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Regular version of the site

Russian Universities in World Rankings

HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov Talks with Gazeta.ru on Education Reform and Russian Universities’ Problems with Inclusion in World Rankings.

— HSE is a participant in the 5/100 global competitiveness programme, and you are trying to become one of the world's top 100 universities by 2020. What are you doing to achieve this?

— Competing with the world's top universities is difficult and expensive, so this is a challenge for Russia’s leading universities. They must change drastically in a very short amount of time. HSE must boost the number of teachers it has with degrees from leading world universities sevenfold, and the number of articles in international journals – eightfold. We must create an environment that attracts international students. This means that 20%-30% of courses must be in English. There must be an English-speaking staff and modern dormitories. The pace is crazy.

Some universities are going to invest entire research teams from abroad, which is very expensive and is likely unable to change the “environment” in terms of Russian colleagues. It is more important to change the university’s key personnel and change the Russian teachers themselves. Academic provincialism has deep roots in our country. This is when colleagues read articles only in Russian and study using textbooks released in Russian.  This automatically brings about a national lag – today Russia leads only 5% of the world front for cutting-edge research and technology.

— Why are faculty wages at HSE higher than at other universities (a professor's salary is 170,000 rubles per month)?

— Because a good professor has to earn that much. In addition to the budget, we earn an annual sum of nearly 5 billion rubles, and 75% of this is additional income earned by teachers and academic employees. We also have a rigorous academic programme, and students study hard independently. Because of this, we are able to keep only high-level teachers, and the weaker ones we replace with assistants – the best upperclassmen and graduate students. This is how all of the world’s leading universities handle this.

There's such a saying about Harvard that it is where Russian graduate students teach Chinese students. The teaching load for a professor at the world's best universities is twice or three times smaller than with us; their time is set aside for research and graduate student advising. But that does not mean that students aren’t studying; they are just accustomed to independent work. HSE also trains students for this. For that reason, we can spend money on paying high wages to good academics and pedagogues and avoid wasting money on unprofessional people that take up space on the staff schedule. And just five years ago, HSE was paying wages that were double those of the Moscow job market. So now we have likely lowered turnover and our wages are growing slower than before.

— How feasible is the 5/100 Programme for Russian universities?

— Four universities have moved from the second top one hundred to the first top one hundred in the Shanghai Ranking over the last three years. Getting into the top one hundred best universities is extremely difficult, and attaining a spot there is not a goal in itself. We must now say that our academic productivity, like at most Russian universities, is not sufficient. So participating in this programme is likely an opportunity for self-development.

— That's understandable, but in light of the political situation, Russia is now unlikely to make it a goal to be ranked amongst the world's best universities.

— I think that our country's leadership is not viewing these things idealistically. Our leadership truly understands that having a place on international rankings is a sign of the quality of higher education.

What, do you think that if our relations with the West worsen then we will have our students become soldiers and send them to the Ukrainian border? I assure you, we will continue competing in the intellectual sphere. The likelihood that this task will be taken off our agenda and that funding will stop is zero.

Leading Russian universities must stop living in certainty that they are the best. It will not be easy and simple getting into the rating. We will possibly get onto the Shanghai Ranking in 100 years; with this one, the number of Nobel laureates among graduates is factored in. And world ratings will change – after all, this isn’t the first year they’ve existed and many criticize them. The positions of Russian universities in the ratings will strengthen. Global competition is above all a competition in the sphere of human capital, and everyone understands this.

— Do you have enough money for such plans?

— No. Currently we need two or three times more funding for the “road maps” that universities have presented. How did the Chinese approach solving the task that we are working on? They selected a number of universities and instantly tripled their funding. Then the universities began to quickly enter the global market, build new laboratories and campuses, and boost their workforce.

Initially, when the parameters of this programme were gaining foothold, Dmitry Livanov estimated it as costing 150 billion rubles per year plus a third of the country’s funding for higher education. As a result, the Russian Ministry of Education and Science asked the government and Finance Ministry for only 25 billion rubles per year to carry out the first few years of the programme (70 billion rubles of the budget is for 15 selected universities); as is known, they gave 10 billion.

So then compare: increasing funding by 200% (like in China) versus increasing it by 10%-20% (like here in Russia). For that reason, it’s necessary to convince the country’s leadership that this money is not enough, especially for engineering universities that have taken on the same commitments that we have, and that earn significantly less.

Yelena Mukhametshina

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