Горошко Е.И.

A Survey of Academic and Professional Writing Instruction in Higher Education of Russia and Ukraine

 A Survey of Academic and Professional Writing Instruction in Higher Education of Russia and Ukraine


Pavel Zemliansky, University of Central Florida, USA

Olena Goroshko, National Technical University: Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute, Ukraine


In recent years, writing scholars have been paying more attention to writing practices and instruction outside of North America. This interest is evident from recent publications (Zemliansky and St. Amant, 2013, Zemliansky and Goroshko 2012, Bazerman et al. 2010), and others. Panels and presentations on international writing research now appear more frequently on the programs of leading academic conferences. In the US, the premier professional conference in writing studies, Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) has included a workshop on international research in writing for several years running. This year, the workshop’s organizers earned a “permanent status” at the conference, which insures that international writing research will be featured at every CCCC meeting for the foreseeable future.Other professional meetings, such as the Conference of the Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific Communication, have also included panels on international professional communication research in recent years.

One obvious reason for this upsurge in attention to writing research and practice overseas is the ever-increasing globalization of both economic activity and the communication processes, which accompany it. The two countries covered in this chapter are not immune to those processes. Despite the recent armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine and its severe consequences for the economies of both Ukraine and Russia, it is probably safe to predict that the desire for the economic, political, and educational integration with the rest of Europe and the world, at least on Ukraine’s part, will continue. In the foreseeable future, the United States and other western countries will likely continue to pursue economic, political, educational and, perhaps, even military collaboration with Ukraine as well.

The second reason is the globalization of education. According to a 2014 US News and World Report article, the number of international students in the US has grown by 72 percent since 2000. (Haynie 2014). Since most higher educational institutions require some form of writing in their courses from foreign students, teachers and administrators at those institutions have realized that they need to understand the kinds of writing backgrounds and previous training as writers their international students bring to the US with them.

On the other side of this exchange of ideas is a small but growing amount of evidence that some post-Soviet countries are beginning to incorporate elements of “Western,” philosophies and methods of writing instruction into their curricula. For example, Kara Bolinger's chapter included in this book, details the author's experience with the setting up and co-directing a “US-style” writing center at a private university in Moscow.

Finally, North American scholars of writing, rhetoric, and professional communication have, for some time now, been noticing that the differences between the ways in which these fields are practiced and studied in North America and abroad are usually grounded in much deeper philosophical, ideological, and societal trends. Some of these changes include a different role for and importance of writing in professional settings (Artemeva 1998), the influence on the study and practice of writing of educational histories, systems and trends, (Goodman 2010), and others.

One of the least charted areas of the world when it comes to North American scholars’ understanding of writing and writing instruction practices and theories are the countries of the former Eastern Bloc, particularly the countries which used to comprise the former Soviet Union. Articles about writing and teaching practices in the former Soviet countries like Russia, Armenia, and others have been published before. However, most of these articles, until very recently, were mainly anecdotal and personal accounts of separate American or Canadians teachers and scholars who were either hired to teach English in those countries or lived there in some other professional capacity. One of the first systematic look at writing and writing education in the former Soviet Union was taken by Zemliansky and St. Amant (2013) who reviewed literature published both in North America and in the former Soviet states in order to see what histories, theories, and trends inform writing practices in those countries.

In this article, we build on existing research on this topic by presenting results of a survey of teachers in higher education from Russia, Ukraine. Since this topic is largely unchartered territory, and our knowledge of it is still lacking, the survey aims to answer the following questions:

?        Are academic and professional writing competencies taught in higher education of Russia and Ukraine?

?        Who teaches them and what kinds of training/credentialing do the teachers receive?

?        What are the locales (departments, programs, courses) in which they are taught?

?        What are the methods (theories, practices, assignments) by which they are taught?

?        How are the academic and professional writing competencies of Russian and Ukrainian students assessed? 


