Many governments concentrate their efforts on finding new funding mechanisms, which will make their higher education systems more efficient and which will allow to attract non budget revenues into the sector, if possible without negative effects on equity.
Vouchers for funding higher education have been proposed in Russia as a solution to the mentioned problems. Voucher schemes for higher education have been discussed in several countries but have not been implemented, because every voucher model might have certain advantages and shortcomings depending on its design, and on the particular environment, where the program is supposed to be implemented.
The experiment of the merit-based voucher system started in three regions in Russia in 2001. The objective of this study is to see how the voucher system has affected higher education in Russia. The study provides a detailed description of the voucher model which is being used in the Russian experiment and attempts to analyze the current experiment and to evaluate its social and economic consequences in general and its effects on equity and efficiency in particular.
Data were gathered through analysis of policy documents and interviews which were conducted in three higher education institutions in Mari Republic, one of the experimental regions.
The analysis indicates that the effect of the voucher experiment is increased inequality in the access to higher education, and that it is difficult to see any improvements of efficiency. However, there is a potential for improving efficiency, especially through a fairer implementation of the state exam that defines the value of the voucher to each student. Russia is marked by big social inequality, particularly between rural and urban areas. Market governance through vouchers introduced in such a social context seems doomed to increase inequality.