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Development of the University: Evaluations by IAC Members

On May 30th a meeting of the International Advisory Committee of the HSE Development Programme took place at the HSE. The committee was formed in early 2010 and this was its first full assembly.

The meeting opened with welcome speeches from Evgeniy Yasin, Academic Supervisor of the HSE, and Lev Yakobson, First Vice Rector of the HSE, who outlined the main direction of the university’s development and the key achievements of the past year. One important milestone of the past year in terms of international acknowledgement was the HSE’s improvement in the QS annual university ranking: together with four other Russian universities, the HSE has become one of the top 500 universities in the world. Victory in three large Russian national contests supported by the RF government as well as participation in the development of the National Strategy 2020 have also demonstrated the strengthening of the HSE’s position as a national research university. The HSE is also one of the most popular universities for prospective Russian students: over the last few years, the university has been among the top three universities which attract the students with the highest USE (Unified State Examination) grades. And enrolling talented students is an essential part of a research university strategy which aims to educate the national elite.

These new achievements inevitably raise questions about the opportunities for further development and priorities. How can we solidly integrate in the global field of scientific research, do we need to find our own niche, to form a modern academic culture? How can we become an attractive university not only for Russians but also for international students wishing to get an education in socio-economic sciences? What are the HSE’s weaknesses and what are its key strengths? Leading international experts were invited to discuss these complex questions.

Addition to the main profile

The speech by Vadim Radaev, First Vice Rector of the HSE, focussed on the university’s educational activity. Last year the Faculty of History and the School of Asian Studies were opened, and they have proved to be popular with prospective students. This year the Faculty of Philology has been founded, and we plan to transform the School of Business and Political Journalism into the Faculty of Mass Media. Over the last few years, the number of undergraduate and master’s students has grown, mainly thanks to the launch of new faculties and schols. Over the last 6 years the number of master’s students has increased fivefold.

When talking about the problems of the university’s rapid growth, Jamil Salmi, member of the IAC, Tertiary Education Coordinator at the Worldbank, mentioned that during the last year many new projects have been launched at the Higher School of Economics. ‘I see many trees, but I don’t see a forest. We know where the HSE comes from, but it is not quite clear where it is moving to’. He posed a question: how well do the new faculties fit the university’s development strategy? And what are the criteria for selecting such initiatives?

Vadim Radaev explained that the launch of the new faculties is related to the necessity to develop not only specialized student competencies, but also fundamental ones such as philosophy, history and cultural studies. ‘At the first glance, the Faculty of Business Informatics is not quite in line with the main university profile, he said. But the idea was to connect information technologies with management and economics’.

Patti McGill Peterson
Patti McGill Peterson
Patti McGill Peterson, member of the IAC, Senior associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy in Washington, D.C., mentioned that ‘a considerable part of the HSE’s finances comes from the state, which means from taxpayers’, and suggested that we consider what benefits the launch of the new faculties, other departments or areas of activity at the university bring to society.

According to Jamil Salmi, new HSE faculties should not only be in line with the university’s mission, but also should have some kind of joint ‘interface’ which brings them closer to the profile educational programmes of the Higher School of Economics. In addition to this, education and research should be focused on the search for solutions to Russia’s specific socio-economic problems.

‘The Higher School of Economics was founded in order to provide the country’s government with the knowledge and expertise necessary for market reforms, reminded Manuel Castells, member of the IAC, Professor at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, Professor at the Open University of Catalonia in Barcelona and Honorary Professor at the HSE. This task should be kept in mind and the HSE should remain a ‘supplier of the economic elite for Russia’.

According to First Vice Rector of the HSE V. Radaev, in order to take a leading position on the Russian educational market and reach an international level, it is necessary to develop new standards of teaching, to attract talented students and to create new incentives for academic development. This is already being done. For example, the HSE has actively participated in the development of third-generation educational standards, and since recieiving the status of a national research university, it has used its right to develop its own original educational standards.

