Russian higher education has remained somewhat unchanged throughout the years. During the era of the Soviet Union, higher education consisted of three specific credentials: the Specialist, the Candidate of Sciences (Kandidat Nauk), and the Doctor of Sciences (Doktor Nauk). These degrees were offered by state-controlled universities and institutes, as well as technical schools. Even military schools and academies were authorized to administer degrees.
When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, many of universities in Russia (and many of the former Soviet states) still offered the same degrees. However, institutions were no longer controlled exclusively by the government. Higher education in Russia underwent an even bigger change when the country became a signatory of the Bologna Process in 2003. Then came the introduction of the Bachelor (Bakalavr) and Master (Magistr) degrees. Even though these degrees were introduced, the Specialist is still offered at various schools. Universities, such as Southern Federal University in Rostov-on-Don, currently offer both Bachelor and Specialist programs.
The Russian specialist degree program is rather unique in the world of international higher education. Much like in the days of the Soviet Union, students can enroll in specialist programs after completing the Certificate of Complete General Secondary Education (Attestat o srednem polnom obshchem obrazovanii). The post-secondary program consists of five years of full-time study, although some programs like medicine and engineering can be six years. A diploma thesis defense usually takes place, and depending on the field of study, there could be additional requirements for completion. The resulting Diploma of Specialist (Diplom Specialista) is then awarded, and a professional qualification is oftentimes given as well. Completing this degree grants access to applying for third cycle doctoral studies in Russia.
In addition, students who complete a 4-year bachelor’s degree (after completing secondary school) can also enroll in specialist programs. These post-first-cycle specialist programs are only one to one-and-one-half years in length. Completion of the specialist program, regardless of the length, will result in a Diploma of Specialist and the ability to apply for doctoral education.
Much like Russia, the states of Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan still offer the Specialist Diploma to this day. Ukraine offered the program until 2016, when the Ministry of Education and Science abolished the program and replaced it with the master’s degree.
The United States currently does not offer any post-secondary programs like the specialist. Although, both Russia and the US have the first cycle bachelor’s degree. This grants access to graduate education in each respective country. At the graduate level, the US only has the master’s degree, while Russia has both the master and specialist.