In July 2016, the General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation began a series of inspections of the European University at Saint Petersburg. The basis for the conducting of these inspections was an official complaint by the deputy of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg, Vitaly Milonov, to which other citizens’ complaints were added later.
The complaints contained false information (the University has no medical emergency services, scholarships are paid to students in foreign currency cash without any proper record, etc.), and information to be checked by federal regulatory authorities (for example, illegal reconstruction of University building or a violation of education legislation). All of them have been formulated to provide a legitimate reason for unscheduled inspections of EUSP by the prosecutor’s office and other regulatory authorities.
In July-August 2016, the EUSP was visited by eleven regulatory and controlling services. All inspections were unannounced. Some visits occurred more than once, that is, if the authority did not detect violations on first inspection, it would come again in 2-3 days with the task of inspecting again. As a result of these actions, the EUSP was either issued orders to eliminate violations or had fines imposed on it.
On July 14th Rosobrnadzor (The Federal Service for Supervision of Education and Science) visited the EUSP on an unscheduled inspection, in fact its second unscheduled inspection in four months. The purpose of their March inspection was to check the quality of educational programs, and after the EUSP state accreditation was restored in May 2016, Rosobrnadzor seemingly had no more issues with the EUSP. But in July, they came again to verify compliance with licensing requirements, to check whether EUSP educational programs conform to the federal state educational standards and if all legal requirements are properly observed.
120 violations were found, most of which related to the presence or absence of certain documents in the University departments. These violations were, for example, the absence of our own gym, absence of medical examination of some teachers, and the lack of stands with anti-alcohol propaganda. Despite the obvious absence of students at the University premises in summer, these violations were qualified as grave breaches of licensing rules. Representatives of Rosobrnadzor sent three administrative reports to the magistrate court and the district court.
On August 22, 2016 University presented Rosobrnadzor its report on elimination of violations, accompanied by copies of supporting documents weighing in the kilograms. Already on August 23 the supervisory authority issued an order to conduct yet another unscheduled inspection of documents. They claimed it was impossible to make a definite conclusion about the occurrence of violations based on the submitted EUSP report. It is obvious that Rosobrnadzor inspectors did not have sufficient time to familiarize themselves with EUSP report on the elimination of violations or with the relevant supporting documents, since many “new” documents requested by them were already included in the original EUSP report.
Upon the additional inspection of documents, on September 16, the second order was issued, listing 32 violations that have not been yet eliminated according to Rosobrnadzor. From the perspective of the University, many of those 32 would not have been included in the second order if Rosobrnadzor’s officials had actually examined all the kilograms of documents handed over on August 22nd. Nevertheless, the University again fulfilled the given instructions, and awaited Rosobrnadzor’s written response, which has not been issued.
We had to issue a formal request to Rosobrnadzor, and the University received a four-paragraph response, quoting four violations, which, according to Rosobrnadzor, were not eliminated. However, there was no explanation of the rationale behind it (no expert arguments on why these facts are still considered violations were presented), hence the University could not properly object.
The members of the Board of Trustees of the University sent a letter to the President of the Russian Federation with a request to prevent the shutting down of the educational process at the EUSP. The President instructed the Government to find a positive solution and to prevent the suspension of the educational services at EUSP. This information was promptly brought to Rosobrnadzor management. However, on December 7 Rosobrnadzor decided to suspend the license of the European University at St. Petersburg.
Violations that cost EUSP its license are of a formal nature:
- In the opinion of Rosobrnadzor, EUSP Department of Political Science and Sociology lacks the necessary percentage of faculty whose primary occupation is practical work in the field they teach - both in political science and in sociology (two violations)
- Faculty members who work on fixed-term employment contracts, do not have adequate certification
- The University has no gym at its location specified in the license (the University rents one in a different building). (The argument about this fourth violation was rejected by the Dzerzhinsky district court of St. Petersburg on December 5 in connection with recent changes in legislation).
All of these points are based either on a particular interpretation of legal provisions, or on the internal Rosobrnadzor’s assessment of the degree to which their repeated instructions were fulfilled. The University was not aware of the arguments behind these 4 claims until the last moment (the explanatory document by Rosobrnadzor concerning the remaining 4 violations was distributed at the Government meeting on December 9, 2016).
On December 8, at a time when Rosobrnadzor issued an order to suspend the EUSP license, certain publications appeared in the Internet, spreading false and defamatory information about EUSP, University relations with foreign funds, its alleged work against the interests of Russia, etc. This information has nothing to do with the official reason for the suspension of the license. In fact, these publications aim at convincing the public that the regulatory authorities have been used for political purposes, as a tool of pressure on the University and an obstacle to its work.
However, in trying to discredit the EUSP, the organizers of this media campaign actually discredit the legitimate work of state authorities, whose task is to ensure the public interest - the safety of buildings, the quality of education, etc.
European University in St. Petersburg strongly disagrees with Rosobrnadzor’s interpretation of its work, and with administrative consequences in the form of suspension of the University’s license. Since its founding in 1994, the University has always paid great attention to the quality of personnel, quality of the educational process, management efficiency and the development of advanced science.
University administration will seek to address the situation by all legal means, in cooperation with Rosobrnadzor and with the help of the Russian Government.