We Must Adjust to New Reality

Last week the XII Siberian Education Forum was held here, in Tomsk. It had been initially organized by the Tomsk Region Administration and this time was backed up by the Ministry of Education, Institute for Development of Education Systems at the Russian Academy of Education, and some other meaningful organizations. It has become a tradition to invite academics from all over Siberia and from some parts of the Far East. This time approximately fifteen hundred experts from 10 Russian regions participated in the events of the Forum. Some serious issues concerning various aspects of the Russian education system were discussed. But any discourse on the educational landscape is not possible without communicating with universities. That is why I myself was invited to present a speech during the opening plenary panel discussion. The topic of my speech was “Classical University at Non-Classical Time”. It had been articulated by the philosophers of Tomsk State University several years ago. However, it has not become obsolete, moreover, it is the problem of present interest. I think, this theme will be under consideration for quite a long time, attracting attention to some questions, that cannot be answered right away but need to be discussed in order to solve certain problems.

Among such questions there is one on the place and the role of the university education, in general, in the processes of global civilization changes, connected with technologization and digitalization of society. They certainly influence and change the education itself. Another question is – what is a “classical university” and what is its role in all the processes mentioned above? The problem of understanding the mission of a classical university can be solved more or less easily in its retrospective aspect (“from the past to the present”). Obviously, the original functions of the first Siberian Imperial University were developing and maintaining the Russian identity on the territory limited by the Urals and the Far East. In order to accomplish this mission, it was necessary to “draw” the locals into the cultural and educational area of the Russian Empire and to develop fundamental knowledge.

But what are the objectives and the functions of classical Tomsk State University under the conditions of possibility of having multiple identities and of lacking positivistic truth monopoly? What is this “fundamental knowledge” at the era of universal commercialization and demand for applicative knowledge? Transspective approach, as the analysis “from the past to the present”, uses the techniques of foresight and predicting and prepares us for the inevitable upcoming changes in university education.

The major trend today is its network nature. We can admit, that the new technological educational platform is being developed . It is connected with the appearance of the new digital and Internet technologies which make the processes of education fast and accessible for many people. Top universities’ open resources, cases, game technologies, crowd sourcing, etc. allow to switch from individual education to collective one. They created new educational environment (“co-learning”, “co-working”) where people can learn, do projects, and entertain together. As a consequence, the infrastructure of educational institutions, particularly and primarily, of universities, is changing. It is not a coincidence, that the concept of “European university collapse” by Ronald Barnett is so actively discussed nowadays. Michael Barber argues in his article “An Avalanche is Coming” that the technological revolution will destroy the traditional institutions of education. There will be brand new educational models instead, for instance, “university for a billion”.

New technologies change the very nature of a human being. This may lead to the major and the most unpredictable consequences. If 5 or 7 years ago an average person could concentrate his attention carrying out a task for at least 12 minutes, today this minimum is reduced to 8 minutes. Current “networking generation” or “generation Y” are young people constantly surfing the Internet. They change objects of their “clip” type of attention all the time. They easily learn how to deal with any digital gadget and can carry out multiple tasks simultaneously, but cannot read long texts. Their emotional and cognitive changes are inconvertible and we should deal with it. New high-hume educational technologies should be developed and applied. It will allow to draw their attention and creative energy to constructive objectives.

We must be ready to the fact that such new technologies might deprive universities of part of their traditional functions. For instance, getting an “excellent” mark from a university professor of English is not of a great value today. TOEFL certificate is required instead. If TOEFL results are high, a graduate has a huge benefit on a job interview. Informal functions of certifying professional competence belong to some social networks, such as LinkedIn. They provide their members with backup from colleagues and mentors which becomes vital in a job search.

Another aspect of the consequences brought by technologization and network nature of the modern education is stratification of the university professional environment. On one hand, new “star” professors start showing themselves to the university community. They have hundreds of thousands or even millions of students subscribed for their on-line courses, therefore they are very well paid. On the other hand, some university staff members cannot offer competitive services. They become redundant and get low salaries. This is a great challenge for all of us.

Thus, the trends are clear enough and we must adjust the new reality from methodological, personal, and professional perspectives. It is important to be courageous and not only to change ourselves in accordance with this new reality, but to be ahead of changes. I have no doubts that teaching staff and research officers of the Tomsk State University, in general, are highly qualified and it will allow us to meet the challenges of the global networking information-communication society. Our major objective today is to determine the strategy and to accumulate resources. The limited amount of the latter makes us very picky in choosing objectives.