History and Geography: The Experience Economy and the Future Campus. Part I

The issues of the new campus and Tomsk as a college town come up in conversations among policy makers, as well as in social media communication and chats with friends and relatives. All Tomsk residents worry about the future of the town that has to go through some serious changes to become more competitive as a research and educational center on both local and global scales. The basic possible success factor is the participation of the local universities in the major federal project “The Export of Education”. It is aimed at tripling the number of international students by 2025, comparing to 2017, and quintupling the amount of money our country gets from the export of education.


This success factor consists of many components, such as ranking positions of the universities, the quality of their curriculums, convenience and security for visiting students and staff,  the quality of the infrastructure (transport, foodservice, sports and leisure facilities), digitalization of the universities and their campuses and their connection to the global net, healthy environment, and attractiveness of the town and the region as places of interest for the tourists. It is important for people to get the best education and services for their money. People are ready to pay more if this quality is objectively high. Enrollees and their parents are concerned with the factors mentioned above and we need to provide them with everything, if we want to attract them to Tomsk. However, traditionally, we think more about our rankings, the curriculum, and about satisfying the basic needs of the students and visiting professors. We do not pay much attention to the issues of leisure and positioning of Tomsk as a place where one can have it all.

Considering the peculiarities of our climate, very basic services we provide, and strong stereotypes about Siberia as a place of exiles and bears on the streets, as well as the distance between Tomsk and major transport hubs, we need to find an answer to the question “What can make international students and professors come to our town?” There are so many other universities in the world with great curriculums and wonderful campuses, including those in warm places, where all professional, educational, and basic needs can be satisfied for reasonable money. Obviously, there must be something that can compensate all the disadvantages we have here.

According to the concepts by globally recognized urbanists, such as Jane Jacobs and Richard Florida whom I mentioned in my previous posts, this “something” is the urban creativity. Up until recently, it used to be thought that the era of high technologies makes locations less important. In reality, as it is pointed out by Florida, the opposite trends take place: places have the key organizing factor nowadays. A geographic location, not a corporation, is an organizational matrix that brings together people and work places. A location determines, where business starts and develops, which changes the conditions of competition for cities. Jacobs believes that in order to prosper, cities need not only good business climate, but good “human climate” as well. Today, cities look toward becoming not only technological centers, but developed creative communities too. A creative city is not necessarily a big metropolis. It is well known, that at some point in her life Jacobs moved to Canada because New York became too boring for her.


 As we can see, creative cities in particular attract young talented people, who become students or already create innovations, having professional success in different kinds of spheres. As a rule, creativity occurs and develops in the leisure part of a city’s infrastructure that is based on the history and authenticity of a particular city. Therefore, creativity helps to make a place unique and different from other cities. This uniqueness influences the experience of the visitors. The experience is a thing described by Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore who are founders of the Strategic Horizons LLP, a company of creative strategies that helps executives to increase the value of their products and services.

Pine and Gilmore argue that experience is more than just a psychological phenomenon. Along with money, products, and services, it is the fourth economic good that is as different from services, as services are different from goods. People need bright images, feelings, and emotions, and they are ready to go far and pay a lot for them. Pine and Gilmore point out that the modern economy brings goods and services together with experience as close as never before. In other words, people buy goods and services in order to get particular experience. If their experience is positive, they are ready to buy more and more, sharing their experience with other people in social media. People will always go to places where they are offered more unforgettable experience.


Pine and Gilmore came up with the 4Es concept. The 4Es consist of adding Educational, Esthetic, Escapist, and Entertainment experiences to the business. The entertainment experience is mainly passive (for example, watching TV shows), whereas educational experience requires active participation (playing games, doing sports, hiking, etc.). Experience that takes people from reality makes them actors who create new worlds, using new technologies, such as Google Glasses or cyber helmets. In these cases, people are involved esthetically in the environment, but the environment remains untouched. People get this kind of experience when they, for example, look at Mount Fuji or Baikal Lake, listen to some of the Rachmaninov’s concerts at the conservatory hall, or enjoy masterpieces at art galleries. Of course, this is a very formal classification, because it is impossible to get pure experience of one type only. The authors believe that the strongest experience is a combination of all 4Es.

How does all that concern the issues of high education and the campus that will be built in Tomsk and turn it into a genuine college town? The world’s leading universities anticipated the conditions of a very strong competitiveness at the global educational market a long time ago. And they started paying more and more attention to the experience they offer that occurs as a combination of education and entertainment. There is a specific term that determines this type of experience, which is “edutainment”. It defines experience people get not only in kindergartens, secondary and high schools, but in education for adults as well. Students get involved in educational and research process, getting positive emotions and feelings as a part of this experience. They do not just passively listen to their professors.


Here is what Judith Rodin, the 7th Rector of Pennsylvania University and the 12th President of the Rockefeller Foundation, once said: “We will develop a completely 8.jpgnew learning system for our students. This is not just about the curriculum. New housing, services for students, and a new tutoring system - all this will serve to create a new, complete impression of the classrooms, dormitories, laboratories, and stadiums. I am determined to make every effort to ensure that the students who come to us in the fall of 1997 get an ultimate experience of the university. Thus, the 2001 alumni will be the first with a complete experience from the University of Pennsylvania and the 21st century education.” 

We see that this is a strategy to increase the value of literally all the services that students receive at the university. And the main tool for implementing this strategy is the very “production of impressions" - positive, vibrant, and unforgettable. To some, such a strategy may seem too “markety”, “unserious”, etc. But do we not often consider “serious” the things that turn out to be simply boring and uninteresting?

There is another thing to remember: people get the greatest experience and the most impressions, when they not just watch TV shows, but when they overcome difficulties. People who dive in the ocean or climb Mount Elbrus never forget their experience, just like students who for the first time in their lives win marathons or get excellent feedback on their projects from employers. They can get great experience from camping trips, design workshops, seeing natural and cultural artefacts, dance competitions, going into wilderness, and so on. Therefore, we can argue with Richard Florida on his statement that creativity “lives” only in the entertainment part of the infrastructure that provides with experience, being historical and authentic. I think that creativity nowadays goes way beyond the city. Another thing is that the city is where it starts and comes back at the end of a journey.


There is no need to argue that the wider the spectrum of experience provided by the city for its residents, students, and visiting professors is, the more economic and competitive recourses it has. Tomsk and the Tomsk Region have a great potential as a creative place, capable of providing great experience. Unfortunately, this potential is fulfilled spontaneously, not as part of a strategy. It is very important to get initiative from the residents and some companies, but it is even more important to work on a general systematic plan for the place to have its creative zones and to develop the experience economy strategy that will position Tomsk among people who may come as students, professionals, tourists, and investors. It is necessary to deal with these issues right now, working on new projects on building the future campus and other parts of the college town. It will increase the capitalization of Tomsk and make it attractive as a place to live, to study, to work, and to have fun in.

The good news is that Tomsk has a specific recourse to do that and I will talk about in in my next post.


(to be continued)

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