Survey of Teachers in Russia and Ukraine

Respondent Selection

We conducted an online survey of writing instruction in Russia and Ukraine among teachers of higher educational institutions in those countries. The purpose of the survey was to create a first-ever, to our knowledge, primary-research based picture of academic and professional writing instructions in the higher educational systems of these two important countries. Previous published research, including a different study co-authored by one of the authors of this survey, suggests significant differences in approaches to writing instruction between the US and Eastern Europe (Zemliansky and St. Amant 2013).  With this survey, we pose a rather basic question: “What is the state of academic and professional writing instruction in former Soviet states?” While basic in North America, where writing instruction has been studied extensively, to our knowledge, this question has never been asked about post-Soviet countries.

 To select respondents for the survey, we used our personal contacts at various universities and colleges across Russia and Ukraine. We also asked our contacts to ask colleagues at their institutions to fill out the survey. This approach to selecting survey participants was warranted by two factors. Firstly, the combined size of the two countries and the number of institutions of higher learning located in them would have precluded us from even trying to include faculty of all or even most of the institutions in the survey. According to government data, there are over 1100 accredited higher education institutions in Russia with over 2000 regional branches and campuses, thus making the total number of institutions over 3000 (source). Ukraine has 803 accredited institutions of higher learning. Secondly, to the best of our knowledge, there are no comprehensive databases or mailing lists, which would allow us access to Russian and Ukrainian teachers of writing and written communication. This is different from the US where researchers often reach target survey populations through professional organizations like CCCC, STC, ATTW, CPTSC, and so on. Red dots on Figure 1 represent the location of the institutions whose faculty participated in the survey. Institutions from 33 cities are presented in the surveys, with multiple institutions from 19 cities participating.


Figure 1: Locations of Participating Institutions

Types of Participating Institutions

In selecting respondents for the survey, we aimed for variety and attempted to include different types of higher educational establishments. The types who faculty responded to the survey included the following:

?        “Classic” university. The closest American analogy is a “comprehensive university” which typically grants both undergraduate and graduate degrees

?        “Technical university.” The closest American analogy may be a “technical” state university, which usually awards undergraduate and graduate degrees. In Russia and Ukraine, institutions of this type typically produce engineers and applied natural scientists, but some have recently introduced degrees in business and economics

?        “Specialized” higher educational institution. There is probably no direct parallel to this type of institution in the US, but, in Russia, Ukraine, and other post-Soviet countries, such “specialized” colleges typically produce graduates in a handful of disciplines, such as business, finance, marketing, and some technological fields.


Data Collection


At the end of 2012, the link to the survey, created using Google Forms, was sent to faculty at the universities and colleges we had identified using the ranking. We also asked them to forward the link to colleagues at their institutions. The survey contained 21 questions. For a full list of questions, please see Appendix 1. The survey was closed in June of 2013.


By June of 2013, we received 97 responses. 94 respondents worked at public institutions and 3 at private ones. We had have separated the results of the survey into the broad categories: Institutional and teacher demographics; methods of writing instruction; and assessment and teacher satisfaction with student writing. In this section of the chapter, we report the results grouped around those categories


The information about the institutions whose faculty participated in the survey as well as demographic information about the participants is important because it allows us to see the range actors and locales involved in academic and professional writing instruction in Russia and Ukraine. The following three figures below depict three distinct aspects of institutional and individual demographics.


Figure 2. Respondent geography and institutional demographics

Figure 2 indicates that the majority (69%) of respondents live and work in Russia while 29.6% live in Ukraine. One respondent did not indicate his or her country. Almost 66% of the respondents work at a “classical” or comprehensive university. About 24% work at other types of institutions while about 10% of the survey participants did not indicate their type of institution. About 56% of the institutions whose teachers participated in the survey have over 10000 students, with half of those institutions having over 20000 students. 38% of the respondents work at institutions with less than 10000 students. 6 respondents, or roughly 6%, did not indicate the size of their university or college.