Aspirantura: new principles and new questions

The principles of aspirantura education at the Higher School of Economics are being seriously reconsidered. Today more than 600 postgraduate students study here. But many of them, like aspirantura students at most Russian universities, have to disrupt their academic activities and look for ways to work for living, since the state bursary is too small. Of course, additional employment does not encourage productivity of scientific research. This is why, last year, the HSE decided to launch anacademic aspirantura (the so-called ‘full-day aspirantura’), similar to many European PhD programmes. The students of this academic aspirantura can focus on their research: they are involved in the work of HSE research institutes and in addition they get a bursary of 25 thousand roubles, almost ten times higher than the state one.

Timothy Colton
Timothy Colton
‘The full-day aspirantura is a positive innovation which should be developed, believes Timothy Colton, member of the IAC and Director of the Harvard University Davis Center. How soon will all aspirantura students be included in this system? It probably makes sense to get some help from government and business for this’

According to IAC members, the number of PhD theses is decreasing all over the world. What makes Russia different is that in Europe and the U.S., theses are usually only defended by those who are going to continue in academic work, while in Russia it is not necessarily so. ‘In Russia, an academic degree is valuable on the labour market, and that’s why not all Russian aspirantura students choose academic work’, Vadim Radaev said.

The language of internationalization

Over the last few years, a special focus has been made on the internationalization of the university, the First Vice Rector continued. The number of educational programmes implemented jointly with leading foreign universities is increasing every year. Upon graduation from such programmes, the students are awarded two diplomas. The number of courses read in English is also growing. Today there are 88 of them. And eventually, full educational programmes will be formed and delivered solely in English, which will be attractive both for international and Russian students.

Member of the IAC, Patti McGill Peterson, mentioned that foreign students should be fully integrated into university life. Michael Barber, member of the IAC, Expert partner, McKinsey & Co., emphasized that ‘institutional reforms are the most difficult, but the Higher School of Economics has managed to do a lot’. But this is no reason to stop. Particularly as, according to Barber, ‘it is necessary to work more on competencies in English-language skills, especially within the master’s programmes’. One of the tools is to link teaching of different disciplines with English skills. Anyway, English is necessary, since in the modern world, one can’t progress without it.

Eric Maskin, Chairman of the IAC, Nobel laureate in Economics in 2007, Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University, also mentioned the problem of English language in his speech: ‘English is important for local (non-foreign) students because of the internationalization of education. Many basic textbooks and articles are published in English. English-language teachers can be recruited on the international market. And it will be very good for the students if their teachers are native speakers who don’t speak Russian’.

Vadim Radaev agreed with this opinion and added that students are keen to attend courses in English in order to improve their skills.

Michael Barber
Michael Barber
During the meeting the participants also discussed the programme of stimulating teachers at the Higher School of Economics which includes bonuses for research work, methodical developments and best pedagogical practices. There is also an effective system of teaching assistants. This year a new type of bonus will be introduced for the best lecturers and best academic supervisors.

Research: means and results

The presentation by Leonid Gokhberg, First Vice Rector of the HSE, was dedicated to another aspect of the university’s activity – research. Among the national research universities, the Higher School of Economics is the only one having a socio-economic profile. Economics, sociology, public administration and management have been selected as priority areas of research. But other scientific areas are also quite well represented at the HSE, and this has been confirmed by the quality of the research which is being carried out here. The recently created Faculty of Mathematics is one of the best in Russia in terms of research work.

‘We have increased the volume of money raised for research and the number of publications in leading journals two or threefold. We are also seeking to increase the number of lecturers involved in research. And while today this number is already three times higher than the Russian average, we are not going to rest on our laurels’ Leonid Gokhberg said.

