The demand for a profession, and interest in it, rarely correlate with the state-funded places available at universities. For example, there are too few state-funded places for popular courses in the humanities and medicine, but there are too many in engineering and technical sciences.
An analysis of market demand and projected medium-term demand for specialties, which takes immigration and demographics into account, is currently taken as the basis for developing anticipated volumes (number of state-funded places in various areas). This approach, adopted by the Ministry of Education, somewhat resembles the Soviet state plan. But it fails to perform in market conditions. A forecast of real demand for higher education should be taken into account in developing these numbers, not just theoretical economic demand.
Researchers at the HSE’s Institute of Education, School of Mathematics, the Educational Center of Semantic Technology and Faculty of Economics Fuad Alekserov, Kirill Zinkovsky, Lyudmila Egorova, Tatyana Abankina and others proposed an alternative approach to forecasting the numbers of places needed, using models of family and prospective student behavior, in addition to workplace and sectoral demands.
The research results will be presented at a joint seminar held by the HSE’s Laboratory for Labor Market Studies and the Centre for Labor Market Studies in their report ‘Multi-phase modeling of choice to forecast behavior and demand for higher education,’
‘The forecasts that exist do not match. We see a difference between the forecast and demand for different specialists everywhere, in every region of the country,’ noted Fuad Alekserov, Academic Supervisor of the School of Applied Mathematics and Information Science. He said that about 10% of state-funded places do not meet real demand among the population (30,000 out of 300,000 places).
As the report’s authors found, demand for BA degrees among prospective students is based on two main factors: evaluating their own abilities and the popularity of the course. The more popular a specialty is, the more material wealth the future student expects it to deliver – down the line.
However, popularity depends on existing stereotypes, the influence of popular culture, the media, advertisements and rumor, and also on real signals form the labor market reflected in popular consciousness: which profession equals a high salary, where specialists are in demand, where young people are sought-after.
The researchers adopted a multi-phase selection model in order to identify the quantitative demand for different specialties and understand which faculties offer too many state-funded places and which do not offer enough. Their research is based on the semantic analysis of over 88 million articles in Russian-language media dating back to 1990. They started by analyzing the general demand for science and engineering specialties and humanities specialties (‘scientists’ and ‘poets’). Then they divided them into services and ‘pure’ techies and humanities students, i.e. those who are enroll in university with low grades or with high grades on the Unified State Exam and turn into low-qualified or high-qualified specialists, and identified the in-demand specialties among them.
As Kirill Zinkovsky noted, the ‘service’ specialists will likely ‘not work in their specialism but in intermediary areas not linked with creating a high-tech product, but rather with servicing it.’ This was important in order to understand the level of demand for advanced levels of higher education – for people who really want to become specialists in their selected field and for those who only go to university to get a diploma.
After carrying out this broad division, the researchers examined demand for each type of specialism in the two main areas – sciences and humanities. They analyzed demand for mathematical and natural sciences, engineering, medicine, agricultural sciences and the humanities, cultural studies, art history, social sciences, and teacher training.
The first phase of research showed that the relationship between state-funded places in the humanities and sciences is not quite right. The real demand for humanities is around 40,000 places greater than universities offer. The share of ‘pure’ scientists and ‘poets’ is more than double the total. In today’s system of higher education, the balance of places for ‘scientists’ and ‘poets’ is 69.8% for the former and 30.2% for the latter. Research shows that this ratio should be 57.7% against 42.3%.
State funded places on offer in engineering and technical sciences have, in recent years, exceeded demand. ‘There is potential for growth in training related to developing transport, construction, energy and computer technologies,’ Zinkovsky said.
Research data showed that ‘Mathematics and Natural Sciences’ and ‘Healthcare’ suffer from an 80%-100% lack of government-funded places. ‘The high proportion of students paying to study these courses indicates the potential for increasing state-funded places,’ Zinkovsky noted.
Despite social sciences’ significant decline in popularity, there are still not enough state-funded places available in this area: with the deficit evaluated at about 60%. Since paid-for places make up for this deficit, in business terms this can be viewed as a ‘milking cow’ for the country’s universities.
In 2013, state-funded places in Economics and Management accounted for no more than 15% of the total, although in other social sciences (sociology, psychology and so on) the proportion of state-funded places significantly exceeded that of paid-for places.