• A
  • A
  • A
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
Regular version of the site

Turbulence Is a Time for Unexpected Solutions in Education

The state is getting rid of underperforming universities, backing large universities, and online courses are vying for market space. These and other trends were the subject for discussion on April 7 by participants in the plenary discussion 'Paths of the Development of the Professional and Higher Education in the Conditions of Economic Turbulence' at the XVI April International Research Conference on Economic and Social Development.

Better and worse

There are two trends at play in Russia's higher education market, said Russian Education Minister Dmitry Livanov. On the one hand the state is getting rid of institutions and branches that cannot offer quality education, they face a filter – over two years they have to cut off those parts that have 'essentially already died'. All educational organisations whose activities raise concerns are subject to checks. But no particular figure has been set for the number of higher educational institutions that should exist on the market – cutting away the dead-wood is all that is required, and that will be based in purely qualitative performance.

On the other hand, the state supports the finest institutions. This chiefly means universities that manage to assert their competitiveness on the international stage. They set their freown goals and this advanced level of autonomy frees them from indicators imposed top-down. Any ratings are relative, and improvement in any one rating is testimony to the university's success, but a university's place in the ratings represents the academic community's views on its place in the hierarchy, the minister stressed.

In order to develop successfully, the best institutions need significnat freedom, Presidential Aide Andrei Fursenko (education minister 2004-2012) said. But there can, by definition, never be a large number of these 'centers of excellence'. Higher education must respond to concrete, pragmatic, needs – economic, social, and political, and their operation must be closly bound to the further development of the economy, public life and the country as a whole.

Higher education for the regions

The first two federal universities – Siberian and Southern – started to be formed a decade ago. Now there are 10 such educational hubs spanning a diverse range of different disciplines, that resulted from the merger of several universities. They work for their regions, and in many have raised the standards of education and research – this is the model that is in demand, Dmitry Livanov believes.

Structural and substantive reforms took place at the Southern Federal University, Marina Borovskaya explained. Research equipment efficiency use grew five-fold, teachers took on a more public role, and the volume of research produced also rose. She feels that the current arrangement – with the universities brought together into the Southern Federal University – makes sense, as in the Soviet era the large university was broken down into smaller units, and now they are being reintegrated

Moscow State University of Mechanical Engineering is another university that works in the interests of its region. There was a time when it didn't seem to have a future in the city, as there were no car plants left, Rector Andrei Nikolaenko recalled. But the university won a Federal competition for strategic development, funds were awarded (albeit modest compared to the funds involved in creating the Federal Universities), and it was merged with several other universities. HSE helped its reforms, and the first thing that Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov did, when discussing the structure of this university, was to cross out all the departments on the chart illustrating the structure. 'That was a shock,' Andrei Nikolaenko said. 'How could a university work without its management system?'

 Over time, we will see a division in the educational services market: the best tutors and universities will produce quality online courses, and some weak institutions will adapt to the new environment by shifting to online courses, improving quality

Heads of educational programmes took on the main management role in the university, they created the students' trajectories, without thinking about the departments' own interests.  They built a highly disciplined system of 'project activity' in which future engineers create real facilities in project groups. They turned what had been a highly specialized institute of higher education into a true Polytechnic, preparing engineering staff for the Moscow region, and it today remains a massive institution, attracting teaching staff away from its competitors by offering more money and greater creative freedom.

Money is spend more efficiently in a large institution, Andrei Fursenko believes, and instead of 'candle factories' at each department, it is possible to create centers where academic resources and equipment are pooled and shared (there are 14 in the Southern Federal University), and to launch inter-faculty and interdisciplinary educational programmes. Given the demographic situation, in which the number of students is falling each year, Dmitry Livanov argued, weak educational institutions will likely be left without a student body to teach. The rest need to join forces under encouragement from both federal authorities (major universities enjoy privileges) and the regions.

Dmitry Peskov, Director of the Young Professionals section at the Strategic Initiatives Agency, the long-term strategy is to ensure that different kinds of universities, big and small, all have a place in the educational system. Now the state is focusing its efforts on rigidly controlling quality, but over time there should be more freedom. He thinks that creating an 'oligopoly' of the leading universities will hinder competition on the market, and that diversity should be retained. Especially since there are some well-known examples of small universities charting solid growth, Andrei Fursenko noted, recalling that initially HSE and PhysTech could not compete with MSU. So this economic turbulence is time for unexpected solutions to the problems facing higher education, and we just need to be more active in looking for them, the former minister said.

New education

Alongside restructuring the university network, another trend is gaining ground in Russia: new mass higher education, HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov said. If weak institutions close, what takes their place? The demand for higher education will still be there, and it will still be difficult to send school graduates to Polytechnics as they're needed in heavy industry. Mass higher education is vital, as it creates a cultural level that gives people the ability to adapt to changes, start afresh, and this is as true of general higher education as it is of professional education.

