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Project-Based Learning to Become the Core of the Updated Educational Model at HSE University

Project-Based Learning to Become the Core of the Updated Educational Model at HSE University

© HSE University/ Mikhail Dmitriev

The best features of the university model created by HSE over the years will be preserved, but a new model is essential for further development. This new model will focus on project-based learning for all students, as well as the digital transformation in the field of education.

Project University

HSE is a research and project university, but in practice this refers primarily to the university’s teachers and staff. When it comes to students, HSE  is still predominantly a teaching institution, according to Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov  who spoke at HSE Academic Council meeting on December 20. That’s why, in the next 5-10 years, the  goal is to involve each student, beginning in his/her first year of studies, in projects and research focused on solving open-ended questions without one clearly defined answer.

According to Yaroslav Kuzminov, this challenge is no smaller than in the 1990s, when HSE took on socio-economic research, which was new for post-Soviet Russia, or  in the 2000s, when research started to develop at the university and become internationally recognized. While ten years ago, ten percent of HSE’s teaching and research staff published their papers in international journals, today two-thirds do, including teachers of physical education, foreign languages and military science.

As was the case with those previous challenges, HSE University will be Russia’s first higher education institution to achieve this ambitious goal, since no university is yet project-based for each of its students. Two universities in St. Petersburg have set similar objectives: the Academic University and European University, but their student bodies are relatively small, while HSE has over 40 000 students. In setting itself such a lofty goal, HSE hopes to contribute to the development of Russia as well as global university education as a whole.

The project-based approach has been integrated not only in the HSE University Strategic Development Programme, but in the 2020 Budget and Financial Plan for 2021-22. According to HSE Vice Rector Alexey Novoseltsev, the key change in the faculties’ resource management system will be allocating 15% of the funds received from tuition for student involvement in research, educational and professional project work. This includes the organization of student projects (including team projects), support for student initiatives (including entrepreneurial ones), employment as teaching and research assistants, academic mobility and other relevant activities.

According to Yaroslav Kuzminov, this investment is only the first step on the path to becoming a project-based university. However, it will help to start shifting effort and resources in the necessary direction.

Digital University

HSE University already pays considerable attention to digitalization. In fact, in terms of the scale of its current digitalization, HSE University leads among Russian universities and is on a par with the world’s best universities. Nevertheless, further digital transformation is key. This means, first and foremost, developing the university’s digital platform (creating a digital educational environment, developing integration solutions, digitizing the back office, and modernizing the IT infrastructure); and second, developing digital educational resources.

The number of employees across HSE’s IT departments has already tripled, and this is due, in particular,  to the fact that the university is focused on implementing its own original solutions that ensure independence  of the key business processes from external companies.  Work on these digitalization efforts will involve professionals from the Faculty of Computer Science, the School of Business Informatics, and MIEM. The digital platform will allow the university to switch to digital protocols, overcome bureaucratic formalities, and enable complete individualization of educational trajectories, according to Yaroslav Kuzminov.

In addition, the university will continue maintaining, updating and producing online courses. In 2020, online course authors will be eligible for bonuses, and a system of incentives for course development and refinement, based on their effectiveness, will be launched.

The digitalization of the educational process helps save money, but HSE University doesn’t aim to replace its lecturers’ courses with online courses, Yaroslav Kuzminov emphasized. On the contrary, it aims to save time and effort: lecturers can deliver short lecture courses on the basis of online courses especially for those students who not only passed the exam, but are interested in the topic.  Such students may account for only 20 or 30% of the total student body, but working with them will take on a new form. This will  improve the quality of education and allow students to gain a deeper understanding of the issues they are interested in. ‘HSE University has always been known for the  high demands it places on its students’, Yaroslav Kuzminov said.

Employers know that someone with an HSE University degree is guaranteed to have mastered the core competencies

As it develops its online learning, the university aims to issue about 500,000 certificates for online courses by the end of the next decade. In order to achieve this goal, HSE will have to develop joint network programmes with local universities (40 agreements have already been signed) to support its online courses and its peers’ offline courses. The university has already implemented support programmes for local teachers and researchers for several years (internships, assistance in preparing publications for international journals, etc) and has created ‘mirror’ labs where HSE University lecturers teach their peers the skills and methods they have recently learned themselves.

HSE University has allocated over 1.4 billion roubles for its digital transition, with over 4 billion roubles earmarked for 2020 through 2023, and, according to the Rector, this is an unprecedented level of investment for a university.  Such ambitious goals cannot be achieved with smaller capital outlays—the university would simply have to reproduce some off-the-shelf solutions, which is not acceptable.

Where Will the Money Come from?

As well as with project-based learning, the university plans to fund the university’s digital transformation with the revenue it earns from its core degree programmes.

HSE University’s revenues are expected to grow in 2020 to 26 billion roubles, which represents a 10% increase on 2019. Extrabudgetary revenues  will account for 47% of the budged, making HSE University second among Russian universities in terms of their extrabudgetary volume. It should be noted that the university enrolls the strongest students in both state-funded (average USE grade 95+) and fee-paying (85+) slots.

HSE University will also be looking to enter new markets, including, first and foremost, continuing education and corporate education. According to Alexey Novoseltsev, the university plans to increase its revenues in this area threefold by 2030—up to 6 billion roubles. Over the next four years, the university plans to invest 1 billion roubles in developing new programmes, obtaining international accreditations, attracting new teaching and management teams, increasing infrastructure quality, and developing digital tools.

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