‘Higher Education Will Not Return to Its Old Format’
An online discussion on the topic of ‘New Higher Education: After the Period of Compulsory Remote Operation’ was held on April 27 as part of the Moscow International Education Fair MIEF-2020. The discussants included Dmitry Afanasiev, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Science and Higher Education; Vladimir Mau, Rector of RANEPA; and Yaroslav Kuzminov, Rector of HSE University.
Valery Falkov, Russia’s Minister of Science and Higher Education, opened the fair’s formal programme and said: ‘Our job is to take the best of what we gather during these uneasy times—the best ideas and the best models—and use it to make Russian higher education more attractive globally.’
Psychological Barrier Crossed
Dmitry Afanasiev argues that there are two negative scenarios for the development of higher education after the pandemic that should be prevented. The first scenario involves students and teachers fully returning to old practices and forgetting the experience of communicating online. The second scenario involves universities rushing to develop numerous bad online courses.
No one is saying that traditional lectures and classes will die
‘The question is what the new mixed learning will look like, how it will integrate individual educational trajectories and teamwork, and how interactive learning will develop. The future will be what we make of it,’ concluded Afanasiev.
Yaroslav Kuzminov stressed that higher education will not be returning to its old format. ‘Opposition to innovation usually happens because people have not tasted the innovation and have not experienced it themselves,’ he said. ‘But today, all students and almost all teachers have started working in digital environment. The psychological barrier has been crossed, and the future will be different.’
In this situation, everyone will see that education is not divided into full-time and part-time; rather, it will depend on the degree to which students and teachers are involved. You can be attending an on-site lecture at university, yawning, and playing Battleship. Today, 36% of surveyed students say that after switching to online learning, they have begun to study more intensively. 100% of the surveyed teachers report that the intensity of their work has grown, Kuzminov said.
Kuzminov believes that four options will be in high demand for online learning: online courses (there are about 1,000 of them in Russia, and about 24,000 in China), mixed forms (online courses replacing lectures, with the remaining classes being held in-person), online conferences, which have been tried by everyone recently, and online libraries (there is a shortage of them) alongside online training software, simulators, etc (of which there is a huge shortage).
Vladimir Mau believes that education, both traditional and online, can be good and not so good. New technologies are helping good education to become better and more effective, but they are of no help to education that is not very good. He estimates that there will be a redistribution of students: those who are willing to get a good education will have more opportunities to learn at universities with good programmes. In these terms, online technologies can be compared to the Unified State Examination (USE).
From the Challenge of Quality to the Challenge of Openness
Yaroslav Kuzminov believes that the challenge of quality, which has been common for the educational system, is today being transformed into the challenge of openness – readiness to replace ones content with someone else’s, to take part in external interactions, to look for people who are able to do what you are not yet able to do and for those who can do something better than you. Digitalization is leading to a redistribution of students between online courses: they are comparing the quality of courses. While previously students could attend the courses only at the university they entered after passing the USE selection, today universities will have to prove their worthiness to students while at the same time expanding their influence in society.
Competition in education is growing – not only among universities and countries, but also among fields of study, Mau believes. Big corporations are entering the educational market to offer their services and are increasingly competing with universities.
‘I’m continuing to hope that despite the digital revolution that has already happened, university teachers will remain researchers, or, if they work in management or design, authors or leaders of professional projects,’ Kuzminov said. ‘They will be researchers on research teams beyond their home universities.’
The HSE Rector believes that teachers’ workload is too high today: at a student-teacher ratio of 12:1, they teach on average four different courses at big universities, and in many cases, up to ten courses simultaneously. This quantity can be managed at a technical high school, but at universities, it means that teachers are forced to work in areas where they are not specialists.
Vladimir Mau cited RANEPA data showing that 88% of teachers are not in favour of online technologies. This is even true for computer science teachers, although the share among them is slightly lower – 79%. Overcoming this attitude is naturally a challenge.
Yaroslav Kuzminov believes that in the near future, each university will have to evaluate its staff resources, networking opportunities, and needs so that they can take the following steps.
First, they will have to determine the fields of study the university would not develop on their own and to what extent they would use someone else’s developments. It’s impossible to hire professionals in all fields, in all 1,000 courses that are taught at the university.
Second, they will have to determine the category of courses that will help them develop their own young teachers who are part of an academic school led by a leading scholar at Harvard, St. Petersburg, or Tomsk. This is about mixed courses where a leading scholar delivers online lectures, and younger teachers lead seminars, together forming one professional teaching team.
Third, they will have to evaluate what can be done by the university and which online courses, simulators, or other digital products they can offer, exploiting their advantages. This will help grow the market for products developed by the university.
Fourth, they will be able to focus their intellectual and financial resources on research and development since these resources will have been freed up as a result of educational outsourcing. ‘In certain fields, a Russian university should become a Harvard itself,’ Kuzminov said.
Vladimir Mau believes that the future of universities lies in implementing the best in-person programmes in combination with online elements, which are also important. He also stresses that development of education is related to greater freedom for teachers and more individualization for student trajectories. A rigid model of educational standards won’t fit into the framework of online learning, since this would inevitably cause a decrease in quality.