In Soviet Russia, Dissertation Earns Money From You

A new paper in the Economics of Education Review looks at the corrupt market for purchasing dissertations in Russia. Among the findings are that 169 firms offer dissertations for sale, the median price is about $3,000, and up to a third of all defended dissertation may have been written for money. And then there’s this:

A more advanced version of this service is called “dissertations for key,” when the candidate is not expected to make any effort in obtaining the doctorate. In fact, in some instances there are anecdotal cases when a candidate was not able to recall the exact formulation of the dissertation’s title even  during the defense.

Right now every single graduate student is thinking of that one person they knew who just might have been capable of something like this. Of course this is real problem for Russia, and it’s something that surely has a negative effect on the international community and science in general.

First, politicians, bureaucrats, managers and other individuals in leadership positions with dubious doctorates occupy positions they do not deserve, effectively preventing capable individuals from occupying these positions, doing better jobs, and better serving society. Second, widespread nepotism in higher education leads to many teaching positions in universities being occupied by relatives of the administration. They acquire doctorates in corrupt ways in order to retain their bread-winning positions in academia. As a result, the quality of teaching is deteriorating, while more promising scholars are kept away from teaching and research.


Finally, doctoral degrees have a signaling function, indicating  an  individual’s  expert  status. Once doctoral degrees are available for purchase, this signaling function is distorted. Overall, the most significant cost of the dissertations for sale phenomenon is that it facilitates placing unqualified people in positions of responsibility, thereby lowering the total factor productivity in the national economy.

It should be noted that the author has a Ph.D from a Ukrainian university (you can see Russia from the student center), although he is also a doctoral student at Vanderbilt. I suppose tacking on an American Ph.D is the best way to defend against accusations of fraud.

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