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Soviet Union


Training of scientists and engineers has been an important aspect of the country's overall scientific and technological effort. Soviet leaders since Lenin have strongly emphasized education and its contribution to the development of science and technology. The result has been the emergence of a network of education institutions that have trained some of the world's best scientists.

Training in science and engineering has generally begun in the secondary schools. The nationwide curriculum in effect during the 1980s emphasized mathematics, the natural sciences, and languages. By the time students completed their secondary education, they had taken two years of algebra, two years of geometry, and one year each of trigonometry, calculus, physics, chemistry, and biology. Beginning in the seventh grade, those with special skills in the sciences could enroll in optional science courses. Western specialists have considered Soviet science education, particularly in physics and mathematics, superior to that received in secondary schools in the United States.

Soviet institutions of higher learning (vysshie uchebnye zavedeniia--VUZy) included universities and institutes. The universities in the Soviet Union offered five-year programs that tended to be narrowly focused. Advanced training in many technical fields was provided in specialized institutes. The VUZy represented an additional source of research for the development of science and technology. Until 1987 that research was funded primarily through the state budget and, less frequently, through contracts with industry. The 1987 decree, which changed scientific organizations to self-financing status, charged Soviet administrators to develop a plan for transferring VUZy to the same financial arrangement.

Despite the success in education, the Soviet Union during the 1980s faced several key problems affecting its ability to train scientists and engineers and to place them where needed. Schools, especially those outside the major urban areas, suffered from a lack of qualified staff, supplies, and equipment. Efforts during the mid-1980s to launch an extensive program of computer training were hampered by the lack of computers on which to train students. Other problems included a high dropout rate and the refusal of many graduates to seek jobs in geographic locations and in specialties targeted for development by government planners. In response to these problems, Soviet officials during 1987 and 1988 initiated measures to reform the education system once again. Among the stated goals were an improvement in the overall training of scientific and technical specialists and the institution of greater cooperation between VUZy and industry.

The need to provide good training to scientists and engineers and to tear down bureaucratic impediments between the development of technology and its application in industry became especially important in the late 1980s. Gorbachev's program to reverse the country's economic decline demanded the increased application of science and technology to make industry more effective. Although much of the needed technology was available in the West, the Soviet Union could neither politically nor economically afford to neglect development of its own scientific and technological base.

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Many excellent books and articles have been written about Soviet science and technology by such authors as Loren R. Graham, Philip Hanson, Bruce Parrott, Simon Kassel, and Thane Gustafson. Some of the more recent publications by these and other authors include Science, Philosophy, and Human Behavior in the Soviet Union by Loren R. Graham; The Communist Party and Soviet Science by Stephen Fortescue; and Trade, Technology, and Soviet-American Relations, edited by Bruce Parrott. Another excellent source on all aspects of science and technology policy is the compendium of papers submitted to the Joint Economic Committee of the United States Congress. The latest edition was released in 1987 and is titled Gorbachev's Economic Plans. A number of studies on particularly defense-related Soviet technologies have been published. They include The Technological Level of Soviet Industry, edited by Ronald Amann, Julian M. Cooper, and R.W. Davies; Industrial Innovation in the Soviet Union, edited by Amann and Cooper; and Technical Progress and Soviet Economic Development, also edited by Amann and Cooper. For information on current science and technology issues, the best sources are the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty research reports, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service's Daily Report: Soviet Union, and the Joint Publication Research Service's translations series, USSR: Science and Technology Policy. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of May 1989

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