Crossing the Equator

A general meeting of members of the Global Universities Association took place at the Higher School of Economics on October 19. The participants discussed some preliminary results of the 5-100 Project. I attended the event as well and participated in the discussion. This time I want to share my impressions of what we have today, at the halfway point along the road that we chose when we became part of the 5-100 Project in 2013.

Three years ago, a network of universities, the Global Universities Association, was established. The leading Russian universities with the potential to compete with other international universities joined the Association. The Global Universities members try to learn the best global research and education practices. They think of how to work with international students and professors; how to develop network programmes and transdisciplinarity in research and education courses; how to build modern infrastructure and policies; how to master state-of-the-art management strategies; and how to develop motivation among their staff. Several teams have been built to work with all those key issues. This Association may be considered a core of changes in the system of Russian higher education and this is one of the main preliminary results of the 5-100 Project.

Совещание Ассоциации Глобальные университеты

We know that for years Russian universities and the Russian Academy of Sciences had been developing science separately. Universities used to focus on education. The 5-100 Project was launched to give fresh impetus to university science and bring it together with anything the Academy of Sciences was dealing with. Over these years, the number of publications from the leading universities has increased on the average by 2.5. Today publications from the members of the Project constitute 40% of the total number of publications from all Russian universities.  Most of them are indexed by Scopus and Web of Science. This means we are not talking just about the quantity but about the quality as well. If we take our university as an example, the results are even more impressive. The number of publications from TSU researchers has increased by 4.3 times. In 2013, we had only 504 publications indexed by Scopus and Web of Science. In 2016, we have so far 2,157. Half of them have been published in journals of the first and second quartiles.

Публикационная активность ТГУ

In the first stage of the Project, the universities evaluated the uniqueness and identity of their target models.  It was something we had not done for decades though it was one of the most essential goals to figure out “who we are” and “where we are going”. We know for sure how difficult it was to understand “what a classical university at a non-classical time is”. Now we can find answers to complicated questions much faster than we used to.  Strategic sessions have changed the ways university people think and discuss things. Today we can better orient ourselves to international trends and recognize new challenges that our system of education faces. Our openness to the world education system led to new contexts and formats of education, such as problem-oriented learning, individual education plans, and tutoring. Russian universities have improved their positions in the world subject rankings.  

Universities went to schools to help talented young people. This has improved the whole system of general education. Universities have expanded their international collaboration. The number of international students and professors has increased by 1.6 times. This is a pretty good result, considering the rather difficult political situation that we have been dealing with for the last three years. We can even talk about exporting Russian higher education and actually earning money with it.  

Иностранные студенты ТГУ

Another good aspect I can think of when I talk about the 5-100 Project is connected with finding new approaches to university management. We looked for new approaches because  traditional management could not cope with the goals of the 5-100 Project and with the problems a university has to solve on an everyday basis. A pool of expert organizations, such as the Higher School of Economics, the Skolkovo School of Management, and some other leading research and education centres, helped us to find the solutions and come to successful results. The experts have also improved their professionalism comparing to what they had at the beginning of the programme. They really help universities to develop and carry out strategic initiatives. Today we continue testing new approaches and models of management. Some models require involving the university staff and our stakeholders. This means we have to find motivations for them to become part of the programme. New internal and external management structures appear, including the TSU Advisory Board and the TSU Academic Council. They influence the life of our university on many levels.

The classification of universities has become wider. Today there are federal and regional universities; classical and technical universities; research and entrepreneurial universities; and consolidated universities oriented towards the interests of local economies. For different models of universities, different models of development are being created.   For example, the major goal of the 3.0 model of development is creating innovative products and technologies and their transferring to industrial production. Entrepreneurial universities are closely tied to local economies. The social and cultural roles of universities are becoming stronger as well. As a result, universities turn into real actors in regional development.   

Изменение содержания образования в ТГУ

Today we are “at the Equator” of the 5-100 Project and we see certain negative points too. First of all, I talk about the other side of the logic of competitiveness oriented to excellence and perfection. Russian universities used to work in an atmosphere of academic solidarity and team spirit. The Project supports the idea of competitiveness, which changed these relationships. Today we are not that open and trustful. Some feel jealousy about other universities’ success that influences the amount of money universities receive from the government.  The best universities get the best enrollees. It is becoming more and more difficult for regional universities to attract and keep talented young people. Bureaucracy grows as fast as a number of services that are aimed at helping university staff. As a result, to use a service, one has to fill in more forms than before. Constant reporting, monitoring, and audits often interrupt and stop people from work.

The question is whether the results we have today correspond with the efforts we have put in carrying out the Project. From 2013 to 2016, universities that participate in the programme received from the government 39.9 billion rubles. Of course, this is a huge amount of money. However, if we compare the budgets of universities, this sum constitutes only 5-15% of them. In other words, universities have been expensive from the days when they were founded. In addition, there is no way we can compare them to schools in this regard. However, the funding is comparable. For example, in 2013, 43.2 billion rubles were given to regions to develop pre-school education organizations. 420,000 new kindergarten places were created. This result was very impressive. But universities have to solve problems on some totally different levels with the same money. Their goal is to use less time than Western universities to get to the highest levels: instead of 20-30 years, we have just 7. If we look at everything from this point of view that money is obviously not enough.

Nevertheless, the best cases of the Global Universities Association show that the 5-100 Project proposes very interesting directions for the further development of the Russian education system. The Ministry of Education and Science is very well aware of that and supports the idea.  

Ольга Васильева

Olga Vasilyeva, the Minister of Education and Science, admitted the importance of the experience that the participants of the 5-100 Project can share with other universities. I cannot but agree with her that the most important things are not the numbers but the instruments and mechanisms that provided them. If we remember the better numbers in the publication activity of TSU, we realize that we really tried to teach our people how to write and we continue doing that. We have developed services that help our staff to prepare their texts for publications in international journals. This way to achieve results is longer but it is the only right one. In our case, it paid off pretty soon. Probably, because people wanted to be taught.

In conclusion, I would want to say that the success of the second part of the Project will depend on growing interaction between the universities that are members of the Association. Only together are we capable of creating a platform to promote Russian education abroad and to make it competitive. And the best strategies to choose are those oriented towards real changes for the better and for long-term prospects.