Leadership: The Russian House Of Paper


September 15, 2010: The Soviet Union is gone (since 1991), but not some of its bad habits. For example, fake academic credentials are becoming an open scandal in Russia. Paying for an advanced degree is something that existed during the Soviet period, but to pull it off you needed friends in the right places, as well as cash. Once the Soviet Union disappeared, just cash would do. Part of this was driven by the need to acquire business and management skills that were disparaged during the communist period. So there was an explosive growth in the number of people working on getting post-graduate degrees in business and economics. Now it is believed that up to a third of the advanced degrees issued since 1991 were bought (not earned).

The state controlled press (another Soviet artifact that has returned in the last decade) has played down the fake degree scandal, but too many fascinating, and entertaining, details, are coming out (often via the Internet). Among the revelations is the fact that a third, or more, of the national legislature have fake (purchased) graduate degrees. Even prime minister (and former president and secret police head) Vladimir Putin is tainted. It was discovered that at least 16 pages of his PhD dissertation was a direct copy of a management study done by two American academics. Even those with legitimate degrees, often faked part of the process.

The fake degrees are not just for ambitious men seeking to enhance their credentials. An aircraft manufacturing plant (that makes the Sukhoi Su-27 and Su-30 fighters) had 70 engineers on staff who were just technical personnel with a high school degree. The state owned aircraft plant was ordered to increase the number of university trained engineers on the staff. Not enough were available for hire, so the company made a deal with a local college to issue the needed engineering degrees, for a fee, to their technicians.

The Russian government is now allowing the mass media to go after this story, despite the damage that is doing to the reputations of some prominent politicians. These big shots are not being investigated by the state controlled media, but by Internet based news and information sites, often located outside of Russia. Now that the Russian mass media has whetted the appetites of the public, non-state, Internet based, news outlets are reporting on the more prominent degree fakers.

While most of this credentials fakery has little real impact (we're mostly talking about politicians, lawyers, media celebrities and business executives), there have been cases of engineers and medical professionals getting fake degrees. For many of these people, the fake degrees are merely to enhance the resume, and make it easier to get more money or a promotion. But in some cases, people with fake degrees end up in positions where their fake skills endanger lives. For most Russians, though, the fake degrees are just another expression of the widespread corruption among their leaders. This is what destroyed the Soviet Union, and it isn't doing Russia, and the other independent parts of the Soviet Union, much good either.





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