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Comparative research of engineering students’ learning outcomes in Russia, China and USA

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

Goal of study

The main goal of the study is comparative analysis of engineering students’ learning outcomes in Russia and China, and investigation of individual and institutional factors influencing the quality of engineering students training in these countries. The objectives of the study in 2016 are: 1) Analysis of 1st and 3rd year engineering students’ learning outcomes in Russian universities on basic courses (mathematics and physics) and critical thinking and quantitative  literacy; 2) Comparative research of engineering students’ learning outcomes in Russia and China; 3) Investigation of factors influencing engineering students’ learning outcomes in Russia and China; 4) Investigation of magnitude and reasons of students’ academic dishonesty; 5) Preparation and conducting of the second wave of the study in the autumn 2016 on the same students sample (2nd and 4th grades by the moment) to measure their progress in education and measure university contribution to this process.

Methods used

For the study realization, the complex approach was used, which is based on modern principles for educational measurements. The modern test theory (IRT) was used as a fundamental model for the testing. The complex of qualitative and quantitative methods was for analysis: testing students on basic courses, critical thinking, logical thinking, creativity, combining to the mass students survey on their educational activity, evaluation of teacher practices, social-economic and personal features and so on, what allows to conduct deep analysis of factors influencing engineering students’ learning outcomes. The data analysis methodology is based on quantitative methods, including methods of statistical data analysis: correlational and regression analysis, ANOVA and methods of means comparison and so on.

Sample description

The study exploits data from the first wave of the study of engineering students’ learning outcomes in Russia and China, conducted in 2015. Total size of Russian sample is approximately 5000 1st and 3rd year students from 34 universities, approximately in equal proportions.

Research results

The following results were obtained basing on the collected data:

1) Comparative analysis of 1st and 3rd year engineering students’ learning outcomes in Russia and China was conducted. Analysis was focused on basic courses (mathematics and physics), also on critical thinking and quantitative literacy. The main results obtained:

  • Learning outcomes of Chinese students sufficiently differ depending on their major – Electrical Engineering (EE) or Computer Science (CS): EE-students are doing much better in quantitative literacy, mathematics and physics than CS-students, but at the same time both EE- and CS-students have very similar level of critical thinking.
  • In Russia, learning outcomes differ depending on students’ major as well, except for the physics results. But by contrast to China, CS-students overperform EE-students in Russia. They demonstrate significantly better results in quantitative literacy, mathematics and critical thinking.
  • Male and female students in China don’t differ in quantitative literacy and critical thinking. However, female students demonstrate significantly better results in mathematics and worse results in physics, compared to the male students.
  • In Russia, as well as in China, female and male students have approximately the same level of quantitative literacy and critical thinking. Besides, they don’t differ in mathematics. However, male students demonstrate significantly better results in physics and informatics.
  • The level of students learning outcomes (both on the 1st and 3rd year of study) varies significantly depending on the university type considering different approaches to define elite and non-elite universities: based on their formal status, location and selectivity toward university entrants. This allows us to assume inequality in engineering education in Russia.

2) Preliminary analysis of the determinants of engineering students’ learning outcomes in Russia and China was conducted. Additionally, the magnitude and the reasons of academic dishonesty among students and its relationship with students’ learning outcomes were explored. The main findings are as follows:

  • General models of teaching might me inefficient as different learning outcomes are determined by diverse factors.
  • Institutional characteristics of universities affect both student learning outcomes and students’ attitudes toward academic dishonesty. Students in universities with high selectivity demonstrate higher levels of quantitative literacy and math. Students enrolled in regional universities have less developed higher order thinking skills and hold more favorable attitudes toward academic dishonesty, compared with the students of Moscow and Saint-Petersburg universities.
  • Russian and Chinese students tolerate cheating and plagiarism. The students of Russian universities hold significantly stricter attitude towards plagiarism compared with cheating, while in China, there is no such difference. In general, students in Russia are more tolerant of dishonest behavior than in China.
  • The remarkable distinction between students in Russian and China is a consistency of views regarding an acceptability of academic dishonesty. The ‘compromise’ attitudes dominate among Russian students, while among Chinese students, on the contrary, there are a high share of students expressing extremely tolerant attitudes and a high proportion of those holding intolerant attitudes.
  • The nature of the relationship between the level of critical thinking and tolerance for academic dishonesty is different in Russia and China. In Russia, students with the most developed ability to think critically choose ‘compromise’ penalty for plagiarism and cheating, while in China, the most skilled students in critical thinking are intolerant toward academic dishonesty.

3) The second wave of the study of the quality of engineering education in Russian and Chinese universities was accomplished. The survey and tests were administered to 4th year students enrolled in Russian universities, who participated in the 1st wave of study (who were 3rd year students at the time of the first wave).

  • For the study, professional test for EE-students was developed. Also, CS-test was translated and adapted for application in Russia.
  • Testing and surveys were carried out online using the software designed for this project.  Currently, the collection, preliminary processing and cleaning of the data are going on. Main analysis of this data is planned on 2017.

Level of implementation, recommendations on implementation or outcomes of the implementation of the results

The results for each Russian university containing the comparison with other Russian universities were sent to each participating university in the format of report. At the institutional level, the findings might be used as an independent method of education quality assessment.

At the national level in Russia, where the problem of engineering education quality has become extremely acute, the research results might be used for the elaboration of pertinent public policies aimed at improving the quality of engineering education in Russian universities.


Chirikov I. How Global Competition is Changing Universities: Three Theoretical Perspectives / UC Berkeley. Series ROPS "Research & Occasional Paper Series: CSHE". 2016. No. 5.16.
Liu O. L., Shaw A., Gu L., Li G., Hu S., Yu N., Ma L., Xu C., Guo F., Su Q., Kardanova E., Chirikov I., Shi J., Shi H., Wang H., Loyalka P. Assessing college critical thinking: preliminary results from the Chinese HEIghten® Critical Thinking assessment // Higher Education Research and Development. 2018. Vol. 37. No. 5. P. 999-1014. doi