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I. Historical Background

The right to free education was traditionally included in the Constitution of Russia or that of its predecessor, the Soviet Union.  The first Russian Constitution of 1918 stated that “providing access to knowledge and full, free, and general education” for the Russian people is a goal of the state.[1]  The full constitutional right to education was for the first time pronounced by the Soviet Constitution of 1936.  It declared that “Soviet citizens have the right to education, which, according to the Constitution, would be secured by guaranteeing obligatory elementary education[;] free education, including higher education[;] a system of state-issued stipends for the majority of students[;] opportunity to study in one’s native language[;] and free vocational training of workers.”[2]  However, including this right in the Constitution and granting everyone the right to education did not prevent the creation of numerous statutory restrictions on people’s right to education.  For example, only people under thirty-five years of age were allowed to enroll full time in colleges and universities.  In addition, the government established quotas granting priority admission to universities to individuals who had at least two years’ experience working in factories and agricultural cooperatives, restricting admission to those who did not have such experience.  Because of mandatory residence registration, individuals could not select the educational institution they preferred to attend and were required to study at an institution designated for their residency area.[3] 

Another restriction associated with the government-granted right to full and free high education was the requirement for graduates to work for at least three years in the field of their profession at a government-designated employment place in an area with a shortage of specialists.  This practice was abolished after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but a bill introducing mandatory employment for those graduates who received government scholarships during their university studies is under consideration in the Russian legislature.[4]

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II. Constitutional Right to Education and Implementing Legislation

Article 43 of the Russian Constitution provides for the right to education as follows:

1.  Everyone shall have the right to education.

2.  General access and free pre-school, secondary and secondary vocational education in State and municipal educational institutions and enterprises shall be guaranteed.

3.  Everyone shall have the right to receive on a competitive basis free higher education in State and municipal educational institutions and enterprises.

4.  Basic general education shall be compulsory.  Parents or guardians shall ensure that children receive a basic general education.

5.  The Russian Federation shall establish federal State educational standards and shall support various forms of education and self-education.[5]

The right to education is further detailed in the Federal Law on Education,[6] which guarantees the accessibility of free preschool, primary, basic, and secondary general education; secondary vocational education; and, on a competitive basis, higher education, with some restrictions.

Education is not only the constitutional right of a Russian citizen, but also a constitutional obligation.  The Federal Law on Education established that education through grade nine of a secondary school is a requirement for everyone younger than the age of fifteen unless this educational level was reached earlier.  In some special cases (e.g., deviant behavior, imprisonment, sickness) this age can be extended by the authorities upon request from the parents or guardians.  Free high school education is guaranteed for everyone under eighteen years of age.[7]  Provision of education is a parental duty.  The Law states that parents or guardians are obliged to ensure that their children receive mandatory general education and provides for measures that would stop parents or guardians from obstructing their children’s education.[8]

The federal government is responsible, among other things, for implementing educational strategic planning; implementing government-approved national educational programs and standards in all types of educational institutions through federal, provincial, and local departments of education; monitoring and regulating the educational system; and assessing the quality of education and professional accreditation.[9] 

Federal and municipal funding of education is mandated by law, which guarantees the implementation of the constitutional right to education.  The Federal Law on Education states that educational institutions are to be funded through funds appropriated under norms established by the government.[10]  These norms provide for budgets at all levels of government to maintain dedicated funding for educational programs and institutions in the amount of no less than 10% of the national GDP, with at least 3% of the federal budget to be spent on higher professional education.[11]  Russian commentators note that despite these legal provisions, acute underfunding of education at the federal and municipal levels severely affects its quality.[12]

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III. Restrictions on the Right to Education

While Russian legislation implementing the constitutional right to education does not contain any discriminatory provisions, and the Federal Law on Education guarantees access to education to all Russian nationals, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, language, religion, place of birth or residence, political views, party affiliation, age, health, income, social status, or criminal record,[13] Russian scholars maintain that, in reality, discrimination in the field of education still exists.  They attribute this discrimination to the lack of equal opportunities in access to education in different regions, differences between schools in urban and rural areas, the unequal quality of education because of a lack of teachers in select areas, differences in teachers’ qualifications, and deficiencies in supplying schools with equipment and technology.[14]

Another controversial issue related to the implementation of the constitutional right to education is associated with the right to receive general education in one’s native language or to choose the language of education within the options offered by the educational system.  While the government is required to provide teachers and opportunities for learning in the languages of the minorities living in Russia,[15] this right can be exercised in less than 5% of all schools in the country, mainly because of the lack of teachers and teaching materials.[16]

