Bernie Sanders, Eat Your Heart Out: Free University Education

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY 22, 2019: A view of the Main Building of Lomonosov Moscow State University. Sergei Bobylev/TASS Ðîññèÿ. Ìîñêâà. Âèä íà ãëàâíîå çäàíèå Ìîñêîâñêîãî ãîñóäàðñòâåííîãî óíèâåðñèòåòà èìåíè Ì.Â. Ëîìîíîñîâà (ÌÃÓ) íà Ëåíèíñêèõ ãîðàõ. Ñåðãåé Áîáûëåâ/ÒÀÑ
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When Bernie Sanders was running for the Democratic Party nomination for the 2016 race, he was drawing crowds upwards of 28,000. In addition to healthcare reform, people were especially enthusiastic about his proposal to make university education free and to cancel a big chunk of outstanding student debt. Sanders and his supporters would probably be quick to also enthusiastically support a system like the one Russia already has in place.

Russian Tuition Fees

How much is university tuition in Russia? Well, the answer to that is kind of “it’s complicated.” Let’s start with the basics. Each university has its own fee structure, so like universities in many western countries, it varies from university to university. In general though, prices range from around 40,000 ($520) rubles per year to just over 200,000 ($2600). These are certainly affordable amounts that don’t require the need for costly student loans that hang around a student’s neck for sometimes decades after graduation.

The Budget Program

This is where things get more interesting.

A student doesn’t have to pay tuition fees if they meet the minimum standard requirements for that university.

Each university sets its own minimum standards. Widely sought after universities, like Moscow State University, like US Ivy League schools, of course has higher standards than other universities. But truthfully, students are spoiled for choice. There are over 150 universities in Moscow alone, so if a student doesn’t qualify for MSU, they can almost assuredly find a university in town that they meet the minimum standards for as long as they remained reasonably studious in their studies.

Many universities hold open 1500 to 2000 free spots, so the reality is, university can reasonably said to be free in Russia and the academic board wisely sets the standards for this just high enough that it doesn’t get abused by those unwilling to put the work in.

The image below is an example of how some of Moscow’s schools establish standards. You can read more about how the standards are achieved in this Russian language article if you are interested in further research on the subject.

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