How important are higher education degree marks in Russian graduate job searches? Do employers look at and consider GPAs? The question is quite complicated and has no clear answer.
Of course, there is no unique methodology or official guidance on how to recruit, or which criteria should be considered. Therefore, every employer has the right to set their own criteria and rules for the review of applications for vacancies. After all, is something like this not happening in many countries around the world?
So why is the situation in Russia more complicated than in other countries?
The first complication is the lack of a GPA on the final diploma. Individual subjects are listed, but if employer wishes to identify the average score, they need to calculate it themselves. This is more common with foreign recruiters who are used to operating with this indicator during the initial stage of selection process.
However, Russian employers are unlikely to bother with this calculation, deeming it unnecessary. Traditionally, simply having a diploma is a sufficient factor for initial screening. Until recently, it was fashionable for employers to ask for a degree for any job, even for the post of a cleaner. But when competitiveness started to increase and Russian enterprises and companies with foreign capital became more careful with recruiting processes, HR departments began to pay more attention to other factors: degree specialisation, the list of subjects the student passed during the course and, finally, marks in individual subject areas, as well as the topics of the completed thesis and coursework. This information can be found on the transcript.
In Russia, there are two types of diplomas at each level of higher education, so-called “blue” and “red”. They are called so because of the colour of the documents. “Red” diplomas refer to honours degrees (there will be specific reference to ‘honours’ on the document). Unlike in the UK, this does not mean that a person studied more advanced course, rather that the student has obtained a very high average grade. In order to obtain a “red” diploma, a student must not get any “satisfactory” marks during the entire study period, and the total percentage of “excellent” marks must not be less than 75% within the designated timeframe. Also marks for the thesis and the state exam must be “excellent”.
“Blue” diplomas are issued for all other students who have successfully completed the course. Several factors should be taken into account. Firstly, there is no further distinction. So it is not known (without a thorough study of the transcript), what percentage of “excellent” marks a person with a “red” diploma has obtained, or how successfully a “blue” diploma holder completed the course (after all, if they obtain only satisfactory grades, they will still receive the document). Secondly, it is important to note that during the period of study a substantial number of students drop out. For instance, completion figures of students who entered bachelor level in 2007 demonstrate a rate of attrition of about 30% (data based on the responses received from Russian HEIs in December 2012). Traditionally, technical and medical courses are most demanding, so tend to incur the highest drop-out rates.
The difference in the status and prestige of the university is another aspect. In Russia there is an implicit ranking of universities, and many employers take into consideration the type of institution from which an applicant graduated. Undoubtedly, a graduate from Moscow State University or from Moscow State Institute of International Relations will be prioritised over a graduate from a regional institute. There are rankings, compiled by various organisations, which can also be used in this case. Late last year, the Russian Ministry of Education conducted an audit of both public and private institutions. As a result, some educational establishments are being either reorganised or simply closed. This factor can also be considered when screening job applications.
It should also be remembered that the majority of graduates from higher education institutions are not working in the specialism in which they trained. In this case, a diploma simply confirms that a person is able to think and work independently. Recently, some prestigious companies started to require graduates to be qualified in relevant disciplines, especially when it comes to specialised industries.
Responsible students have always tried to gain work experience while studying at the university. Employers frequently request work experience, so the placements are an important differentiator. However, whilst students used to take on placements during the last two years of education, the trend now is that many try to find something suitable as early as the second year.
The twin problems of corruption and diploma mills, against which there has been a long fight, do not always make it possible to blindly trust the marks on the diploma. No-one can say with absolute certainty whether a student has earned themselves the mark. In this regard, it makes sense to test an applicant, or check their knowledge and skills through interview.
For these reasons, Russian employers must consider a whole set of factors. Evaluation of graduates is often a subjective process, rather than one involving a set of easily applicable thresholds.
Arseny Kruglov, April 2013