Why Rankings Matter for Universities
University rankings, which increasingly impact both universities' development strategies and state policy in higher education, was one of the main topics discussed at the meeting of the HSE's International Advisory Committee.
HSE in Rankings
The main task of HSE's administration is to achieve the harmonious development of the whole university. In this sense, rankings that attract attention is not an end in itself but is instead an important tool in assessing the university effectiveness, says Vadim Radaev, HSE First Vice Rector in his welcoming speech. In addition, the rankings, with all their flaws, give a good idea of how the university looks from a comparative perspective.
Over the past two years HSE has made some progress in this area. And if, for example, the progress in QS World University Ranking can be described as moderate, in QS subject rankings HSE’s breakthrough is much more considerable. There are some key reasons for this: in the World University ranking, the natural and technical sciences, which HSE has only recently started developing (as compared with the social sciences and humanities that have always been fundamental to HSE), play an important role.
Rankings have become the driver of decision-making in higher education at institutional and national levels
But in QS Subject Rankings, HSE is already among the top 150 in economics and econometrics, sociology and political studies, and it is in the top 200 in philosophy, management and accounting and auditing. In the Times Higher Education ranking, HSE takes 83rd place in ‘Business and Economics’ globally. ‘We didn't expect such rapid growth in these rankings, we thought we would need more time. HSE is the first Russian university to achieve these results in social sciences,’ says Vadim Radaev.
Trust, but Verify
In not over-emphasizing rankings, HSE is taking the right approach, says Philip Altbach, member of the HSE International Advisory Committee, and Founding Director of the Center for International Higher Education in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. The university's improved position in the rankings is one of the results of its development, not its cause. Professor Altbach agrees that the social sciences and humanities are underrepresented in these rankings. In addition, some rankings place too much emphasis on a university’s reputation, while others use indicators that are difficult to measure (such as the quality and nature of education, graduates’ employability, etc.).
Since those who compile the rankings aim to cover an increasing number of indicators, that means they will inevitably face new methodological problems. However, this does not mean the ‘end of rankings’ — they are here to stay, says Philip Altbach.
Ellen Hazelkorn, another member of the Committee, Policy Advisor to the Higher Education Authority (Ireland), agrees. On the one hand, rankings are important to every university. On the other hand, their impact on public policy is growing. Research conducted by Professor Hazelkorn in several countries has shown that rankings have become the driver of decision-making in higher education at institutional and national levels. This is the case in countries with very different academic and educational cultures, such as Russia, China, and Australia.
Why Ratings Matter
Universities and governments set their strategic goals and assess the results of their implementation in part based on these rankings. Rankings affect students’ and professors’ choice of a university to study and work at and potential partners’ decisions when selecting a university for international cooperation initiatives. Even when the word ‘ranking’ is not mentioned, it is replaced by such epithets as ‘best’ or ‘world class’, meaning exactly the same thing — among those ranked as leaders.
It is vital any university determines several major advantages and that it ‘digs deeper’ to develop them, rather than aiming at everything at once
A survey conducted by the European University Association (EUA) showed that 47% of universities mentioned their presence in international rankings in their development strategies as a ‘clear goal’, with another 14% including national rankings as among their aims. 86% of universities constantly monitor their positions in rankings.
What Strategy to Choose
Universities choose different strategies by which to advance in the rankings, but the result largely depends on how reasonable and applicable they are. This is well illustrated by the example of two universities — Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the University of Kentucky (USA). NTU, founded in Singapore in 1981, receives great political and financial support from the state. As a result, in a short time the university managed to increase key metrics for faculty, research, publications, international students and become the leader of THE ranking among ‘new universities’, in under 50 years. (HSE is very close to the top 50 in this ranking).
‘I call this ‘the Manchester United strategy’, says Ellen Hazelkorn. 'If you have so much money, resources and capabilities, what's stopping you?’
But not every university can estimate its capabilities correctly. The University of Kentucky aimed to be among the top 20 American universities by 2020. In order to achieve this goal it needed to additionally enroll almost 7,000 students and 1,000 lecturers and postdocs, as well as to increase research funding by 470 million dollars. However, this ambitious strategy has failed, and the 2007-2008 economic crisis also impacting the situation.
