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HSE Researcher Named First Winner of British Early Career Researchers Award

Saule Bekova

Saule Bekova
Photo courtesy of Saule Bekova

The British Educational Research Association, BERA, has announced the winners of its Early Career Researchers Award, founded this year to recognize emerging researchers. The new award’s first two winners are Saule Bekova, Research Fellow at the Institute of Education of the Centre of Sociology of Higher Education, and Binwei Lu of Durham University (UK). In the announcement, the organizing committee praised them as ‘outstanding scholars’ and noted the potential significance of their research for the field of education.

Saule Bekova studies factors that impact academic performance in Russian doctoral programmes. In her thesis, which she defended last autumn, she examined one factor in particular: doctoral students’ workload from external jobs. Over 90% combine their studies with work, which is usually performed outside their university and not related to their research. This is one of the reasons behind the extremely high dropout rate from doctoral programmes, which, according to official data, exceeds 90% today.

‘Doctoral programmes’ efficiency is falling annually, and no one knows what to do about it,’ said Saule Bekova. In Nordic countries and in the US there are several models of doctoral student employment and financial support, which can be used in Russia in order to eliminate the external workload. But this requires resources. Grants from funds and organizations that are interested in the topics of research are particularly promising, and such forms of support are evolving in Russia, but they are still rare.

However, not everything requires investment. The change of the ‘target admission numbers’ paradigm and elimination of excessive bureaucracy would also be helpful. ‘Actually, the last year in a doctoral programme entails such a huge amount of paperwork that one can hardly do any research, and if your defense process is not at your home university or city, this becomes a real academic horror,’ said Saule Bekova.

Although the problems she studies are specifically Russian, it is not surprising that they piqued the interest of international experts. High doctoral programme dropout rates are a global problem, although the reasons may differ, and many countries are interested in what can be done about it. Researchers in Western countries are also looking at different ways to financially support students, their effectiveness, and the kinds of difficulties doctoral students face during their studies.

The Early Career Researchers Award offers support for winners’ next stage of research. Thanks to this support, Saule Bekova hopes to expand the scope of the problems she studies: not only the effects of different types of employment, but, for example, that of different types of academic supervision. She is also planning to summarize all the relevant data and research related to doctoral programmes on one resource, in order to make them available to the community of academics and policy makers as a whole.

Congratulations to our colleague on the award!

More information on the award is available here. Read Saule Bekova’s award-winning paper here.

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