The prerequisite for this new mass higher education is mass online courses that enable students to form their own educational programme. New educational institutions will replace weak ones, and they will help people build their own education and direct them to potential workplaces by transforming their enhanced capabilities into applicable qualifications. Over time, we will see a division in the educational services market: the best tutors and universities will produce quality online courses, and some weak institutions will adapt to the new environment by shifting to online courses, improving quality.

But there are obstacles to online education, as Martin Carnoy, Academic Supervisor at the International Laboratory for Education Policy Analysis noted. At 18 years of age people are not disciplined enough to study independently, they need tutors, mentors, to track their performance, organize their collaboration with other students. 'You can find any good lecture, on any subject, in any area on the internet, but they remain notes. To qualitatively change how students view their studies, you need tutors with particular qualities, not great orators, but people who can be equal partners with the students in their research,' Andrei Fursenko said. He believes that the student must take responsibility for their own work, not complain to the government.

One instrument that could be used to increase this responsibility would be student loans, Yarosloav Kuzminov says. Today there is not much demand for it, just several hundred people took student loans out from Sberbank last year. But no consistent attempts to introduce it have been made, and so this remains an area for analysis, research and proposals to government.

 

See also:

American SemyonovAward Recipient to Look at Higher Education’s Relation to Civic Engagement in the Russia

Radomir ‘Ray’ Mitic just completed his PhD at New York University and will be joining the Council of Graduate Schools as a postdoctoral fellow this coming fall in Washington, D.C. This summer, he received an HSE SemyonovAward Research Internship to research civic engagement among Russian university students at the Institute of Education at HSE University. Last week, he participated in the International Summer School of Higher Education at HSE – St. Petersburg, and now he is conducting field research in Moscow. HSE News Service spoke with Ray about his research, his impressions of the two Russian cities, and his future plans.

Russia’s Middle Class: Who Are Its Members and How Do They Spend Their Money?

The HSE Centre for Studies of Income and Living Standards studied the dynamics of the middle class and its behaviour with regard to paid services. The study was based on data drawn from the HSE Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey (RLMS-HSE) for the years 2000 to 2017, and the results were presented at the 20th April International Academic Conference hosted by HSE.

Reproductive Evolution: How Birth Rates Are Changing in Post-Soviet Countries

Reproductive behavior is modernizing at different rates in post-Soviet countries. Things are changing faster in Russia, Armenia, Georgia and Ukraine, where, over the last fifteen years, the average maternity age has increased and the contribution of women in their thirties to their countries’ birthrates has grown. Meanwhile, old reproductive patterns persist in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, where firstborns are usually born to parents under 30, demographers Vladimir Kozlov and Konstantin Kazenin note in a paper delivered at HSE’s XX April International Academic Conference.

Live Long There and Prosper: How Internal Migration from Small Towns Works

More than half of school graduates in medium-sized Russian cities will change their place of residence either forever or at least for a long time. According a report on internal migration presented by HSE demographers at the XX April International Academic Conference, these people are lost to their cities.

What Drives Innovation in Russian Companies

As part of the Management session of the XX April International Conference, Carl F. Fey from Aalto University School of Business, Finland, presented his paper on Facilitating Innovation in Companies in Russia: The Role of Organizational Culture. In his talk, Professor Fey spoke about the results of three studies he has been conducting with his team.

‘In a Digital Environment, the Role of Human Teachers Only Becomes More Important’

How does digital technology affect the behavior and health of schoolchildren? What opportunities does it proved teachers and school administrators? These and other issues were discussed by participants in the plenary session ‘Children’s Wellbeing in the Digital Age’ at the XX April International Scientific Conference of HSE.

‘Statistics Should Be Available and Comprehensible to Everyone’

Implementing a digital analytical platform, opportunities for Big Data, and other prospects for the development of Russian statistics were discussed by participants at a plenary session of the XX April International Academic Conference.

Can Youth Bullying Ever Be Eradicated?

Dr. Dorothy Espelage (University of Florida) presented a comprehensive account of her research into youth bullying spanning more than two decades in an invited paper ‘Prevention & Intervention of Youth Bullying and other Forms of Youth Aggression: Research Informed Strategies’ at the XX April International Academic Conference.

‘To Achieve Our Goals, We Need to Involve a Wide Range of Universities in National Projects’

The role of regional and industrial institutions of higher education in achieving national development goals must increase, and leading universities will help them. This was the conclusion reached by participants of the plenary session on Russian higher education that took place as part of the XX April International Academic Conference.

How to Boost Russian Food Exports

The plenary session ‘Strategy of Russian Presence at Global Food Markets’ took place as part of HSE University’s XX April International Academic Conference, where participants discussed the prospects for Russian agricultural exports to Asia, as well as the use of nonconventional investment models, such as Islamic financial tools.