What are the best criteria for assessing HEIs?
Russians are compiling a list of poor quality Higher Education Institutions on the basis of the results of monitoring. The results show signs of ineffectual education in some major and famous HEIs including in the arts.
But the methods of the monitoring continue to raise a lot of questions.
“In general, I support the idea of monitoring. I think that it is the right decision and a brave one, for the Ministry of Education to conduct a public evaluation of HEIs,” said the Rector of HSE, Yaroslav Kuzminov in an interview with “Russiskaya Gazeta”. “The public has been waiting a long time for this. How long can we go on talking about “false-education” – it’s time to name the villains. But I was surprised by two of the five criteria which put HEIs on the list of those showing signs of low performance. I’m not casting any doubts on indicators of the quality of admissions (according to the SSE – Single State Exam), the amounts of research produced and the expenditure on teachers, but the number of foreign students – that’s a way of comparing Moscow State University with the Institute of Physics and Technology, and not a way to pick out the weakest. In small provincial universities this figure is close to zero but it doesn’t say anything about their ineffectiveness inside Russia.
The number of square metres per student, in Kuzminov’s opinion is an indicator “which is completely idiotic.”
“Does a university really have control over that? The founder uses those buildings allocated to him in the first place,” says Yaroslav Kuzminov, “As a result, the Russian State University for Humanities and Moscow Architectural Institute – both popular HEIs which don’t have enough square metres per student, judging by this criteria were found to be ineffectual. While there are a number of poor quality institutes in Moscow, particularly technical colleges, which landed in the good “green zone” simply because they have more floor space. But for employability they get nothing. And of course it is obvious that the Arts colleges shouldn’t be included in this kind of monitoring. Firstly they don’t produce any research because by their very nature, they are pursuing art not science and secondly, they don’t take the SSE into account as they have their own, arts exams. I just don’t get how such a silly mistake was made.
However, regardless of these shortcomings, the monitoring has made people aware that there are a lot of HEIs with very low entrance requirements producing zero academic research.
Yaroslav Kuzminov proposes introducing three more important criteria, instead of those two unconvincing categories;
“The first would be an evaluation of the careers and incomes of graduates. Many countries already do that. We’ve been talking about it for three years already, but we still haven’t even got a pilot-scheme for this kind of research. It’s very simple – each HEI looks at graduates from each of its courses over the last five years. Measure their incomes, through the tax they pay, and note whether or not they are working in a profession related to their education. Immediately you can see the quality of the HEI. The percentage of students working in the area they specialised in should be no lower than 35 -40. There are HEIs in Moscow and St Petersburg where it’s less than 5%. And in some fields it is down to zero. This is shocking inefficiency and a preparation for nothing at all. The second indicator is the quality of teaching as revealed in the exam results achieved by final year students in the state examinations. In order for this to be a true indicator, it has to be said, the state exams need to be conducted not as they are today by the HEIs themselves but by an independent board, formed by the Russian Education Supervision Agency with leading specialists in every field.
The third “Kuzminov” criteria would be the academic publications of teachers and how often they are quoted. “The number of commissions for academic work is only a good measure for engineers, economists and natural scientists. There aren’t those in the market commissioning research from lawyers, historians and literary experts. They write articles, which is their way of contributing to the debate and this needs to be given weight”.
What should be done with the exposed poor quality HEIs?
“The first step is for the ministry to find out whether there are graduates on the professional job markets in the regions where those HEIs are located,” says Kuzminov. “If we educate people in complex professional subjects, which they don’t intend to use, we are just throwing money into the wind. If governors come to the aid of HEIs in their region, then they need to take a really active part in developing them. They need to apportion resources from the regional budget to introduce changes in HEIs, allocate new buildings if needed etc., etc. In any measures that they take they must make sure they don’t infringe on the rights of the students. Students must be allowed to finish the courses they enrolled on. When weak HEIs are combined with stronger ones, the students will have a hard time trying to reach the new levels expected of them. It’s essential that they are given the right to take free courses in their subject in the same year to help them catch up. We must guarantee third year students that they won’t be thrown out and that they have the right to extend some of their courses, and the state must allow them to take an extra year if necessary.