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Regular version of the site

Birth and Revival of Universities

On October 19th and 20th 2012, the 3rd International Conference of the Russian Association of Higher Education Researchers ‘The Birth and Revival of Universities’ took place at the HSE.

This was the first time that an event in Russia brought together the administrators of almost 20 leading ‘young’ universities from around the world, as well as some prominent educational experts. Their stories of success became the overriding theme of the conference plenary sessions, and the event also coincided with the 20th anniversary of two Russian universities – the Higher School of Economics and the New Economic School (NES).

Konstantin Sonin
Konstantin Sonin
Yaroslav Kuzminov, Rector of the HSE, and Konstantin Sonin, Vice Rector of the NES, spoke about the history of their universities during the opening session of the conference.

‘The HSE was founded as a response from the economist community to the challenges of a new stage in Russia’s development’, Yaroslav Kuzminov emphasized. Over time, the HSE has become a university with the largest grant-financed enrolment in Russia and has become a leading expert and analytical center. As regards the NES, it is a private university and was founded as a master’s education institution. The NES demonstrates exceptional results in the research and citation rankings among Russian socio-economic universities.

The conference plenary sessions were united by the topic ‘The roads to academic excellence’ and included presentations from universities from all over the world.

The first session commenced with a presentation from the University of California in Santa Cruz (UCSC) delivered by its Chancellor, George R. Blumenthal. The UCSC was initially designed as a research university. Its location on the coast allowed the university to conduct research into the environment and sea animal physiology, and a large nature-protection project has been realized with the participation of the University of California.

Kristian Thorn, Deputy Director of Aarhus University (Denmark), started his presentation with a ‘provocative’ statement. He said that ‘being a young university means having an advantage, since young universities can allow themselves to be more flexible and develop outside stereotypical schemes’. Aarhus University is more than 50 years old, but it can still be called young, since several years ago the Danish system of higher education underwent widespread reforms. The university is implementing the Bologna system, but also using new tools to attract students, as well as some new methods for recruiting researchers and lecturers. At the same time, the administration of Aarhus University believes that, in terms of research, it is better to be the leader in few disciplines, than to try to embrace a wide range and get a reputation for mediocrity.

Evripides Stefanou
Evripides Stefanou
The best, according to The Times ranking, university in Greece – the University of Crete – was represented by its Rector, Evripides Stefanou. The university was founded in 1973 and has become the most innovative and open of all Greek universities. For the first time, Turkish citizens were able freely study there, which was very important, taking into account the tense relationship between the two countries. The University of Crete also became the first higher education institution in Greece to launch postgraduate and master’s programmes in accordance with European standards.

Even more complex and large-scale tasks are facing Chinese universities, which are considered to be ‘development drivers’ in the Chinese economy and society. This was underlined in the presentation by Lin Shangli, Vice-President of the Fudan University (China). The development of Chinese universities today is based on three main principles, he said. First, a university is a space for personal development, independent thinking, freedom of creation and research. Second, university infrastructure is developing, and the process of improving educational and scientific programmes is ongoing. Finally the focus is on scientific and technology advancement, in order to give new momentum and advantages to the Chinese economy.

The second plenary session of the conference was opened by Joseph J.Y. Sung, President of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. This university, founded in 1963 and positioned, according to the President, as the ‘gateway to China’, is among the Top 200 in all three main academic rankings (Shanghai, The Times and QS), and in the Top 10 of the world young university rankings. The university’s status and position as a link between Western and traditional Chinese culture allows it to establish fruitful academic partnerships. The university’s main task, according to Joseph Sung, has been to find areas of research which would provide competitive advantages for the university. In 2006 they defined five such areas: medicine, history and culture of China, IT, economics and finance, and Earth sciences.

The University of Warwick (Great Britain) was represented by Nigel Thrift, Vice Chancellor, who spoke about how his university, founded in 1965, has managed to get a reputation as of one of the leading research centres in Europe. Most of the lecturers in Warwick have contracts which oblige them to spend at least 40% of their working hours on research, and the results of this research must be included in the educational process. In addition, the university implements a ‘complex approach to research’ rather than narrow specialization. Global problems are also taken into account, such as climate change and the lack of energy resources.

