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International Advisory Committee Meets at HSE: 'The University Is Quick to Respond to Recommendations'

Each year, the HSE International Advisory Committee (IAC) meets in Moscow under the leadership of Nobel laureate Eric Maskin. Committee members focus on reorganising the post-graduate school, updating educational and staffing policies, and a number of other important issues.

The IAC is an advisory body that monitors and assesses HSE’s development in key areas relating to the university’s ability to compete at the international level. The committee is made up of the world’s leading experts in issues surrounding higher education.

Plans and Capabilities

The IAC met for its eighth time this year. Below, HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov talks about the issues that the committee members were to discuss. One of the biggest pieces of news this year came when HSE was given the ability to award its own academic degrees. ‘This is an important breakthrough because it allows HSE to globalise the system of post-graduate education and the training offered to young researchers. It also allows the university to realise its full potential on the Russian academic market. We would really like to see [the committee] discuss the opportunities that open up in connection with this, in addition to the university’s plans for the near future,’ Yaroslav Kuzminov notes.

Another area concerns the updates made to educational methodologies and technology. According to Rector Kuzminov, HSE has come a rather long way, transforming itself from a university that largely instructs into a university that primarily conducts research. ‘Along the way, we have replaced a significant number of professors, and many of the colleagues who have joined are more focused on their own research than on teaching,’ he adds. Now the university is tasked with turning its instructors back onto teaching without interfering with their research work.

Eric Maskin commented that the university is quick to respond to the IAC’s recommendations and requests. In last year’s report, for example, the IAC emphasized the need to discuss the single contract system, which was on the agenda of this year’s meeting. In setting the stage for this discussion, Yaroslav Kuzminov said that HSE was constantly raising the bar for its employees, particularly as concerns publications. On the one hand, this is simply the right approach, but on the other, it caused people to feel pressured and it harmed the ‘atmosphere of academic calmness that has always been inherent to the university and one of the key advantages to a university profession.’

‘We see this problem, Yaroslav Kuzminov adds. ‘This is why we decided to switch to a new base contract system in September 2018 that doubles when the first-level academic bonus is added.’ Of course, there is the danger that some colleagues might become a little too lax, he admits. ‘But I personally hope that the previously specified dynamics will be enough so that a person who has begun publishing in leading journals and working with colleagues from other countries continues doing this simply because they themselves are truly interested,’ he says.

Also up for discussion at the IAC meeting was the development of new research and entrepreneurial projects at the university, as well as HSE’s internationalization and advancement on global university rankings. Yaroslav Kuzminov noted HSE’s repeated success in this area, a key example being when HSE made it onto the Times Higher Education top-500 subject ranking for physics. This was the first time this happened since the Faculty of Physics was established at the university.

Meeting with Alumni

IAC members also met with HSE alumni. In the West, it is rather common for alumni associations to donate serious amount of money to university endowments, especially in the United States. As HSE Vice Rector Igor Chirikov notes, Russia didn’t used to have this sort of tradition and culture. Creating such a tradition could become one of HSE’s missions, Harvard University Vice-President for Strategy and Programs Leah Rosovsky says. The main motivating factor behind university support, she adds, is not the financial benefit (in the U.S. donors get tax deductions), but rather the relationship between people and the feeling of belonging to a single university ‘diaspora.’

Founding Director of the Boston College Center for International Higher Education and HSE Honorary Professor Philip Altbach says that his university started its endowment by putting away some of its own funds and then ‘knocking on every door.’ Through their personal contacts, an alumni network formed out of people who were ready to help their university in one way or another. An initiative alumni group was created at HSE, and its members are trying to organise a similar network of contacts. Members of this group – in particular Sergei Ivashkovsky, Maxim Chernin, and other alumni – discussed with IAC members the best way to go about this.

Eric Maskin suggested another way for the university to work with alumni. At many American universities, alumni become part of the governing and supervisory committees and elect the university’s president; that is, they directly formulate the development strategy of their university. At a state university like HSE, it’s impossible to give alumni such powers. They can, however, be brought in as advisors and consultants.

The committee will continue discussing key issues in HSE’s development during the second day of the IAC meeting. In addition, committee members will visit the campus of the Moscow Institute of Electronics and Mathematics in Strogino. According to Vice Rector Ivan Prostakov, the university hopes that its engineering division will become a centre of excellence and help further strengthen HSE’s reputation around the world. 

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