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Regular version of the site

Who is Responsible for a Student’s Failure?

On March 9th –12th a group of European analysts carried out some research on education and education quality improvement systems in the context of the Bologna process at the HSE. The preliminary results of the research were unveiled at two presentations.

The goal of the Bologna process is the creation of a united European higher education space through integrating the educational systems of the different countries which have signed the Process Declaration. Today the Bologna Process involves 46 countries including Russia. Many universities of Russia are implementing the key points of the Bologna Process, and the Higher School of Economics is one of these universities.

A group of European experts on the problems of education results evaluation and the education quality system, including Nina Arnhold, a senior education specialist at the World Bank, Jacques Lanares, Vice Rector for Academic Work at the University of Lausanne, and Wolker Gemlich, Professor at the University of Osnabrück, came to Moscow at the invitation of the HSE and with the support of the World Bank.

Nina Arnhold in her opening speech at the first presentation of the education results analysis on March 11th said:‘We won't pretend that currently we have a clear and full understanding of the educational programmes at your university. But we have been scrutinising things for several days - talking to administration staff and faculty deans, conducting surveys amongst teachers and students, studying documents and website materials - and now we can share with our Russian colleagues our initial impressions, preliminary conclusions, thoughts and recommendations. We would like to listen to the opinions and questions of the meeting participants. It is very likely that we have misunderstood something, and your objections and arguments will be of special importance and use'. Ms. Arnhold introduced Wolker Gemlich who has been participating in key projects of the Bologna Process for many years . The main focus of his analytical work is the study of education results in various EU universities.

Professor Gemlich reminded the meeting participants that one of the most important and relevant aspects of the Bologna Process, and one which should be the focus for higher education experts, is employability - the ability of the university graduates to successfully find employment. ‘Traditionally - he said - the organization of the educational process was built as a chain of successive actions:a teacher would enroll students, teach them, then they would pass tests confirming their qualification, and then the teacher would just hope for his graduates'employment. The teacher was the central figure of the educational process.'Today the Bologna Process coordinators have many reasons to question and revise this model.

Given the current globalization and financial crisis, where employment status has become vital, it is necessary to start organizing education by determining the results which a university is planning to achieve. Professor Gemlich is sure that ‘under the current circumstances we should reverse the chain and start from the end - to firstly determine what competencies a university graduate should be equipped with to successfully find employment, then develop the structure and contents of educational programmes and curricula, choose effective methods and forms of education, hire highly skilled teachers and determine the criteria of student enrolment.'In addition to this, the educational process should become transparent for all the stakeholders:students and their parents, as well as teachers and employers.

What knowledge and skills a student should have when graduating from each specific university - is the main question that needs answering at the start of the educational activity. Only after determining the planned results of the education can we look at solving other issues..

During the presentation Wolker Gemlich made several recommendations for the Higher School of Economics, including the following:

  • A more detailed elaboration of the criteria and forms of the education results evaluation, which should involve not only teachers but students and employers.
  • A clearer definition of the profiles of the university, the faculties, schools, and courses and description of their specifics and interaction.
  • A revision of the credit system giving them a closer correlation to the education results.
  • Evaluation and crediting of knowledge and skills received by a student beyond the walls of the university (working before the enrollment or during the education) and including them into the list of his skills and competencies, i.e. to the graduate's portfolio.
  • A considerable development of student mobility, as well as mobility of teachers and other staff by means of recognition of the period of time spent working in Europe

During the discussion of the presentation Nina Arnhold drew an analogy between an enterprise and a university. ‘If we consider a graduate as a product of a university, it is realistic and correct to talk about the characteristics of this product. When we buy some medicine in a drugstore, we are rarely interested in what chemical elements it consists of, but we definitely want to know what impact it has on our body and whether it is able to cure a specific illness. In just the same way, society wants to understand the abilities of a university graduate. And instead of listing the ‘ingredients'of an educational programme it is necessary to clearly determine the expected results of the education in this programme and consistently lead a student to these results. This is a fundamentally different approach, which we encourage all the Bologna Process participants to undertake.'

The second presentation by the experts took place on March 12th and was devoted to the analysis of the education quality improvement system at the HSE.

Jacques Lanares, Vice Rector at the University of Lausanne, began his speech by drawing the audience's attention to the fact that today our understanding of the quality of education is changing radically. Moreover, in different countries and universities the phrase ‘education quality'is understood differently. After numerous discussions among the Bologna Process member countries, it became clear that so far it is unrealistic to achieve accord and a unified understanding of this concept. ‘Nevertheless - Professor Lanares said - education quality must involve regular monitoring and measures for changing and improvement of the contents and forms of the education and research work and is a permanent process in any higher education institution. The Bologna Declaration contains general provisions for education quality assurance, and every university involved in the Bologna Process is obliged to consistently bring its educational programmes into compliance with those standards.'

According to Jacques Lanares, the strategy of education quality improvement at the HSE should include:

  • Creation of an all-university concept of education quality improvement and a special department responsible for monitoring and coordination of this process.
  • A more active involvement of students and employers in evaluating the university'work.
  • A more objective evaluation of the correlation between the stated goals of a programme and its actual results.
  • A more complex and systematical evaluation of the quality of the teaching staff.
  • A more dynamic implementation of education quality control systems and a widening of the practice of professional opinion and experience sharing between teachers.

After the presentation Jacques Lanares and Nina Arnhold answered questions from the meeting participants. A great deal of interest and a lively discussion were initiated by the question of the ‘quality'of students and dropout rates.

Nina Arnhold mentioned that talking to the university administration and teachers she noticed an conflict between the high level of education offered by the HSE to its students and the unsatisfactory level of the prospective students.

According to the expert analysts, it would be quite logical to critically analyze and revise the principles of student enrolment at the HSE. Probably one of the reasons for the high dropout rate is inefficient arrangement of the enrolment programme. The decision on what the first year students of the HSE faculties and schools should be like, and on how to effectively organize the student enrolment may become crucial in lowering the dropout rate.

Jacques Lanares emphasized that it is necessary to remember the responsibilities that universities have when they attract and select students. ‘Speaking objectively, - he said - a university promises a student that if he works hard for several years, he will have certain skills and competencies upon graduation. But do universities always keep their promises? In this regard the dropout rate is always very informative alongside a detailed analysis of the reasons for these dropouts.'

Summarizing the discussion, Isak Froumin, Academic Supervisor of the HSE Institute for the Development of Education, thanked the expert group for their work, for the productive exchange of opinions and for their preliminary recommendations for the development of the Higher School of Economics.

Valentina Gruzintseva, HSE News Service

Photos by Polina Frolova

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