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Regular version of the site

Education as a Research Field

On October 28th and 29th the 2nd International Conference of Higher Education Researchers ‘Universities and State’ took place at the Higher School of Economics. The event was organized by the Russian Association for Tertiary Education Research with the support of the HSE.

Presentation by Mark S. Johnson

A special feature of this conference was its focus on scientific studies of the education sphere, rationalized analytics and empirical data. Education researchers from 16 Russian regions and foreign universities took part in the conference. According to Isak Froumin, Academic Supervisor of the HSE Institute for Educational Studies, not all applications received by the organizing committee became part of the final forum programme. This means that the selection stage were able to choose the most interesting papers which were in line with the conference’s theme – ‘Strategies of Education’s Development’.

Discussion of this topic started at the plenary session. Alexey Ponomarev, Deputy Minister of Education and Science of Russia, spoke about tools for the state support of cooperation between universities, science and the production industry. According to many experts, there will be considerable changes to most industries in the near future. This will lead to an increase in the demand for new technologies, scientific developments and human resources. But while fundamental science has generally survived, applied science is in decline, and this is why the ministry has decided not to maintain the traditional forms of research work, but rather, to develop the appropriate areas of research in universities and companies.

Yaroslav Kuzminov, Rector of the HSE, presented the strategy for Russian professional education development up to 2020, and evaluated some of the key trends and existing risks. The number of school pupils is growing, and the volume of university students has increased too – by 37 percent. Today 89.5 percent of young people go on to higher education. This means that not everybody with higher education will be able to find a job appropriate for their status. The problem of the number of university graduates is accompanied by the problems of the quality of their knowledge. People consider it important to have a higher education which plays the role of a social elevator. According to Yaroslav Kuzminov, an applied bachelor’s programme can solve this problem: a person enters a university, and after two years of study he chooses either an academic bachelor’s programme and continues his education, or an applied programme and masters the technologies and skills necessary for ‘blue-collar’ work.

The plenary session was finished by a presentation by Mark S. Johnson from the University of Wisconsin–Madison (USA) on ‘Universities, the State, and Civil Society: Comparative Perspectives on Student Research Programs, Service Learning, and Engagement’. He told the audience about the American experience of building relationships between universities and local communities, about methods for research work stimulation and about the effects of a balanced combination of education and research.

The work of the second day of the conference was organized in topical sessions dedicated to the problems of university autonomy, quality of education, state policy of university development and support, and the non-public sector of higher education.

The conference was finished by a roundtable discussion on the potential areas of higher education research. Isak Froumin unveiled a review of doctoral theses on different aspects of education – methods, philosophy, economics, and sociology. ‘Today’, the Academic Supervisor of the HSE Institute for Educational Studies said, ‘there are some methodological works, but they lack specifics, there are almost no works on evaluating education quality, there are extremely few empirical and comparative studies. In a word, today we talk a lot about what education should be like, but we do not even know what it is like today’. Among the possible areas of research Isak Froumin listed the effectiveness of modern methods of education and philosophical foundations for new institutional forms (corporate universities, second higher education, distance education and others).

Valery Efimov, Head of the Department for Strategic Development at the Siberian Federal University, called the current situation in the Russian education a ‘crisis of perspective’. ‘It is necessary to create and develop research networks, to study practices of the future. Today decisions in education are taken without any thought of the objectives’.

The Higher School of Economics has already connected with several network research projects. According to Isak Froumin, HSE experts together with colleagues from other Russian and international universities are studying the problem of student dropouts and other similar topics. And this work will be continued, since, according to Maria Yudkevich, Vice Rector of the HSE, ‘network research is necessary in order to speak a common language. Through communication with researchers from other universities we also understand something about ourselves’.

Alexey Kluev, Director of the Institute of Public Administration and Entrepreneurship at the Ural Federal University and Chairman of the Council at the Russian Association for Tertiary Education Research, summarized the results of the conference and said that the discussion turned out to be very interesting, and the next conference will be dedicated to setting goals in education studies.

Andrey Shcherbakov, HSE News Service

Photos by Nikita Benzoruk

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