A lawmaker from the ruling United Russia party is looking to turn back the clock at least a few decades.
State Duma Deputy Sergei Vostretsov has submitted a bill under which students graduating from state-funded institutions of higher education would be obligated upon graduation to accept a work assignment in a state organization or to repay the government for the cost of their education.
Under the bill, which is not expected to be considered by the Duma earlier than the autumn session, graduates would have to work for state structures for the same number of years that they spent getting their state-funded higher education. If they don't, they would be required to repay the government for the cost of their schooling.
Students who spoke to RFE/RL on the campus of Moscow State University expressed concern that the plan would restrict their freedom of choice, although some were attracted by the idea of guaranteed work.
"Everyone would have a job," one student said, "but on the other hand, it will be obligatory and that is a violation of one's personal freedom."
A student from Belarus, noting that her country already has such a practice in place and it's quite unpopular, said simply that "the idea is horrible."
None of the students thought they would be in a position to repay the state for the cost of their education.
'Bound To Fail'
Vostretsov's idea echoes a Soviet-era practice in which students moved relatively seamlessly from state-funded education into a planned economy where virtually everyone worked for the state.
In his explanatory note accompanying the bill, Vostretsov says he was motivated by his concern that inexperienced graduates have a hard time finding work. In addition, he cited the experience of the Defense Ministry, the Interior Ministry, and the Federal Security Service (FSB), which all run their own academies to train future officers.
The bill strikes many as a strange throwback to a discarded system.
"What difference does it make how a person contributes to the national budget?" asked Ivan Romanchuk, rector of Tyumen State University. "If he sets up his own business and hires people and pays taxes, why should he have to work in the state sector? He is already making his contribution to the development of our state."
Vladimir Gimpelson, head of the Center for Labor Studies at Moscow's Higher School of Economics, notes that in the Soviet era, the entire educational system was designed to meet the needs of the military-industrial complex. To the extent that Russia wants to expand its private sector, he argues, such a system as Vostretsov has proposed is bound to fail.
"The plan supposes that the employers and the employees are going to meet one another's needs, but life isn't like that," he tells RFE/RL. "Imagine a similar system for choosing couples to get married -- how many families would be happy? Employment is a sort of marriage. It has to be for love. Otherwise, employers and employees will quickly fall out and the economy will suffer as a result."
"What economic advantage will result if clinics and schools are assigned workers who don't want to work there?" Gimpelson asks. "If a person doesn't want to be a doctor, I wouldn't want to be their patient. I also wouldn't want to hand off my children to a teacher who is only working in a school because he was forced to."
Gimpelson notes as well that the money that pays for education belongs to the taxpayers, not to the state.
Even members of Vostretsov's own party have distanced themselves from his nostalgic initiative.
"This bill was not discussed by the [United Russia] faction and was introduced without the OK of the council on legislation," the United Russia faction's deputy leader, Andrei Isayev, was quoted as saying in an announcement on the party's website.