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How institutional environment affects student experience

Priority areas of development: sociology
The project has been carried out as part of the HSE Program of Fundamental Studies.

The object of research is twofold. It includes Russian higher education students and the participants of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

The goal is to investigate the impact of institutional university characteristics and such new formats of learning in higher education as MOOCs on student experience.

Data sources:

  • Data of the project “Survey of students’ characteristics and trajectories”, collected in 2013-2014 on undergraduate students majoring in economics and management at eight Russian universities;
  • Sociometric data, gathered in 2013-2014 about first-year sociology students at one of the research-intensive university in Moscow;
  • Data of the International Consortium “Student Engagement in Research University” gathered in 2012-2013 on the engagement of undergraduate students in the US, China, Brazil, South Africa and Russia;
  • Semi-structured interviews with faculty members and administrative staff at Russian and the US universities that were conducted in 2012-2013, and semi-structured interviews with the US dropout students majoring in economics and engineering that were carried out in 2013-2014;
  • Pre-course and post-course surveys of the participants of eleven HSE massive open online courses at Coursera.

The following methods were used in this study:

  • quantitative analysis: descriptive analysis, regression analysis, social networks analysis and analysis of variance for multiple factors;
  • qualitative analysis of interviews;
  • analysis of documents.

The obtained results are as follows:

  • Institutional environment has a significant influence on student engagement in learning process (controlling for personal characteristics). At the same time,  the fulfillment of educational requirements depends on both student personal characteristics and instructors’ attitudes towards students.
  • Previous education experience does not significantly affect students’ attitudes towards plagiarism. This attitude is developing predominantly under the influence of university environment and depends upon the student engagement in learning and research activities.
  • Engagement in research activities depends on students’ plans for future career and education plans.
  • Popularity in the friendship social network of classmates has no significant effect on academic performance. However, there is a positive relationship between academic achievements and the number of classmates who asked a particular student for advice.
  • Experience of Russian students at the Higher School of Economics differs significantly from the experience of students in other countries. Firstly, HSE students spend more time on attending classes and studying and other academic activities outside of class. Secondly, HSE students evaluate the pervasiveness of effective educational practices in the university much lower than students in the US, South Africa and Brazil. Thirdly, HSE has the highest participation of students in small research-oriented seminars, but has lower rates of student-faculty interaction. .
  • Institutional differences between educational systems determine the variation in the process of students dropping out – in Russian higher education institutions academic failure is the main reason for dropping out, whereas in American higher education such failure doesn’t prevent students from going into further academic study.
  • A typical participant of massive open online courses is a thirty-year man with higher education and working full-time. The most significant associations with academic achievements were found with the difficulty of a course, general course satisfaction, weekly course workload and course pace.


Klemenčič M., Chirikov I. How Do We Know How Students Experience Higher Education? On the Use of Student Surveys, in: The European Higher Education Area: Between Critical Reflections and Future Policies / Ed. by A. Curaj, L. Matei, R. Pricopie, J. Salmi, P. Scott. Springer, 2015. P. 361-379.