Russian university chief fired over 'phantom students'

10th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

The head of one of Russia's most prestigious universities was fired Wednesday after it emerged that the school was admitting phantom students to trick new standardised testing rules.

Moscow's renowned Pirogov medical university "approved 626 fictional university candidates with overrated test results for admission" in late July, Russia's Prosecutor General said in a statement Wednesday several days after a curious blogger unveiled the elaborate scheme on the school's online forum.

"As a result...a large part of real applicants were robbed of their chance of being considered for subsidised spots," it said.

Admitting the imaginary students -- known as "dead souls" in Russian -- meant that the university could then select its own intake on the pretext that those who have actually been selected had somehow not shown up.

Health and Education Minister Tatyana Golikova speedily sacked the head of the school Nikolai Volodin, the ministry said on its website Wednesday.

Russia's prestigious schools are extremely hard to get into for free, and the system has been notoriously corrupt before Russia instituted the controversial new exams to de-personify testing and giving equal chances to students who cannot afford to bribe university examiners.

However the Pirogov university appears to have aimed to circumvent the system in a novel way by flooding the initial admission process with fake students.

After the initial stage, schools may take in students with lower test scores in order to fill their classes.

The scandal was sparked by Moscow programmer Viktor Simak who published his findings on his blog as well as on the school's Internet forum.

After analysing the list of students admitted by the school, he found that the majority were "ghost applicants" that had the same suspiciously high results in the Russian Unified Test Exam, or EGE, but did not apply to any other schools.

"This smells of a grandiose doctoring of information," he wrote. Anonymous commentators attested to widespread corruption during the school's admission process, including bribes of up to 10,000 euros.

© 2011 AFP

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