Higher Schools’ Research Puts Russia on the World Map
‘University Traditions: a Resource or a Burden?’ the 4th International Conference of the Russian Association of Higher Education Researchers organized by the HSE Institute of Education, the HSE Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities, and the New Economic School, is taking place in Moscow from September 26 – 28, 2013. Isak Froumin, Academic Supervisor of the HSE Institute of Education, talked to us about the conference and the problems of higher education in Russia.
— What do higher education researchers study?
— Russia is a world leader in the number of students and universities per capita; our system of higher education is huge, and the volume of resources assigned to it has grown considerably over the last five years. So, higher education is an object worth studying.
Unfortunately, in Soviet times social and often even natural structures were not studied, but actively projected instead: Michurin, the Russian Selectionist who suggested ‘not to wait for favours from nature’ but to seize what she offered, was more important for the government, than the geneticists, who studied her laws. We didn’t have the traditions of higher education research: this area was planned on the basis of certain ideological and economic views, and then launched into action like a machine.
— Today there is a lot of information about higher education in the public. What is left for researchers to find out now?
In fact there is still a great deal we don’t know. For example, it used to be well known what economy students learn, since everywhere they were taught according to what they were told by the ministry: there were several textbooks and it was clear what teachers should do. But today, when universities have more freedom, and standards are just guidelines, we don’t know what future economists are being taught in different universities, so that is also an object for research.
— About 60 guests of the conference, which makes about one fourth of its participants, are foreigners. Are they all interested so in Russia’s problems?
— The aim of our conference, as well as the reason we founded the Russian Association of Higher Education Researchers, is to get involved in the global discussion about universities. Thanks to, among other things, its annual conference, Russia has appeared on the world map of higher school research. Stanford University has recently published a book about higher education in BRICS countries, and we took part in its creation.
— How do you explain the choice of university traditions as a key topic for the conference?
— This is an important topic for educational studies and for educational policies. It is especially relevant for Russia: we are more proud of our traditions than of our present. Last year’s conference was devoted to a similar topic – new universities – and was a big success. Discussion topics this year include ‘University and the Urban Environment’, ‘Mergers and Acquisitions in Universities’, ‘Diversity of Approaches to Evaluating the Work of Universities’, and others.
—Last year you discussed the ‘5-100’ project, at the conference for which 15 universities received grants this year to become internationally competitive. Do you expect to discuss state policy in education this time?
— Of course, we’ll discuss the tools of government policy in higher education, primarily the experience of restructuring – colleagues from China and the USA will speak on this topic. I’m not sure we’ll come up with any instant recommendations, but it’s possible there will be some in the future.
Boris Startsev, specially for RIA News
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