‘It Is Important for Us to Turn HSE into a World-class Research University’
On December 7, the sixth meeting of the HSE International Advisory Committee opened with leading experts from around the world in the field of science and education coming together to discuss the university’s achievements and the challenges it faces, as well as its objectives for the coming years. Following two days of discussions, the committee members will form recommendations on changes to the primary areas of development.
What has changed in a year and a half
The previous meeting of the International Advisory Committee was held in mid-2014 in St. Petersburg. Since then, HSE has undergone significant changes – structurally, administratively and educationally. These changes were in part motivated by HSE’s participation in the programme to increase the global competitiveness of Russian universities (Project 5-100). In opening the committee’s meeting, HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov noted that in the last year and a half the university has worked largely in line with the recommendations of International Advisory Committee members.
‘For us qualitative changes are important - turning HSE not only into a premier Russian research university but a world class one as well’, Kuzminov emphasized. According to him, continued international cooperation in science and education is especially important in today’s difficult environment. These are the ‘bridges’ that countries must connect in any situation.
The rector believes that one of the major changes within HSE is the reorganization of faculties, which is a departure from the traditional Soviet departmental system of education and a transition to operation of education programmes that are not strictly tied to departments. In most departments, large and diverse academic communities – departments – have formed in place of specialized departments. At the same time, Kuzminov believes that certain methodological problems persist. A major element in the educational process at many Russian universities is the textbook, but feedback between teachers and students is missing (the so-called student-oriented approach). The experience of American and British universities is quite valuable; using it makes it possible to reconstruct certain courses.
The faculties were given more rights to hold summer and winter schools and conferences, as well as to finance travel grants. In addition, a new KPI system was developed to evaluate the performance of faculties and deans
In noting a number of positive developments that have taken place since the last committee meeting (e.g., HSE’s improvement in the rankings, strengthening of the teaching staff, improving its productivity, and improving the educational process), Eric Maskin, chairman of the International Advisory Committee and Nobel laureate, outlined two problems. First, as one of the leading universities in Russia, HSE is not as well known in academic circles abroad as it should be. Second, in the current economic and political situation, it is more difficult for Russian universities to recruit employees internationally – doing so will simply be more expensive. According to Maskin, universities need to find new sources of revenue, non-state if possible.
‘I open The New York times, and there’s somebody from HSE quoted there’
Isak Froumin, Academic Supervisor of the Institute of Education, spoke about how recommendations of the International Academic Council are brought to life. The fact that the previous committee meeting was held in St. Petersburg had a direct impact on the development of HSE’s St. Petersburg campus. It is following Moscow in becoming truly international. In particular, St. Petersburg saw the appearance of educational programmes taught in English, and the campus joined in the process of recruiting international faculty members. For example, Christopher Gerry, who worked at University College London, leads the International Centre for Health Economics, Management, and Policy. Each HSE campus has adopted its own development strategy and is strengthening contacts and mobility between them. Approximately 100 students temporarily change the campus where they study, and far from all of them choose to come to Moscow.
One of the recommendations of the International Advisory Committee was to improve the international ‘visibility’ of HSE. A lot remains to be done in this regard, but the university has managed to make achievements. Outside Russia, HSE has begun promoting a slightly modified brand – HSE University. This is to ensure that the name of the Higher School of Economics abroad is not associated exclusively with an economics education (non-economics faculties and programmes at HSE have long been well known and in demand in Russia).
Social media activity has led to the number of Facebook followers increasing by 75% for the year. The number of mentions of HSE in the foreign news media has doubled.
‘When I open The New York Times or any other newspaper that publishes articles about Russia, I always see someone quoted from the Higher School of Economics’, said Philip Altbach, a member of the International Advisory Committee and the founding director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College.
Half a million online students
Vadim Radaev, First Vice Rector, spoke more in depth on the structural changes taking place at the university, updates to educational programmes and new requirements for faculty members. Among the main objectives of the reforms he cited the decentralization of decision-making at a large university like HSE, increasing the financial autonomy of faculties, improving the quality of administration, integrating teaching and research activities, and the development of interdisciplinarity. The faculties were given more rights to hold summer and winter schools, conferences, fund travel grants, etc. In addition, a new KPI system was developed to assess the performance of faculties and deans.
Radaev noted the successful outcome of the latest university admissions campaign. Enrolment in state-funded places at HSE has been the largest in Russia for several years now, and in 2015, HSE significantly increased enrolment in fee-paying places, including in Master’s programmes. The number of students from foreign countries increased by 50%. For them, HSE offered 18 Master's, two undergraduate and 15 postgraduate programmes in English. Next year, their number will increase further yet. More than 100 people from 15 countries studied at the International Summer University in 2015.
HSE has been successful on on-line platforms as well. Almost half a million people registered for the 21st HSE course on Coursera (3% of the total number of users of the platform). HSE has also launched its courses on the National Open Education Platform, where 10 online course are planned and four have already started.
How to find a balance between teaching and research
HSE has moved to a new system of evaluating and selecting candidates for teaching positions, i.e., a competitive process that is open to external candidates. Altbach noted that the transition to such a contest is often plagued by difficulties. He gave the example of Argentina, where universities announced a corresponding reform of recruitment procedures, but in fact all of the innovations remained on paper; there has barely been any open competition on the local market.
HSE has real competition, but Professor Altbach warned of another danger: the constant threat of non-renewal of a contract, which serves to reduce the motivation of current staff should they decide that they don’t have any career prospects. However, Kuzminov believes that open competition at HSE does not create unhealthy competition between high-class teachers and researchers; rather, it allows for gradual replacement of unmotivated employees by those who are truly willing and able to work effectively, including getting published.
Publication activity has improved. Over one third of publications by HSE staff were made in collaboration with foreign researchers
Deputy Vice Rector Valentina Kuskova spoke about the international recruitment programme through which HSE recruited more than 100 teachers and researchers. This process began ten years ago at the International College of Economics and Finance (ICEF), and in 2010, it was tested at two other HSE faculties. Today, internationally recruited staff can be found in nearly every HSE faculty.
An important issue is the balance between research and teaching. Research and scientific publications resulting from them is very important not only in itself but also in terms of improving the academic status of the university and strengthening its position in the rankings. However, Francisco Marmolejo, Project 5-100 expert and coordinator of the network of experts on higher education at the World Bank, urged remembering that the university is primarily for education, a place for training future generations of professionals.
Vice Rector Maria Yudkevich’s report suggests that publication activity is improving. Over one-third of publications by HSE staff were made in collaboration with foreign researchers. The spectrum of research topics is very wide. Socio-economic work accounts for about one-third of the total number of publications; almost half are in mathematics, computer science and physics.
But publication ratings can be misleading or, rather, some universities have learned to use too formal of criteria to prepare them in their favour. Patti McGill Peterson, a member of the International Advisory Council and a senior partner at the Institute of Policy in Higher Education, cited the example of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz University. Several years ago, it suddenly broke into the top ten in the field of mathematics. The explanation turned out to be simple: the university had hired researchers with high citation indices. They updated their information in the Thomson Reuters database, indicating their new affiliation, and the Saudi university saw its position in the rating improve virtually automatically. All of the formalities were followed in this case, and no violations of the law were committed.
‘Yes, it's a fairly simple way to the top, but we will not buy someone else's article’, said Yudkevich in reference to this curious case.
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The eighth annual session of the HSE International Advisory Committee has come to a close. Its chairman Eric Maskin, Nobel laureate in economics, summed up the results of the committee’s work.