HSE University: Moving Towards 2030 Goals
Okna Rosta, HSE University's bulletin, published a two-part interview with Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov about HSE’s Development Strategy this fall, and The HSE Look is glad to present it to our English-speaking audience as well.
— Based on what we see in the draft of the HSE Development programme, HSE University will continue to grow in the upcoming decade. We’ll have more undergraduate, graduate and PhD students, more lyceum students, more faculties, laboratories and institutes. How has HSE managed to keep growing despite the occasionally unfavorable circumstances? What is going to be the focus of growth in this decade and what will it mean for the faculty members and researchers?
— Indeed, we’ve grown into a rather large university for Russia. Worldwide there are quite many universities with over 40 000 students, but it’s a rare case for our country. I believe that the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) is larger, but it has over 50 regional campuses while HSE University has three. We are firmly within the top-3 of Russian universities according to various criteria, and it’s still a new thing to absorb both for people outside and inside HSE. Our growth has become the talk of both the academic community and the media for the last couple of years, but in truth we are even larger - around 41 500 full-time students, 1 000 PhD students, 2 000 lyceum pupils, and over 30 000 people who take further education courses and programmes from HSE. Certainly, the need to increase the quality of education combined with the rapid quantitative growth creates a constant challenge.
— Some say that this constant growth in numbers has become a hindrance to the development of the university, what do you think about that?
— I think we should remember that one of the major tasks before HSE, as with any higher education institution which receives public funding, is to help the advancement of human capital of the country.
HSE graduates are leaders in many industries and are highly sought after by the best employers
Doubling the number of our graduates over the past ten years means that we have doubly increased our contribution to the economic and social growth and innovations in Russia. We are welcoming additional numbers of students but only in the areas where we have enough staff to teach them, and when we see that the quality of prospective students is even higher than in previous year. I’m not even talking about the students who apply for state-funded places, but for fee-paying students in 2019 the average score on the Unified State Exam was 84 out of 100.
Moreover, development requires extra resources, and the only way to gain them is to widen our scope and share of the market, so to speak. At the moment the grants from the government, including the ones within the 5-100 Academic Excellence Programme, amount only to 5.6% of HSE’s yearly revenue, which means that if we want additional resources for development, we have to earn them commercially.
However, this does not mean that we have set a specific aim to boost our number of students - for instance, our current development programme (2009-2020) did not have such a goal, but the growth occurred organically due to several factors.
Firstly, it was a structural growth because we created new faculties and institutions which HSE did not have before (physics, biochemistry and geography are the most recent examples of this). It was successful because we never planned it deliberately, and we were approached by teams who could benefit us as a whole and add a new dimension to HSE. Also, this is something we cannot plan ahead and say, for instance, that this and this team is going to open up such a faculty with us in five years.
What we do plan for, however, is the natural increase of student population because of the structure of 2017-2019 intakes. During this time our campuses in Moscow and St. Petersburg (the largest ones) were enrolling two fee-paying students per one state-funded student. Another venue of growth is the intake of fee-paying international students.
HSE is one of the universities which can increase the number of its international students due to the already high number of courses and degree programmes offered in English
Lately we’ve had a 30-35% growth in this area every year, and I think we can expect up to 5 000 more international students by 2030.
But if we sum all of these numbers up, there is no great difference between a university with 40 000 and 50 000 students. It is fair to say that we are planning to keep the current model regarding our full-time students until 2030. In contrast, we see the trends which allow us to predict the growth of HSE in new formats which we are not yet completely used to. HSE offers the largest number of online courses by its professors among Russian universities, and is among the leaders globally in this field, we are 7th on Coursera, if I’m not mistaken.
Online courses will be getting embedded to a greater extent into the education system. In Russia, due to the large number of universities in the country’s regions, it is likely to take the form of blended learning, when another university’ MOOC will be supplemented by seminars and exams by local faculty. It can even be a so-called distributed programme, if the university which provides MOOCs can guarantee a set of interconnected courses or even the full learning plan.
As you can imagine, it’s a great deal more students which might get a degree from us. Even now there are more than 80 000 online learners who have gained a certificate by finishing our online courses, which is double the number of our ‘offline’ students.
I believe that HSE’s educational influence and a sort of soft power will grow
At the moment over 800 000 people sign up for our MOOCs, it’s likely that next year there will be a million, and about 50 000 of them actually finish the course and get a certificate. I’ve said in an interview to Commersant newspaper that it’s a perfectly normal proportion. It’s similar to the library, really, when you are first browsing books and taking them from the shelves but then you finish reading only some of them. Same thing is true for online courses, and I think we are due to witness many interesting things growing out of it: new teaching practices, new students, new skills in teachers who facilitate and support online learning.
— Does HSE manage to maintain the quality level of its students, faculty and researchers amidst such rapid growth?