That's why universities should realistically assess their capabilities, and their aim of advancing up through the rankings should be consistent with the university’s mission. It is vital any university determines several major advantages and that it ‘digs deeper’ to develop them, rather than aiming at everything at once, says Ellen Hazelkorn.
On December 1, key areas of HSE University’s recently adopted strategy were presented at the extended meeting of the International Advisory Committee. Outgoing and new members of IAC learnt more about the University’s initiatives in human capital and AI research, as well as about its plans to build a Master’s Engineering School.
‘The Expertise of Members of IAC Will Be Instrumental in the Continuing Development of the University’
On October 5, HSE University’s International Advisory Committee held an online session. Yaroslav Kuzminov, HSE University Academic Supervisor, introduced the new leadership structure of the University and Rector Nikita Anisimov spoke about his vision for HSE University’s development. Meeting participants discussed various aspects of the University strategy.
How has higher education influenced the evolution of nations since the Second World War—and vice versa? Stanford professor Mitchell Stevens and Institute of Education researcher Ekaterina Shibanova have tried to answer this question in a special issue of the European Journal of Higher Education. They invited renowned historians, political experts, sociologists and economists to develop ‘a consensus on the role of higher education in political and social history after 1945.’ The special issue was created with input from researchers from Canada, Luxembourg, Russia, Germany, France, the UK, and Sweden.
On May 31, International Advisory Committee met online to discuss HSE University’s third mission, its implementation and place in the university strategy. The meeting focused on HSE University’s volunteering and social initiatives, cooperation with non-profits, community engagement, students’ field research trips around Russia, and HSE Business Incubator.
A group of researchers representing four countries summed up the results of the Supertest, a large-scale study of the academic performance of engineering students in Russia, China, India, and the United States. It is the first study to track the progress of students in computer science and electrical engineering over the course of their studies with regard to their abilities in physics, mathematics, and critical thinking and compare the results among four countries. The article about study was published in Nature Human Behavior.
International Advisory Committee Convenes to Discuss HSE University’s Domestic Partnership Programmes
On February 17, HSE University’s International Advisory Committee met over Zoom to discuss the University’s recent activity and the progress of a number of projects being implemented under HSE University’s University Partnership Programme, which aims to strengthen partnerships and academic collaboration between HSE and other universities in Russia.
How does academic dishonesty of students correlate with honesty in further work? A group of scientists, including Evgenia Shmeleva, Research Fellow at the HSE Institute of Education, conducted research answering this question. During an open online seminar of a research group dedicated to ‘Academic Ethics in the Educational Context,’ Evgenia Shmeleva presented ‘Does Academic Dishonesty Seep into the Workplace? Evidence from a Longitudinal Study,’ which was prepared jointly with Igor Chirikov (University of California at Berkeley-HSE University) and Prashant Loyalka (Stanford University-HSE University)
According to the findings of HSE researchers, up to one-quarter of school graduates in Moscow enrol in low-quality universities despite scoring highly on their Unified State Exam, the final school exam and a standard university admission mechanism in Russia. This academic mismatch limits their life opportunities and often stems from unequal starting conditions in the family and at school.
World Bank—HSE University Webinar Examines the Costs of School Closures During the Covid-19 Pandemic
On May 21, the joint webinar series, ‘Education under COVID-19: Problems, Solutions, Perspectives, Research’ began with a session about the effects of school closures under the pandemic. Harry Anthony Patrinos of the World Bank presented the results of a model that he and a team of researchers developed in order to predict the extent to which the closures may reduce learning and lead to future losses in labor productivity and earnings for today’s students. The webinar was moderated by Isak Froumin (Head of the HSE Institute of Education), while Professors Tommaso Agasisti (School of Management, Politecnico di Milano) and Sergey Kosaretsky (Director, HSE Centre of General and Extracurricular Education) served as discussants.
The HSE University International Advisory Committee met online on May 19 to discuss the proposed Codes of Conduct for faculty and students, as well as assess the university’s transition to online learning.