Top Russian economics prize for Essex academic

  • Date

    Mon 8 Jun 20

Marco Francesconi

An Essex academic has won a top prize for his expert analysis of how a reform in the university admissions procedure in Russia has affected the country’s economy.

Professor Marco Francesconi, from the Department of Economics at the University of Essex, picked up the  2020 National Prize in Applied Economics, which is awarded biannually by a group of Russian universities, think tanks and business pundits, to recognise outstanding scientific papers providing analysis of the Russian economy at national, regional or local level.

Together with his fellow authors Fabian Slonimchik  and Anna Yurko, both from the International Institute of Economics and Finance at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, he was awarded the prestigious prize for their paper, Democratic Access to Higher Education in Consequences of the Unified State Exam Reform. 

The paper, published last year in the European Economic Review, was the first to evaluate the impact of the change, which meant Russian universities now offer places to students based on the results of a national high school exam. This has resulted in a three-fold increase in the number of students from small cities and towns going to university.

Professor Francesconi, said: “Our results emphasise the importance of meritocratic criteria to regulate access to higher education and select the best candidates on the basis of their academic potential rather than their family connections or other accidents of birth. This is likely to represent one small, but important, step forward for Russia to create a better educated workforce and a more open and more equal society.”

The paper received widespread attention, not just from the scientific community, but also policy makers and opinion leaders.

“The reform prompted many controversies and oppositions, especially from highly conservative, and highly influential, institutions which preferred their own biased selection rules.

“Our results show that the reform might have a chance to break the spiralling cycle of inequality that Russia has witnessed since the fall of communism,” added Professor Francesconi.