The largest category of institutions (66%), represented in the survey, are “classical” or “comprehensive” universities. At the same time, over 55% of the institutions represented have 10000 or more students. There appears to be a correlation between these two numbers since, in our experience, both in Russia and in Ukraine, comprehensive universities tend to be larger than other types of educational establishments. For example, according to various published ranking systems, four out of five top Russian universities have over 10000 students, with the top institution, Moscow State, boasting 47000 students. The situation is similar in Ukraine where the country’s top educational institution, according to most rankings, The Shevchenko National University of Kiev, has about 25000 students.


Figure 3 represents the demographics of the teachers who participated in the survey. Included in the figure are the respondents’ gender, age, teaching experience, and rank/position at their institution.


Figure 3. Teacher demographics

Getting gender and information as part of the survey was important for historical and socio-political reasons. Traditionally, in post-Soviet countries, women have dominated the teaching profession, at least at the level of secondary school. Over 81% of the respondents are female with only 18% of males. One respondent did not indicate his or her gender.


The largest age group among the respondents consisted of teachers between 30 and 39 years of age at 31%. That was closely followed by teachers between 40 and 49 years old, at 30%. Young teachers under 30 years of age comprised about 15% of the participants, while teachers of 50 years old and over made up 22% of the respondents. One survey participant did not indicate his or her age.


The most represented academic rank among the respondents was that of “docent.” The closest analogy to that position in US universities is that of an associate professor. While the institution of tenure in Russian and Ukrainian universities formally does not exist, the position of a docent offers considerable job security and roughly the same position on the pay scale compared to other academic ranks as it would be for an associate professor in the US. To become a docent, a teacher has to have typically obtained his or her “candidate of science” degree, which is almost exactly equivalent to a US Ph.D. In addition to teaching, a person of this academic rank typically pursues an active research agenda and participates in departmental or university-wide service assignments. It is a mid-career rank, mush like it is in the US.


The next largest group, by academic position, was that of a lecturer/instructor. Respondent of that rank comprised almost 26% of the survey participants. This group was followed by full professors and assistant professors, at 4% and 2% respectively. Interestingly, 15% of the respondents also held high-level administrative positions, such as department head, dean, or even vice-president, or “vice-rector” as such administrators are called in post-Soviet countries. We did not directly ask whether people in those administrative positions had teaching loads, but, typically, administrators at the rank of dean and below do carry some teaching responsibilities at Russian and Ukrainian colleges and universities. Over 17% of the respondents indicated their academic rank as “others.” We suspect that those could be people in adjunct positions or similar.


Data represented in Figure 3 is particularly important for several reasons. We know that a vast majority of Russian and Ukrainian universities do not require their students to take composition or other mandatory writing courses, as we do here in the US. For historical reasons for this, see, among others, Zemliansky and St.Amant (2013). Therefore, if academic writing instruction happens anywhere in the curriculum, it has to happen in the disciplines. In addition, since there is no tradition of preparing “writing teachers” in those countries, those instructors who take it upon themselves to teach academic or professional writing are likely to come from other disciplines, sometimes related to writing and sometimes not.


Figure 4. Education and current areas taught.

As Figure 4 shows, a vast majority of our respondents (78%) have their primary academic training in philology or humanities. The discipline of philology in Russia, Ukraine has traditionally included such subjects as language and literature, some cultural studies, and even foreign languages and translation studies. For example, the Faculty of Philology of Moscow State University, the top institution in Russia, graduates students in Russian language and literature, classics, translation studies, theoretical and applied linguistics, and some other disciplines (Moscow State University’s website). Philology and humanities were followed by linguistics (7%), history and sociology at 3% each, and management at 1%. 7% did not indicate the area of their training.


Philology and linguistics led all other disciplines as the respondents’ main area of instruction, at 75%. Communications were a distant second at 15%, followed by philosophy, psychology, and sociology at a combined 5% and by journalism and management at 2% each.


Over 80% of the participants teach in a secondary area. Of those who teach in a secondary field, 80% do so in the humanities, followed by social sciences at 13%, and business and management at 2%. 1% of the respondents indicated “other” as their secondary area of instruction.

