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Like many countries, the Russian Federation seems to have a lot of diploma mills that grant academic degrees to anyone who will pay the enrolment fees (and possibly fulfill some nominal academic requirements, such submitting a dissertation that doesn't undergo meaningful peer review). I understand that these diploma mills tend to be newer, private institutions established in the past quarter-century, and that the government has recently taken steps to crack down on them.

From what I've read here on the Academia Stack Exchange and elsewhere, Russian universities were once quite good, at least in STEM subjects, but overall their quality started to slip in the years following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This leads me to the following question: Among those Russian institutions which could currently be regarded as diploma mills, were any of them once highly respected, bona fide universities in Soviet times? It's not hard for me to imagine that some once-great scientific institutions may have fallen upon hard times and, drained of funding and professorial talent, resorted to selling prestigious-sounding degrees for cash. But I don't know if that ever really happened, or if so, how often. If a prospective new student or employee presents themselves to me with a recent degree from a university I know to have been highly regarded in the USSR, how safe is it to assume that they didn't just buy it?

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    wow, USA=Russia!! same amount of diploma mills – SSimon Apr 1 '16 at 13:12
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    I don't think I'm fully qualified to post a complete answer, so just a short comment which may be wrong. I think that indeed there are universities which fell into poverty and thus became diploma mills. These should be universities that were once well-known but only in a rather narrow field (aviation or oil/gas or etc) and thus faced enrollment problems these years. For big universities such as many well-known "State Universities", for STEM subjects most diplomas are indeed well-deserved. – Petr Apr 1 '16 at 13:38
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    And a separate problem is fake diplomas that bear a name of a well-known university, but have in fact never been issued by that university. – Petr Apr 1 '16 at 13:39
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    (And also in modern world I think you should not consider a diploma as something really important, as many people are nowadays self-educated, etc; and at the same time even in well-known universities they might give outdated education, for example in IT.) – Petr Apr 1 '16 at 13:43
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First, we should have some criteria on what to call a diploma mill.

This article cites the Ministry of Education claiming:

Indeed, the number of universities that worked like diploma conveyor line was growing in Russia, comments the Ministry of Science and Education. The Ministry and Federal Education Supervision Service are regularly doing checkups to identify the so-called diploma mills, with hundreds of students per one instructor or a tremendous ratio of extramural to intramural students -- these are one of the first hallmarks. Since 2015, the state accreditation has been renounced for 34 universities and branches. This mainly concerns Humanities, including Law, Economics and Management.

Original text

"Действительно, в России росло количество вузов, деятельность которых напоминала конвейер по выдаче дипломов,— прокомментировали эту историю в Минобрнауки.— Министерство совместно с Рособрнадзором регулярно проводит проверки, которые позволяют увидеть и так называемые конторы по продаже дипломов, когда на одного педагогического работника приходится одновременно несколько сотен студентов или же количество заочников в сотни раз превышает студентов очного отделения,— это одни из первых признаков. С начала 2015 года в результате проверок было приостановлено действие государственной аккредитации в 34 вузах и филиалах. В основном это касается укрупненных групп специальностей "Гуманитарные науки", в которую входят образовательные программы в области юриспруденции, и "Экономика и управление"".

An small sample of universities that get their accreditation renounced in early 2016 is mentioned by Federal Education Supervision Service:

For poor quality and content of education, the state accreditation is void for the following universities:
1. Kabardino-Balkariya business institute (founded 1998)
2. International Slavic institute (founded 1994)
3. Moscow Legal studies institute (founded 2000)
4. Moscow Institute of Banking (founded 1996)
5. Vladimir business institute (founded 1997)
6. Institute for Advocacy, Notariate and International Relations (founded 2003)

Original text

За неустранение несоответствий содержания и качества подготовки обучающихся полностью лишены государственной аккредитации:
1. НОУ ВПО «Кабардино-Балкарский институт бизнеса»;
2. ОАНО ВО «Международный славянский институт»;
3. НОУ ВПО «Московский институт юриспруденции»;
4. НОУ ВПО «Московский институт банковского дела»;
5. АНО ВПО «Владимирский институт бизнеса»;
6. НОУ ВПО «Институт адвокатуры, нотариата и международных отношений».

I think we're safe to assume these ones definitely were diploma mills. If you dig a bit more cases (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), you see the trend. Diploma mills in Russia are either Moscow-based Humanities universities with very general names (I think they can teach you everything if they are called International Slavic Institute) or some distant region (North Caucasus, for instance) universities with very obscure names (I particularly liked the Institute for Psychology and Acmeology, whatever they could mean).

Now, these universities weren't there in the Soviet times. An overwhelming majority of them popped up in the 1990s (I had given the foundation dates for the six universities I listed above).

Back to your questions, the universities that were highly respected in the Soviet times continue to be legit universities. I should remark that the quality of education, from my insider point of view, seems to deteriorate, in the sense that students try to slack as much as they can, including giving bribes to instructors. However, no prominent university has turned to a diploma mill as in 'never come to the classes, pay and have your diploma'. The ones that are diploma mills are the newly emerging, mayfly universities.

Further reading

If you want to learn more about diploma mills in Russia, consider reading about Dissernet. While the state-based Federal Education Supervision Service is doing a good job fighting diploma mills that give bachelor and master's diplomas, Dissernet is a non-profit volunteer organization that studies plagiarism in PhD thesis works and busts PhD diploma mills.

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