Interest in Higher Education as Russia's Competitive Advantage
On March 3, 2016, HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov gave a talk about possible future scenarios for Russia's higher education at the All-Russian Research Centre for Aviation Materials (VIAM) as part of the Syncletos at VIAM series of meetings with prominent guest speakers such as academics, government officials and politicians.
Universities and Vocational Shools
According to Kuzminov, in Russia, just like elsewhere in the world, higher education has become almost a social imperative, with 90% of Russian parents wishing to send their children to university at any cost – even though a degree may actually bring less pay than vocational training. In terms of higher education coverage, Russia has caught up with the U.S. over the past 15 to 20 years, since following the collapse of the command economy, the first things people did with their newly found social and economic freedom were to buy a car and send their children to university. The currently reported decline in the number of university students is due solely to demographic factors and will be followed by an increase after a while, Kuzminov argues.
Until recently, Russia experienced an excess of trained economists, lawyers and managers, as many Russians did not believe in having a successful career as engineer or doctor, despite these being among the highest-paid occupations in most western countries. Even today, a good economist or lawyer in Russia can expect to be paid less than a good engineer or programmer.
Another challenge for Russia is the low take-up of vocational training, about 30% of the relevant age cohort. Vocational schools and colleges attract students who cannot or will not leave their small town or village, those who find it too hard for medical or psychological reasons to study at a university, or those who plan to move to university after vocational school, while avoiding the USE tests. Indeed, successful vocational school graduates often end up in universtities, leaving the economy without skilled workers.
University students in Russia and China spend three times as many hours in the classroom as their U.S. peers who end up better prepared for problem-solving and independent work. Both Chinese and American students tend to be active socially – virtually all of them are engaged in some form of student life – while in Russia, with just 25% of students are involved in social activity, among the lowest figures for this in the world.
Russia's top students attend the country's leading universities, including 10% to 15% of high-ranking engineering schools, such as a few universities in Moscow, the Polytechnic Universities in Tomsk and St. Petersburg, ITMO, with these institutions sending their elite graduates on to complete doctorate courses in Western universities and boast a high demand for fee-based slots and applied research products.
Higher Education for All
However, Kuzminov would also like to see Russian enterprises staffed with highly skilled, self-respecting blue-collar workers. He strongly believes that vocational training should not be inferior in quality to a university course, and refers to the example of Germany where a vocational school degree is as prestigious as a university degree, and vocational school graduates are by no means regarded as second class citizens.
Kuzminov suggests that perhaps people who insist on going to university for reasons such as social status should not be pushed towards vocational schools; instead, vocational training can be redefined in terms of higher education as an applied bachelor's degree, which one can apply for immediately after secondary school or after two years of an academic bachelor's course as a one-year technical major.
We are witnessing a revolution in education similar to that driven by the invention of the printed book in the 14th to 16th centuries. Today, anyone can enrol in an online course read by the best professors at Harvard – or Tomsk Polytechnic University – and obtain a certificate. The number of students taking open online courses with Coursera, EdEx and Udacity doubles every year and currently stands at 220 million people. According to Kuzminov, at some point one-half or perhaps two-thirds of modern-day brick-and-mortar universities may cease to exist, replaced by online degree programmes.
Leaders Need Support
Acccording to Kuzminov, supporting a few dozen of Russia's leading research universities is essential.
By President Putin' decree of May 2015, by 2010, university teachers and researchers in Russia should earn twice the average salary in the respective region, which Kuzminov describes as normal practice in most countries. He believes that a salary of 120,000 rubles in Moscow – twice the 60,000 ruble average – can help retain top professionals in Russian universities.
In a globalised market, the best university teachers choose to work in countries which can offer the highest pay, adequate funding of research work, and a favourable academic environment. In Western countries, professors at research universities earn approximately US$ 10,000 per month, and their Russian peers should earn at least US$ 6,000 to 7,000 per month, adjusted for purchasing power parity.
In addition to that, more investment is needed in equipment and research. Many funders in Russia finance R&D teams, but refrain from investing in long-term university-based research efforts, based on unfounded fears that universities may fail to make efficient use of such funds. The demand for higher education in Russian society means that people are not only seeking a better life, but are prepared to change and invest in themselves. Despite a lack of student motivation and outdated study methods observed in quite a few universities, people's desire to learn may be higher in Russia than in its competitor countries, according to Kuzminov. Alongside the U.S., South Korea and several European countries, Russia is among the global leaders in terms of demand for higher education and should capitalise on this interest, Kuzminov concludes.
‘Over the Last Two and a Half Years Five Russian Universities Have Joined the World’s Top-100 in Various Subjects’
HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov updated the President of Russia Vladimir Putin on the implementation of the Academic Excellence Project 5–100. He also suggested extending the project until 2025 and setting the objective that at least one Russian university be included in every subject-specific ranking by 2025.
University rankings, which increasingly impact both universities' development strategies and state policy in higher education, was one of the main topics discussed at the meeting of the HSE's International Advisory Committee.
The meeting of International Advisory Committee starts December 6. Three newly appointed members of IAC have shared with HSE News Service their views on the role of external consultants in the development of universities, described their reasons for joining the committee and spoke about HSE’s academic reputation and the challenges the university faces.
On October 19, the rectors of 21 top Russian universities met to discuss Russia’s position in international university rankings. These 21 universities are all are members of the Global Universities Association, the main purpose of which is to create a network for and inspire collaboration among schools participating in the widely discussed Project 5-100. Slated to last eight years, this project was established under Russia’s Presidential Decree No. 599, which aims to improve the standing of Russian universities among the world’s top schools and research centres.
On March 18th and 19th, the Council on Enhancing the Competitiveness of Russia’s Leading Universities met in Moscow to discuss Russia’s role on the world academic stage. As a result, the Council recommended that the Ministry of Education and Science allocate subsidies to three groups of universities in 2016. HSE made it into the first group.
In January 2016, six university research centres representing countries in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa came together to form an international consortium whose main objective is to develop a strategy for carrying out comparative higher education research in various regions around the world.
Academic and expert in the field of international higher education, Philip Altbach has been made Honorary Professor in a ceremony at HSE. Altbach began to study education in his youth because he believed it was a key factor to bring about change in society. Is it possible to take educational models which work well in some countries and copy them in others without making any alterations? What good are rankings and what shouldn’t we sacrifice for their sake? What gives HSE its competitive edge? Professor Altbach talked about all these issues in an interview with HSE News.
'In Order to Have Teaching That’s Really Worthwhile, You Have to Have People Who Are on the Frontier of Research'
The only way to detect weaknesses in one’s own ideas is to expose them to criticism from colleagues, says Eric Maskin, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2007, Chairman of the HSE International Advisory Committee, and chief researcher at the International Laboratory of Decision Choice and Analysis. The HSE news service recently spoke with him and Fuad Aleskerov, head of the Laboratory, about the the value of other people's opinions, joint research projects and opportunities for international cooperation in our time.
On October 19, HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov took part in a meeting hosted by Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets at the Russian White House to discuss ways of improving the global competitiveness of Russian universities.