Courses, Assignments, and Assessments

If, as we know, most Russian and Ukrainian universities and colleges do not have dedicated writing courses, then where is academic and professional writing taught? The next group of questions in the survey deals with the courses in which academic and professional writing is taught and the assignments and methods through which it is taught. Figure 4 provides a summary of answers to this question.



Figure 5. Existence of dedicated academic writing courses and of academic writing assignments in other courses


As Figure 5 shows, 45% of the respondents stated that their institutions have a course or courses dedicated to teaching academic writing; 53% of the institutions did not have such courses, and 1% declined to answer. Of those institutions, which have dedicated academic writing courses, 34% of the institutions have them mandated by the state. Institutions that mandate academic writing courses for their students comprised 47% of those universities with dedicated writing classes, while approximately 16% left it up to the student to decide whether to take a dedicated academic writing course.


An overwhelming 86% of the respondents stated that academic writing is taught in other courses at their institutions as well. 8% responded to this question negatively while 1% declined to answer.


Figure 6 summarizes the types of writing assignments used by the respondents to teach writing and the methods of assessment of writing used.



Figure 6. Writing Assignments and Assessments.


A vast majority (82%) of the respondents who teach writing use written tests and exams. 75% also claimed to use informal, low-stakes in-class and home writing tasks, while 33% said they assign collaborative writing such as wiki projects. Interestingly, 71% indicated that they assign PowerPoint presentations, which they consider a form of academic or professional writing. 6% said they used other kinds of assignments, but did not specify which ones. Note that the sum of the percentages here is greater than 100% because many of the respondents use more than one type of assignment.


When it came to assessment of writing, almost 32% replied exclusively on formal grading and ranking of students while 64% combined formal and informal assessment methods. No one used only informal methods, and 2% indicated “other” as their answer


Institutional Culture and Educational Reforms Related to Academic Writing Instruction


The last group of questions dealt with what can broadly be termed “institutional cultures” of writing instruction. Here, we included the question of whether the teachers responding to the survey were satisfied with the quality of their students’ writing. We also asked their perception of whether their institution considers academic writing skills important. Finally, we asked whether they saw any influences of the Bologna process, which is explained earlier in the article, on academic writing instruction at their institution. 


Figures 7-9 depict the answers to those questions.



Figure 7. Teacher perception of student academic writing abilities



Figure 8. Institutional attitudes towards the importance of the development of students’ writing skills



Figure 9. Perceived Influence of the Bologna Process on academic writing instruction


We can learn several important lessons about the amount and nature of academic and professional writing instruction in Russian and Ukraine. The survey shows that there is a growing, if sporadic interest in growing structured academic and professional writing instruction in higher education in Russia and Ukraine. The fact that the majority of respondents understand the importance of teaching their students to communicate within their fields of study bodes well for the development of writing instruction in those countries.


The demographics of the respondents are important. The majority appears to be early or mid-career teachers and scholars. We can, perhaps, assume, that early and mid-career teachers tend to be more receptive to innovative teaching methods and are willing to take more risks in their instruction. If that is true, then as they advance professionally, these teachers will be exposed to new and more internationally integrated approaches to and methods of teaching. Moreover, as they move into positions of leadership, these teachers will be able to implement new policies and infrastructures related to writing instruction at the institutions and nationwide.


When it comes to the purposes of writing instruction and the genres taught and used in the classroom, Russian and Ukrainian teachers appear to be remarkably similar to their North American counterparts. Writing to test the students’ knowledge of the course content was the purpose of the majority of writing assignments given to Russian and Ukrainian students. Such writing assignments are transactional and their primary purpose is probably to inform and not to persuade, explore, or express. This preponderance of transactional assignments matches some recent research into the disciplinary writing landscape in the US. Melzer (2014) found that, of the approximately 2000 college writing assignments he analyzed, about 83 percent were transactional assignments, “and most transactional assignments (66 percent) [were] informative rather than persuasive (21). These survey results as well as Melzer’s research in the US suggest that teachers on both sides of the Atlantic continue to see writing as mainly a transactional activity. Both the importance of writing as a powerful learning tool has been well documented in academic literature in North America. For an extended discussion of this, see, among others, Walvoord and McCarthy (2008. North American literature also confirms that many teachers struggle with non-transactional uses of writing in their courses (Melzer 2014). Therefore, in this sense, North American educators and their Russian and Ukrainian counterparts appear to face the same challenges.

