Belarus is a unique country in the sense that young people have to pay for their education not only with their money, but also with their personal liberty and freedom. To get higher education in the Republic of Belarus literally means to become a slave of the state for the years that should be the best years of one’s life, and it is not an exaggeration.
Deuteronomy is the Fifth book of the Pentateuch, Old Testament and the whole Bible. Written several thousand years ago, it became one of the first code of laws, which regulated slavery in particular, among other things. Today, if you read the Deuteronomy, you can get astonished of how precisely the ancient Jewish slave system has been reconstructed in the modern Belarus.
The main principal was that a person could become a slave because of debts, but after 6 years of slavery that person was set free. That system was totally repeated in the Belarusian system of education. Having received a higher education at the cost of the state budget and having graduated, a young person becomes a young specialist and is obligated to work for several years under an obligatory “distribution” (of newly graduated people). It means, the person is obliged to work where governmental officials send him or her, at the position they choose and for the salary they decide to pay.
Thus, young people are deprived of their freedom. If a graduate wants to decide his or her fate independently, such a person will have to pay to the state the cost of his or her tuition multiplied by several times. In addition, that person will not even be able to travel abroad until he or she pays the “debt”. Isn’t it a total analogy with the debt slavery and the procedure of buying one’s way out of it? One would believe that the humanity said farewell to such practices long ago. But no: pre-historic and medieval social practices have been successfully reborn in the modern Belarus.
Since 1997, after budgetary form of education, young graduates were obliged to “work off” their education at the “national economy” for two years. In 2002, the compulsory distribution of newly graduated specialists was enshrined in the new version of the law “About education”. Yet, people understood, that Constitution prohibited forced labour, including in the form of a compulsory “distribution”, but guaranteed free higher education on a competitive basis. In 2006, the issue arrived to the Constitutional Court. Nevertheless, by that time, the Constitutional Court had ceased to be independent, but executed the wishes of Lukashenka. Therefore, it was no surprise that the judges approved although “temporary and compelled”, but still a necessity of the “distribution” of newly graduated specialists.
Now, we speak about five years of compulsory “otrabotka” (working-off of “education tuition debt”) “where the motherland sends you”. It is planned to apply the most severe norms and fines to young medical doctors. All the independent experts agree that the distribution of young specialists contradicts international standards of the International Labour Organization and various other human rights organizations. It also violates the right to free education, stated in the Constitution.
Besides other things, students of budgetary form of education are being distributed mostly to state enterprises (or such enterprises have preferences in case there is a choice), which is discriminatory to the private sector of economy, as it puts state and private employers in unequal conditions.
Currently, the country is moving to even greater enslaving of the youth. At the end of 2022, the Chair of the Council of the Republic, Natallia Kachanava, said that the Ministry of Education and all the higher educational establishments had been given a task to distribute not only those who study at the budgetary form, but to “distribute everyone”. That is, even if a young person studies for his or her own money (or for the money of his or her parents), the state is still going to dispose of his or her fate as it wishes. Do you think, a lot of people will still want to pay for higher education in Belarus in that case? Especially, if we take into consideration, that higher education in Poland or the Czech Republic costs much less. Also, if you want to and are able to, you can even study free of charge, and nobody is going to “distribute” you anywhere.
In reality, the Belarusian regime play with concepts in some cases, and show their total incompetence and lack of understanding of the modern world in others. Officials in Belarus (starting with the main one) understand the compulsory “otrabotka” (working-off of higher education tuition debt to the state) in the following way: “The state has educated a person at the expense of the state, therefore that person is now obliged to work off the debt where the state sends him or her and for the salary the state appoints.”
However, in reality “at the expense of the state” does not exist. The money of the state is the money of taxpayers. To put it simply, the parents of the student have already paid manifold for his or her tuition with their taxes. Therefore, it’s not up to the officials to decide what the young person does further in life. Moreover, it is not some abstract “tuition” which is financed by the budget (i.e., from the paid taxes), but the education industry, which generates multiple jobs and work places on its own and gives birth to a huge number of intellectual products.
That’s as far as the deception of Belarusian citizens by their “alternatively gifted” officials is concerned. Now, let’s turn to more serious concepts, which remain much more complicated for the Belarusian leadership to comprehend than quantum physics.
Do you know that in the most developed countries of Europe the higher education is free for everyone, foreigners included? Also, the word “otrabotka” (the process of working off one’s education tuition debt) is even next to impossible to translate into foreign languages: there is just no such concept. Let’s take the legendary French Sorbonne, one of the most famous universities in the world. If you have managed to enter it, study for free! The most important thing is to pass exams well and on time. If you have graduated from it, you’ll get employed anywhere.
France is paying for everything. It is because they understand: intelligent and educated people raise the economy, just like that – by themselves, with their work, without any form of coercion. If a foreigner graduates from Sorbonne, two variants are possible. The first one is when the graduate stays in France. If the person has been clever and persistent enough to learn the French language, enter Sorbonne and study there, it means that France can only benefit if such person stays there. Otherwise, if that person returns home after graduation, he or she will take a part of French culture there, maintain good attitude to France, business and professional connections, and so on, and it’s a win, too. This is the way the soft power works in the modern world.
As we can see on the example of Sorbonne (and the same can be said also about Czech, Polish, Italian higher educational institutions), a reasonable state can only benefit from providing free education to clever and motivated people. It is only in Belarus that the approach is completely the opposite: it’s not difficult to understand that the only thing the system of forced “otrabotka” (working off the cost of one’s education) does is to demotivate students and deprive them of every desire to make effort in studies.
The country’s generations have changed, but the psychology of GULAG has remained.