The next speaker was Martin Paul, President of Maastricht University, the youngest university in the Netherlands. This institution was founded as a medical research centre, but over the years has grown into a multi-purpose university with programmes in management, IT, innovation, and human science.

The last speaker at the first plenary session was Yutaka Tsujinaka, Vice-President of the University of Tsukuba – probably the only Japanese university which can boast both Nobel laureates and Olympic champions. The university was created in 1973 on the basis of a ‘new conceptual approach’: maximum openness in all aspects of the university’s work.

The final plenary session introduced guests from some of the youngest universities participating in the conference.

The Central European University (Hungary) was founded in 1991 with investment from George Soros. The university, according to its current Rector and President, John Shattuck, was designed to ‘foster the spirit of citizenship and pursuit of truth in its students’, which was particularly important during the transition from authoritarian regimes to democracy in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Departments were created where social and human sciences were taught from a new perspective, free from ideology, and this led to opportunities for global research. Today its students come from almost 150 countries.

One year earlier, in Barcelona, the Pompeu Fabra University was founded. Its President, Josep Joan Moreso, told the audience how, over the last 20 years, the university has become the best in Spain. This new university was created with the purpose of ‘developing the principles of justice, democracy, freedom, equality, independency and pluralism’. It implements undergraduate studies in three key areas – human science, life & health science, and IT. But research is carried out in  wider spheres and the university also includes a business school and a biomedical laboratory.

Richard K. Miller, President and one of the founders of the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering (USA), spoke about how to create a world-class engineering college from scratch. This small college (less than 350 students) was founded in 2000 and the first enrolment was in 2002, but it already has a reputation as one of the best engineering educational institutions in the USA. The college has declared that its mission is ‘to train exemplary engineering innovators’ in order to contribute to the development of engineering education in the USA and all over the world. All education in the college is project-based, and the curricula have ‘expiration dates’, after which they are reviewed.

No less impressive is the history of Bilkent University (Turkey), as described by its President, Abdullah Atalar. The university was founded in 1984 by a prominent Turkish doctor and entrepreneur Ihsan Dogramaci. He has not only created a university of a new type for Turkey, but provided financing by means of a special endowment. This endowment uses interest from the revenues of 40 affiliated companies in various sectors including building, electrics, insurance and furniture manufacturing. This market model allows the university to pay high salaries to its professors, to provide grants for up to 40%  of its students, as well as allowing the university to invest in infrastructure and cultural projects.

The last speaker at the second plenary session was Martin Henson, Dean of International Development at the University of Essex (Great Britain). The University of Essex is one of Britain’s most internationalized universities and has alliances with German and Indian universities among others. Martin Henson listed 8 R’s which outline the university’s strategy: research-focus; resonance (from joint effort); reciprocity (with international partners); relationships (horizontal ties in the intellectual field, and vertical management); reputation (creation of a unique profile for the university); responsiveness (to challenges and reflection of own work); responsibility, and reach (openness to new partners).

Jamil Salmi
Jamil Salmi
The two days of plenary sessions of the 3rd International Conference of the Russian Association of Higher Education Researchers ‘The Birth and Revival of Universities’ were summarized in a round-table discussion. ‘Thanks to these presentations we have seen the scale of young universities, each of which has shown its own way to academic excellence’, said, Isak Froumin, moderator of the discussion, Academic Supervisor at the HSE Institute for Educational Studies, and co-organizer of the conference.

Simon Donoghue from the University of Leads (Great Britain), Kathryn Mohrman from Arizona State University (USA), Vladimir Briller from the Pratt Institute (USA), and Nian Cai Liu, author of the Shanghai University Ranking (China), also participated in the discussion.

Jamil Salmi, former coordinator of World Bank projects in higher education, and member of the HSE International Advisory Committee, urged his colleagues not to become obsessed by rankings and remember that when a university diverges from formal standards, this can become an advantage. He also emphasized the importance of creating a productive ‘eco-system’ in a university, as well as intelligent usage of its location. In addition to this, the pursuit of internationalization should not be part of a ‘trend’. Cooperation with international colleagues makes sense only when they are able to enrich each other, to create something new together, not just in order to ‘tick boxes’.

Oleg Seregin, HSE News Service

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