The “location” of writing instruction in Russia and Ukraine are split almost evenly between specialized courses on academic writing and writing tasks integrated into “content” courses. In addition, new courses dedicated solely to academic writing, are beginning to emerge at many institutions. This is, likely, due to the desire of these countries, especially of Ukraine, to be further integrated into the European higher educational system and, especially, due to the requirements of the Bologna process. In general, the Bologna process seems to be playing an ever-increasing role in the educational policies of both of these countries in general and in their teaching of academic and professional writing in particular. 


Limitations, Directions for Future Research, and Conclusions  

Our research has significant limitations. Firstly, with the number of respondents under 100, it provides only a first and fairly perfunctory look at the state of academic and professional writing instruction in these two post-Soviet countries. In addition, as Figure 1 indicates, better geographic coverage was achieved in Ukraine, with vast areas of Russia and all the institutions located there still unexplored. Secondly, we had to rely on our own personal contacts to recruit respondents. Unlike in North America, where participants for a study like ours could be recruited through professional listservs, online forums, social media, and advertising at professional meetings and in professional publications, it is next to impossible to do so in Russia and Ukraine where the culture of academic exchanges online is nascent. We posted the link to the survey on the very few academic online discussion forums we managed to find. However, as far as we can tell, only a very few responses may have come from readers of those forums, if any at all. The third significant limitation of this study has to do with the nature of the survey itself as a research instrument. The survey allows for a broad picture but often lacks depth and detail. For example, in order to truly understand the kinds of writing assignments given to students in Russia and Ukraine and how those assignments are read and assessed by teachers, one needs a more in-depth analysis of those assignments, either by examining assignment descriptions given to students, interviewing teachers and students, or both.

Suggestions for future research of this topic, then, come out of the limitations listed above. A better geographic coverage of the institutions in the whole post-Soviet space (not just Russia and Ukraine) needs to be achieved. New ways of recruiting respondents need to be devised to ensure participation from teachers beyond the circle of the researchers’ personal contacts. In order to achieve that goal, strategies of using available online and social media spaces may need to be devised. Finally, future case studies, textual analyses of assignments and assessment techniques, and other related documents would be needed.

When we designed and distributed this survey among teachers in late 2012, Russia and Ukraine were at peace with each other. Both countries, (Ukraine to a slightly larger extent than Russia) had declared their desire to be integrated into the European and the world educational structures and processes via the Bologna framework. The economies in both countries were in a reasonably good shape, which allowed both governments to keep financing public higher education at more-or-less adequate levels.

Since 2013, the geopolitical situation in the region and the relationship between the two countries have drastically changed. The armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine led to significant setbacks in both countries’ economies, not to mention the loss of life to what seems to be a growing animosity of the two people’s towards each other. While the Ukrainian government continues to declare its course towards European integration with the ultimate goal of joining the European Union, Russia seems to have withdrawn from integrative processes. The decisions by these two countries to either integrate into European structures or to remain outside of them will, no doubt, impact educational policies, including their continued participation in the Bologna process. So far, Bologna has substantially influenced the ways in which teachers in both countries have conceptualized, reformed, and delivered writing instruction to their students. Consequently, whether a country chooses to further implement the Bologna principles will impact its academic and professional writing instruction. So, just like in the US where the WAC/WID movement was born out of a need for greater access to education and spurred by political and social conditions, the development of writing instruction in post-Soviet countries will likely depend on the general political, economic, and social climate on the ground.


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