Vice Rector of the HSE, Andrey Yakovlev, drew the audience’s attention to the fact that approximately three quarters of the financing for research at the university come from state bodies, such as the governmental bodies of Russia. And this implies a certain risk. Philip Altbach, member of the IAC, Director of the Center for International Higher Education (CIHE), Boston College, mentioned that ‘by 2020 the ratio between the volume of investment in the university’s research from public and private sectors should be reversed’. According to IAC members, in order to achieve that it is necessary to more actively address different international funds. In addition to this, the EU assigns considerable resources for research, and it is possible to apply for grants in partnerships with European universities.

Daniel Treisman
Daniel Treisman
Fundamental research at the HSE is carried out mainly using governmental funds, and applied research uses investment from other sources. ‘We are one of the few universities which subsidize its research. Over the last three or four years we have managed to considerably increase the amount of funding received from companies and foreign grantors’ Leonid Gokhberg said. At the same time, according to Daniel Treisman, member of IAC, Professor at the Department of Political Science, University of California, it is necessary to ‘defend the necessity of fundamental research’ so that there is no imbalance towards the side of applied developments.

Jamil Salmi and Michael Barber believe that it is necessary to develop clear and understandable criteria for the evaluation of the effectiveness of research work. Leonid Gokhberg mentioned that a system of control over the activities of institutes, centers and laboratories is being created today. It is likely that based on the results of this monitoring, some of the less effective research departments will be closed down.

Other strategic tasks, according to First Vice Recotr L. Gokhberg, also include more active participation in international studies (including comparative). The creation of international laboratories is one of the ways to advance in this direction. Recently a network of international laboratories has been created at the HSE, and currently there are eleven of them. Only two of them were created with governmental grants (a Ministry of Education and Science contest), while the remaining  nine of them used HSE funding and, according to L. Gokhberg, there are more applications for the organization of similar departments.

Another aspect of the university’s research work is the creation of databases on economics and sociology. It is also important to attract ‘academically-spirited’ students to particpate in these projects and to develop interdisciplinary teams. Another important trend which will be supported by the university’s administration is the creation of vocational training departments supported by specific companies. Last year the HSE won a grant for the development of innovative infrastructure. This project will be implemented with the direct participation of commercial organizations.

Up the academic ‘ladder’

Maria Yudkevich, Vice Rector of the HSE, told the participants about mechanisms to stimulate academic activity and the university’s HR policy. She said that an academic career in Russia is not as attractive as the opportunities available in business. The lack of an efficient academic labour market has only made the situation worse. The Higher School of Economics is looking for new lecturers and researchers not only in Russia but also abroad, particularly among PhD holders, and the HSE signs special contracts with these.

Direct stimulation of the teaching staff’s academic activity is carried out in several ways: from a three-level system of academic bonuses for publications in peer-reviewed journals to assignment of individual and collective grants for implementation of specific research projects. Maria Yudkevich also reminded the meeting of the existing academic mobility support programmes, the staff pool programme and various continuing education and training programmes available for staff at the Higher School of Economics.

As a leading Russian economic university, the HSE is trying to integrate research and education. One of the ways of achieving this liaison is by creating research and educational laboratories. This process, which started in 2005, is now gaining momentum: over the last two years, 12 new research and educational laboratories have been created. At the same time, practice-oriented, project and educational laboratories are being created at the university. However, according to Maria Yudkevich, the activity of these laboratories should be critically evaluated  on the basis of their effectiveness and productiveness.

Summarizing her speech, the HSE Vice Rector said that the university will strive to change the routine of academic activity which often falls behind the modern requirements of research. ‘We need to adjust and integrate into international research structures’ Maria Yudkevich emphasized.

This international integration can provide new, more powerful stimulus for those HSE students and graduates who are ready to continue their academic career, Manuel Castells, member of the IAC, believes. ‘As far as I understand, it is not very well regarded to be an academic in Russia, he said. And if the system of stimulus and bonuses which exists inside the Russian academic community is not enough for young researchers, they can be attracted by the potential for self-realization in the international academic sphere’.