— The short answer is yes. And we have several ways to verify this: the quality of student enrollment, which is getting higher with every year, similar growth for the quality of publications. But HSE would not have become what it is now if we let ourselves be satisfied with short and easy answers.
Let me try to give you a more nuanced and long answer, showing both our strong and weak sides, which drive and hinder the growth and its quality. I’ll go up the academic ladder: undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty members and researchers.
Even though our intake for bachelor’s programmes has grown several times, it is evident that we are still enrolling the most academically strong students. Average score on the Unified State Exam is 95.4 out of 100 for state-funded places, and 83.8 for tuition-based places; we have the largest share of winners of subject-specific olympiads in the country among our student intake, that is 46%, with Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology holding the 2nd place with 44%. Basically, we take in from a quarter to a half of all top-performing school graduates. We also have an important tool to make sure that our fee-paying students strive to perform as well academically as their peers on state-funded places. About two thirds of our fee-paying students get tuition discounts and waivers from HSE, which amounts to roughly one billion roubles in the university’s budget. I think it’s a unique situation among other Russian universities, and it helps to motivate talented students join us even if they could otherwise get enrolled to a state-funded place in some other good university.
Things look less cheerful for graduate programmes, though. There are several factors contributing to this, with the major one being that the level of our graduates is much higher than of the average Russian university, and thus many people who apply and enroll into our Master’s programmes do not have the same academic background and lack some of the things we came to expect from HSE graduates. As a result, our Master’s programmes are less attractive for our own graduates, as well as from other leading universities within Russia and globally.
So what can we do about it? In the new HSE Development Programme there is a new model which presupposes three types of Master’s degrees. The first one is the Master of Arts programmes (MA) with fewer prerequisites. This corresponds to about 70% of our current programmes which include many of the courses from undergraduate level. We expect that students either continue their chosen field but want to have more time for their job, or they are getting an education in a different field, for instance, when a person who got a Law degree want to have an MA in management or finance. There is quite a high demand for such a track.
The second type is Master of Science (MSc) programmes, and we want to have around 20% of those. Their focus is to acquire deeper knowledge for a professional career. Such programmes usually have quite high prerequisites and that means, that only a limited number of students from, let’s say, top five universities in Russia, including HSE, will be able to enroll in them. There are also a very limited opportunity to combine them with any job because the study process is quite demanding. Of course, for the students to be interested, potential employers should understand the higher value of such graduates, including in their starting salaries. We are still working on building the full range of such programme, together with the employers and international professional communities.
And last but definitely not least are the tracks for future researchers. We see it as an extended PhD programme, with 5-6 years instead of the usual 3-4 years that they currently last in Russia. Here we are looking for students which commit to the academic career and research, and are not interested in jobs outside the university or its partner academic institutions, meaning that these research jobs and the scholarship should be sufficient to cover the living expences, so that the student focuses on the science. They should also have the opportunity to go for an internship at another institution - this is what we currently offer at our enhanced PhD track. At the moment students with BA who are ready to join such PhD tracks mostly go abroad, but soon we’ll be able to offer them similarly attractive programmes at HSE as well.
Regarding the faculty and teaching staff, I would say that there are two categories. There are of course tutors and practitioners, but these are quite specific roles and they are not the core at the research university.
For the faculty per se, however, we are one of the most attractive options within Russia, because we are very transparent and consistent in rewarding academic excellence, both in publication and in teaching
Also, we offer many opportunities to join or create research groups and thus receive internal funding in addition to external grants. So I would say that on the national level situation looks good.
However, as a globally oriented university, we are still lagging behind on two major accounts. The first one concerns the density of the academic environment, and there are some areas where we are not yet on par with our key international partners. It’s a problem that can be overcome, especially given the increase in digital communication in research, so working at HSE in Russia no longer means that one is cut off from colleagues all over the world and from one’s academic community. The second issue is the funding, for both salaries and research. HSE experts have often voiced the fact that Russia cannot become a competitively attractive destination for academics if our universities are not able to offer long-term contracts to international colleagues. However, currently the state funding is still allocated per one year, rather than three, for instance, and at HSE we have consistently chosen to use our other revenue sources for such contracts. Nevertheless, we are aiming to increase at least two or three times the number of colleagues who are competitive on the international academic market and who chose to work at HSE, so we will be looking at 1 000 researchers rather than the current around 300. I believe that this is one of the two challenges we most need to address, along with creating different tracks for Master’s programmes.
On January 24, the HSE Academic Council approved the new University Development Programme for 2030, which the Council had been drafting for the past year. Members of the Academic Council also discussed the status of the university’s digital transformation.
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The HSE Look is glad to present the second part of the interview with Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov, originally taken by our flagship bulletin Okna Rosta. This part focuses on new educational tools as well as old traditions, on cooperation with regional universities and the transformations to be achieved in the upcoming decade.
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