Challenges for Universities
On October 22nd and 23rd the first international conference ‘Research in Higher Education’ took place at the Higher School of Economics. The event was organized by the HSE together with the Boston College Center for International Higher Education, the World Bank and the National Foundation for Professional Training.
In his opening speech to the conference participants, Isak Froumin, Acting Vice Rector of the HSE, spoke about the forum programme and the general procedures. ‘We assume’, he said, ‘that the conference will become annual, since until now in Russia there was no platform for regular international meetings and cooperation between those who not only work in higher education, butt study the educational sphere as a whole, trying to understand its patterns and to find tools for its development. Without constant professional communication, it’s hard for new ideas to spread, and new standards for research develop slowly. This annual conference will be the basis for the development of international cooperation and distribution of innovative socio-economic knowledge and practice among expert researchers in higher education. We believe that this conference will analyze the whole spectrum of research in higher education, and also that each conference will have its own key theme, according to which plenary sessions, discussions and sections work will be organized. The topic of the current conference, ‘Academic Profession and Academic Contracts’, was not chosen at random: it will allow us to present the first results of the international comparative research project ‘Contracts and Salaries in the Academic Profession’. This project was implemented by the HSE Institute for Institutional Analysis together with the Boston College Center for International Higher Education and with the participation of 30 independent experts from 30 countries’.
The conference started with three plenary reports. The first speaker was Philip Altbach, Director of the Center for International Higher Education (CIHE), Boston College, who said that he thinks of the conference as the first step towards the development of an international community of researchers and analysts in higher education. ‘Since we are within the walls of the first Russian National Research University, I would like to start a discussion on the idea and role of a research university in modern society’, professor Altbach said. ‘Research universities in any country are an important and integral part of the national educational system. But having effective international connections is vital for each research university. Each university of this type should become part of the world global network of research centers’.
The first research university was created in Germany in the 19th century, and since then, both in Germany and many other countries, there has been a change in the idea that a university has a double function, education and research, According to Professor Altbach, not every university could or should become a research institution. The Professor believes that each country should have at least one such university, but the number of research universities necessary for each country should be thoroughly analyzed, so that there are neither too many nor too few of them. ‘It is highly important’, Philip Altbach noted, ‘that we understand how many institutions the country needs and how many research universities a state can afford, since one of the main factors for effective work by these institutions is regular, sufficient and long-term state financing together with permanent administrative support’.
As part of the conference, a roundtable discussion on ‘Modern challenges of the academic profession in Russia and the world’ took place, with Yaroslav Kuzminov, HSE Rector, Maria Yudkevich, HSE Director for Academic Development, Martin Finkelstein, Professor at the Seton Hall University, USA, Simon Schwarzman, President of the Brazil Institute for Labour and Social Studies, and Vanhua Ma, Professor at the Beijing University.
In his speech on ‘The academic community in Russia: break of the effective contract’ Yaroslav Kuzminov, HSE Rector, analyzed the problems of the crisis affecting the academic structure in Russian universities. ‘Our country is a classic example what happens when you break the effective contract between a university and a teacher, and the problems of our university system are largely due to this fact’, the rector emphasized, ‘We think of an effective contract as of a contract providing maximum interest from an employee, precise following of the employer’s interests and so-called employee loyalty. The three key conditions for a successful contract in any economy sector are: a level of remuneration sufficient for the desired standard of living and social status; an effective control system from an employer over the results of an employee’s work and some pressure for him to work effectively; and the presence of competition in the labour market’.
The rector believes that a university teacher’s work is creative and involves trust from the employer since it is very difficult to measure the quality of work externally (students find it hard to measure such things, and colleagues rarely attend each other’s classes) and a double type of remuneration (in addition to the material remuneration, a teacher gets a non-financial one – free time, freedom of working schedule choice, pleasure from the creative work and constant affirmation of one’s social status). According to Yaroslav Kuzminov, an effective contract in a university is provided by the presence and combination of three groups of factors:
1. Quality staff of teachers and the opportunity for mutual monitoring of work quality, high level of non-material remuneration, as well as efficient standards for teachers’ behaviour.
2. Considerable amount of scientific research a university carries out. A research university carrying out a large amount of scientific work has an additional opportunity to evaluate the teacher’s work quality and an additional source of material as well as non-material remuneration.
3. Involvement of university teachers in external networks of academic interaction, such as professional associations, journals etc.
‘During the Soviet period the national educational system had a good-working, effective contract, and Soviet education was highly respected all over the world’, the rector emphasized, ‘then after the fall of the USSR, when state spending on education decreased fourfold, a break in the effective contract happened in the system of Russian education. Extremely low material remuneration for teachers led to the fact that even those who preferred to work in universities rather than do anything else, were forced to leave Russian higher education institutions. In universities they were replaced by younger teachers, who were not as experienced, had less understanding of academic culture and were ready to relax academic standards for money’.
In his report Yaroslav Kuzminov also mentioned other extremely negative phenomena in Russian higher education, including unethical research habits, parochialism and isolation from the achievements of the international scientific community; corruption; a preference for external employment, from consulting to teaching in several institutions simultaneously; the age the teaching staff (60% of professors and 25% of associate professors are over 60, and the average age of a university professor is 58) and a lack of younger staff entering existing scientific schools; the breakup of academic self-administration; development of pseudo-education, when higher education institutions become factories selling diplomas.
Summarizing his speech, Kuzminov said, ‘We should not only define strategies for national research universities, but also seriously consider how to change the situation in the main group of Russian higher education institutions. Otherwise the influence of research universities will be not enough to make a positive breakthrough in Russian education as a whole’.
Maria Yudkevich, HSE Director for Academic Development, spoke about the key problems and potential for the Higher School of Economics as a young research university. According to Maria Yudkevich, among the university’s problems are: competition for the best employees on the labour market; inbreeding, or internal reproduction (high necessity to employ our own graduates); the necessity to implement and distribute the system of teacher work effectiveness evaluation. ‘We are trying to change the structure of teachers’ salaries, so that it stimulates high quality research activities, especially publication in international journals’, Maria Yudkevich emphasized, ‘We carry out international recruitment, attract young professors from the best international universities and have started to create a system of tenure professorships and sabbatical leaves. To overcome problems related to the lack of academic culture, we are trying to create a system of research centers for young teachers. All these actions together make up our programme of academic and staff development. But one university, no matter how much it invests and how hard it tries to alter its internal structure, cannot exist separately, independently from the market of which it is part of. To create a research university we have to not only make a huge internal effort, but also attempt to modernize the Russian educational market as a whole’.
The work of the second day of the conference was organized into sections on ‘Academic profession’, ‘Higher education research’, ‘Economics and higher education management’, ‘Application to a university and return on the higher education’, ‘Postgraduate education’, and involved reports on various topics by International experts from Australia, Argentina, Belarus, Israel, India, Canada, Mexico, USA, Turkey, France, Czech Republic and South Africa and Russia. Russian higher education was represented by researchers from Vladivostok, Yekaterinburg, Kazan, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Rostov on Don, Saint Petersburg, Saransk and Tomsk.
The inaugural ‘Research in Higher Education’ conference concluded with a meeting of the Russian Association of Researchers in Professional Education (RARPE) which aims to become an independent and authoritative platform for the discussion of the most relevant issues in higher education development and mechanisms to advance modern methods and standards of scientific research.
Valentina Gruzintseva, HSE News Service