Philip Altbach believes that ‘the absolute key to success in this way is the creation of an academic culture’. At the same time, he is sure that ‘we are in the beginning of a revolution of our ideas on what education is and what universities should teach’. ‘Russian universities do not think about these problems, which are widely discussed in the U.S. and Europe, so the Higher School of Economics has the chance to become a leader in this direction’ Philip Altbach said.

In relation to this, Michael Barber said that the university’s development strategy should involve a higher level of choice for the students than is traditionally accepted in Russian universities. ‘The authoritarian culture which has been created in the Russian academic community should be overcome’, Manuel Castells agreed with his colleague. ‘Fortunately, this situation at the Higher School of Economics is much better than in other Russian universities. But critical thinking should not only be welcome: it should be developed and supported’.

Peter Stearns
Peter Stearns
Peter Stearns, member of the IAC, Provost and history professor, George Mason University, appealed to the HSE to improve the mechanism of movement up the academic ‘ladder’ inside the university and give preference to those staff members whose research work contributes to the status and development of the university.

In the end of the meeting, the IAC members said that they expected to get feedback from their HSE colleagues regarding these problems and possible ways of the university’s development. At the same time, they emphasized that the IAC cannot and does not aim to ‘replace’ the university’s administration: the best way will be to combine the effort of the international and the ‘internal’ HSE experts. Nevertheless, the IAC members expressed one recommendation to the HSE administration: they suggested organizing new consultations not only in Moscow, but also in the regional branches of the HSE.

Comments from the members of the International Advisory Committee of the HSE Development Programme

Peter Stearns: I am, as well as my expert colleagues from the HSE’s advisory committee, impressed with the pace and quality of the university’s development over the last few years. I don’t think that any of us can recommend some radical changes of course to the university’s administration . I think that we only have to clarify some priorities, tactical and strategic.

It is impossible to win on all fronts, and that’s why it is necessary to define the most important areas of work. For example, the discussion about the HSE’s research and teaching staff seems to me very relevant. The university is already working on this problem, but it is important not only to hire promising new researchers, but to create the most advantageous environment so that neither new nor old staff  leave the university. The discussions about the internationalization of the HSE’s educational programmes, exchange programmes for undergraduate students and interdisciplinary projects were also very relevant and timely.

In my view, the HSE administration will act wisely if it slightly shifts its focus in the development of international links: today the HSE pays a lot of attention to the development of relations with Western European and U.S. universities, while the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa – editor’s note) deserve no less attention.

It is possible to achieve international acknowledgement in education only through huge efforts. Not only the HSE, but my home university and many other universities in the world are moving this way. Education is a highly competitive sphere, and only the most persistent and consistent will win.

Timothy Colton: Unfortunately, last year I couldn’t participate in the first meeting of IAC experts, so this is my first experience of the joint work taking place between Russian and Western colleagues. Today I’m trying to understand the structure of the university, the weaknesses and stengths of its development. Before making some recommendations, it is necessary to thoroughly understand the complicated mechanism which is any university. The HSE’s administration provided the IAC members with all the relevant information and created the perfect conditions for our work – an open and friendly atmosphere.

In terms of recommendations, I think that the university should define its key mission and decide where to focus its effort and resources. I have got an initial impression (perhaps incorrectly) that the HSE has too many priority areas. I would cut the list of strategic tasks and focus on only the most important.

Eric Maskin: I think that the Higher School of Economics deals perfectly with a complex of the most difficult problems. For me the university’s progress is clearly visible. Probably not all of the university administration’s ambitious goals will be achieved in the near future, but the most relevant development problems will be overcome step by step. I’m very optimistic about the future of this university.

Andrey Shcherbakov, Oleg Seregin, Valentina Gruzintseva, HSE News Service

Photos by Nikita Benzoruk

Authors: Valentina Alexeevna Gruzintseva, Oleg Seregin, Andrey Vladimirovich Scherbakov, May 30, 2011