­thing. There is even a com­pe­ti­tion among grad­u­ates for this pro­gram. Besides, I per­son­al­ly believe in sci­ence. Therefore, I believe that lus­tra­tion is nec­es­sary in the teach­ing envi­ron­ment, but it should be car­ried out on an aca­d­e­m­ic basis. It would be worth ask­ing every his­to­ry teacher what sci­en­tif­ic arti­cles he has read over the past 5 years. And say good­bye to those who have not read such articles.

Irritant foreign agent

On May 27, the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation rec­og­nized Sergei Chernyshov as a for­eign agent. Later, lawyers man­aged to find out the rea­sons for this deci­sion. The explana­to­ry note stat­ed that Sergey:

- pub­lished a list of rec­tors who sup­port the war;

- neg­a­tive­ly assessed the fact that mil­i­tary com­mis­sars spoke at schools and colleges;

- crit­i­cized “Conversations about impor­tant things”;

- put for­ward the idea that “the author­i­ties use his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ry for their own purposes”;

- called NovoCollege “an island of peace and humanism”;

- called the teach­ers who meek­ly con­duct “Conversations about Important Things” and oth­er pro­mo­tions of the event “a weak-willed herd”;

- pro­posed to rename schools tor­ture centers;

- sep­a­rate blame for the quote “teach­ers in Russia do not belong to them­selves”, and “the lev­el of com­pe­tence in the edu­ca­tion sys­tem is below par”;

- told how one Novosibirsk col­lege hung the let­ter Z on its facade;

- told how he wears a yel­low-blue bracelet bought in Batumi;

- crit­i­cized teach­ers who jus­ti­fy murders. 

And besides, he talked with for­eign agents, which means he was under for­eign influence.

On August 3, the Leninsky District Court refused to chal­lenge Chernyshov’s IA sta­tus. But he does not intend to stop, plan­ning to exhaust all pos­si­bil­i­ties: ahead of him is the city court, and, if nec­es­sary, the region­al, Supreme Court. Often cit­i­zens who have received the sta­tus of for­eign agents are try­ing to leave Russia. Many of them have already done this. Chernyshov does not want to leave, but wants to go to the end.

In Russia, what is scary is not the sever­i­ty of the leg­is­la­tion, but the unpre­dictabil­i­ty of law enforce­ment prac­tice. Analyzing the sto­ries of dif­fer­ent intel­li­gence agen­cies, I have not found clear tra­jec­to­ries of why peo­ple become or do not become for­eign agents, nor how the state inter­acts with them after receiv­ing their sta­tus. A case is opened against some­one after six months, against some­one after a year, and against some­one they don’t open a case at all (the lat­ter cur­rent­ly includes the vast major­i­ty of IA liv­ing in Russia). But a case can be opened with­out IA sta­tus. No one expect­ed that Evgenia Berkovich would be arrest­ed for the per­for­mance.

Sergei also has a ver­sion of why he is so annoy­ing and attracts close atten­tion from the “patri­ot­ic” pub­lic of Novosibirsk, which writes angry com­ments to his VKontakte account:

First of all, they don’t under­stand why I even speak out. I am not a politi­cian, I have not expressed and do not express any polit­i­cal ambi­tions, I have nev­er par­tic­i­pat­ed in ral­lies, and I do not go abroad. Secondly, the uncer­tain­ty of the posi­tion of Novokolledzh. The col­lege quite clear­ly artic­u­lates a non-oppo­si­tion­al, but mod­er­ate­ly lib­er­al anti-mil­i­tarist posi­tion. At the same time, the col­lege was cre­at­ed with­out state mon­ey, with­out the mon­ey of the oli­garchs, we did not squeeze out build­ings from any­one for pen­nies, did not give bribes, the col­lege does not coor­di­nate with the con­di­tion­al “cura­tors from the state” the appoint­ment of a new direc­tor This is a prece­dent. In addi­tion, offi­cials are often guid­ed by a sim­ple prin­ci­ple: “if they sud­den­ly ask you some­thing lat­er, they will have some­thing to report on.”

From New College to New University

Recognized as a for­eign­er, who resigned from the post of direc­tor of NovoCollege, Sergei Chernyshev not only does not plan to leave Russia, he plans to open a new uni­ver­si­ty in the near future — Siberian University of Liberal Arts and Sciences named after Yadrintsev. Nikolai Yadrintsev is a Russian pub­li­cist, writer and pub­lic fig­ure of the 19th cen­tu­ry, researcher of Siberia and Central Asia, one of the founders of Siberian region­al­ism, dis­cov­er­er of ancient Turkic mon­u­ments on the Orkhon River, the cap­i­tal of Genghis Khan Karakorum and the cap­i­tal of the Uyghur Khaganate in Mongolia.

If I just want­ed to make mon­ey, I would open an insti­tute of psy­chol­o­gy or pro­gram­ming, data analy­sis or some­thing sim­i­lar. These are the areas that are cur­rent­ly expe­ri­enc­ing a renais­sance. But I don’t want to do that. I sin­cere­ly believe that, first of all, we need good lib­er­al arts uni­ver­si­ties with a good lib­er­al arts education.

Sergey is con­fi­dent that the cri­sis that soci­ety is cur­rent­ly expe­ri­enc­ing is a cri­sis of human­i­tar­i­an knowl­edge. He believes that the Soviet mod­el of a spe­cial­ized uni­ver­si­ty has long out­lived its use­ful­ness, and 80% of offi­cials in uni­ver­si­ties and the Ministry of Education are weath­er vanes who try to pre­dict the par­ty line. This sys­tem needs to be changed, because it was the insuf­fi­cient lev­el of devel­op­ment of the social and human sci­ences in Russia that large­ly led soci­ety to cri­sis and war.

Text Yulia Chernaya


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