THE IMPACT OF HIGHER EDUCATION REFORMS ON THE STUDENTS’ READINESS FOR POST-GRADUATE STUDIES: THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE DIMENSION
The Russian higher education has undergone profound transformations in the last 20 years and is still under a lot of pressure. This refers not only to major subjects, but largely to minors, one of which is foreign languages (English in most cases). The current trend is to reduce the number of both face-to-face instruction and blended learning classes to the minimum of four academic hours a week for one academic year for bachelor’s degree programmes, compared to double that in previous years, and the elimination of the course from the master’s degree programmes. However, English is a compulsory admission subject to all PhD or post-graduate programmes that require the candidates to have well-developed reading skills, namely at B2-C1 level according to CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) standard.
The aim of this research was to find out whether bachelor’s degree students already have (or have a chance to develop within the time allocated for foreign languages in the curriculum) the necessary reading skills that will allow them to pass the post-graduate programmes entrance exams. For this purpose, the results of progress tests (the reading part) that first-year students of the Graduate School of Economics and Management of Ural Federal University took were analysed. The implicit assumption that 60% of the students are highly unlikely to be prepared for the post-graduate studies due to their overall low language proficiency level (A1-A2) and hence, under-developed reading skills, that 25 % of students (those with B1 level) might have only a remote possibility, and that only the remaining 19% of the students who have reached B2-C1 level stand a real chance of succeeding in the post-graduate admission test, proved to have the grounds. The fact that they are to take the exam five years after their bachelor’s degree course of English without any language instruction included in their university study programmes in between does not contribute to being optimistic about the outcomes of the current curriculum reform in terms of facilitating university internationalisation. This is especially controversial with regard to the rising expectations the university has about the post-graduate students’ involvement in this process.