The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation has ruled twice on implementing the constitutional right to education and the constitutionality of provisions established by the Federal Law on Education.  Once, the Court was asked to review the existing rule, which allows Russian citizens to receive budget-funded undergraduate education only if they have not earned the same undergraduate degree previously.  Also, the government limits the number of people who can be admitted to free programs at state universities, establishing annual quotas of eight hundred students per ten thousand people aged seventeen to thirty.[17]  The constitutionality of restricting the right to free higher education only to first-time students under this quota was upheld.[18]   

Another case assessed whether access to preschool institutions is guaranteed as a constitutional right.  Commenting on article 43 of the Constitution, the Constitutional Court noted that ensuring everyone’s right to free education is an important function of the Russian Federation as a social state.  With respect to preschool education, this right implies the obligation of the state and municipalities to maintain a sufficient number of preschool educational institutions and, where necessary, to increase their number to ensure access to preschool education, irrespective of where a child lives.[19]

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Prepared by Peter Roudik
Director of Legal Research
May 2016


[1] Constitution of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic art. 17, approved by the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets, July 10, 1918, available at http://www.hist.msu.ru/ER/Etext/cnst1918.htm (translation by author), archived at https://perma.cc/DFS5-QQU5.

[2] Soviet Union Constitution art. 121, approved by the Eighth Extraordinary Congress of Soviets, Dec. 5, 1936, available at http://constitution.garant.ru/history/ussr-rsfsr/1936/red_1936/3958676/chapter/10/#block_1010, archived at https://perma.cc/VCN7-HH8T.

[3] Evgenia Volokhova, Right to Education in Russian History, Pravovedenie No. 3, at 255 (2002), available at http://law.edu.ru/article/article.asp?articleID=180828 (in Russian), archived at https://perma.cc/DQ9T-DS5T.

[4] Marina Petrova, Is Introducing Mandatory Employment a Necessity or a Legislative Exercise, Lawinrussia (July 16, 2014), http://www.lawinrussia.ru/node/299890 (in Russian), archived at https://perma.cc/K3C8-4QFY.

[5] Konstitutsia Rossiiskoi Federatsii [Constitution of the Russian Federation], Dec. 12, 1993, available on the website of the President of the Russian Federation, at http://constitution.kremlin.ru (in Russian), archived at https://perma.cc/P4VT-BVCP, English translation available on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation at http://archive.mid.ru//ns-osndoc.nsf/8f29680344080938432569ea00361529/ d0bd6a5ba542c949c32575dd004009ee?OpenDocument, archived at https://perma-archives.org/warc/U27E-YVJ5/http://archive.mid.ru//ns-osndoc.nsf/8f29680344080938432569ea00361529/d0bd6a5ba542c949c32575 dd004009ee?OpenDocument.

[6] Federalnii Zakon ob Obrazovanii v Rossiiskoi Federatsii [Federal Law on Education in the Russian Federation] No. 273-FZ, Dec. 29, 2012, Sobranie Zakonodatel’stva Rossiiskoi Federatsii [SZ RF] [Official Gazette of the Russian Federation] Dec. 31, 2012, No. 53 (part 1), item 7598, available on the website of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation at http://xn--80abucjiibhv9a.xn--p1ai/%D0%B4%D0%BE %D0%BA%D1%83%D0%BC%D0%B5%D0%BD%D1%82%D1%8B/2974, archived at https://perma.cc/T6QG-NAN2.

[7] Id. art. 61.

[8] Id. art. 44.

[9] Id. art. 89(2), ¶¶ (2)–(4), (6)–(7).

[10] Id. art. 99.

[11] Kommentarii k Konstitutsii Rossiiskoi Federatsii [Commentaries on the Russian Federation Constitution] (Elena Barkhatova ed., 2013), bibliographic information at https://lccn.loc.gov/2013360592.   

[12] Kommentarii k Konstitutsii Rossiiskoi Federatsii [Commentaries on the Russian Federation Constitution] (Yuri Kudriavtsev ed., 1996), bibliographic information at https://lccn.loc.gov/97150674.

[13] Federal Law on Education art. 5.

[14] Kommentarii (Kudriavtsev ed.), supra note 12.

[15] Federal Law on Education art. 14.

[16] Kommentarii (Kudriavtsev ed.), supra note 12.

[17] Federal Law on Education art. 100.

[18] Decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, Oct. 5, 2001, No. 187-O, available on the website of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation at http://doc.ksrf.ru/decision/KSRFDecision32133.pdf (in Russian), archived at https://perma.cc/8TAW-5MQ4.

[19] Decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation No. 5-P of May 15, 2006, SZ RF, 2006, No. 22, Item 2375, available at http://doc.ksrf.ru/decision/KSRFDecision19697.pdf (in Russian), archived at https://perma. cc/8SFN-5UQ4.