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Competition will Take Russian Universities to a New Level

The self-sufficient and closed academic environment in Russia is an obstacle to the appearance of world-class universities, argues Maria Yudkevich in her article presented at the 4th International Conference ‘University Traditions: a Resource or a Burden?’

Building world-class universities in Russia was one of the most discussed topics at the conference. The foundations for such construction is human capital: the high quality of teaching qualifications, their research activity and international activity.

Russian university lecturers are still poorly involved in the open academic space and ‘transnational’ university environment, Maria Yudkevich, HSE Vice Rector and Director of the HSE Center for Institutional Studies, believes. Her article ‘Russian Academic Profession and Building Leading Universities’ was published in Otechestvennye Zapiski journal, #4, 2013. The study was based on a survey conducted in 2012 in Russian universities with the use of methodology developed in the Changing Academic Profession (CAP) project. The project covered 20 countries.

Teaching more important than research

Teaching takes the lion’s share of university lecturers’ time. Those professors who actively carry out research do it mainly at the expense of their free time, rather than by redistributing teaching hours towards research, Maria Yudkevich says.

At the same time, balancing time spent by lecturers on research and teaching is an important factor which can influence the efficiency of their work. By this factor, Russia holds last place among the 20 countries where the CAP study was held (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Preferences in research and teaching

 

Source: САР, 2007-2012

Insufficient competition

Most of the lecturers in Russian universities evaluate their own qualifications as excellent or good, Maria Yudkevich writes (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Self-assessment of qualification as researcher and lecturer

 

Source: САР, 2007-2012

But this high self-assessment is combined with two low indicators. First, on average, Russian lecturers have very low level of internationalization (in terms of both participation in international research, and teaching in English). Second, the rates of publication activity in foreign languages are not high.

This means that Russian academic community is still rather closed and self-sufficient. The competition among lecturers is limited to a narrow local market, which is not typical for an open academic space, Maria Yudkevich explains.

Hypercontrol damages research

Twenty years ago researchers didn’t feel they had everyday control over their work, be it pedagogical, research, or administrative. The situation is totally different today. Lecturers mention a significant level of control regarding department administration. On the other hand, it involves very modest participation by the external expert community (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Evaluation of a lecturer’s activity on behalf of various groups (Q: By whom is your teaching, research and service regularly evaluated?)

Source: САР, 2007-2012

‘The level of control in terms of departmental administration is probably the highest among all countries participating in CAP, as well as the role of self-control’, Maria Yudkevich emphasizes.

But it is still a question, how regular control influences a lecturer’s results. Most of the survey believe that it negatively influences the quality of research.

Academics are attached to their university

The Russian academic community is localist and self-sufficent, rather than cosmopolitian, according to Maria Yudkevich. Academics feel attached to a specific institution (department, unit), rather than to the profession as a whole. People are built in the mechanisms of administrative control much stronger than in the mechanisms of academic control

Among other things, this is confirmed by the data on academics’ careers. The average experience of work in one organization is extremely high. Mobility between universities, on the other hand, is extremely low.

Many academics graduated from the same institution they are currently working at, and often ‘have no experience in any other institutions’. Sometimes universities practice ‘inbreeding’: they hire their own graduates and give them preferences during the employment procedures, which is often accompanied by compromises in terms of their qualification.

Academic autonomy almost a phantom

The overwhelming majority of Russian universities have a vertical model of administration. Academics believe that they play no special role in the process of making important decisions for the university.

At the same time, the question about how the administration model will alter in those universities participating in global competitiveness programmes, is still open. ‘On one hand, it’s necessary to build more collegial models of administration, Maria Yudkevich writes, ‘But on the other hand, the mobilization model best suits the solution of tasks within short time limits’.

It’s remarkable that after analyzing the administration models in special status universities – federal and research universities – they show less collegiality than imighhave been expected. For comparison, for most of world’s research universities vertical administration models are not specific.

University community should change

Academic culture is changing slowly. Academics still have a negative attitude to the idea of accountability and competition. Only a few of them have ‘considerable international experience in teaching and research’. Universities have to overcome this inertia if they set themselves the task ‘of entering the global academic space’, the researcher believes.

‘In order to form world-class universities in Russia, our university community will have to undergo serious transformation’, concludes Maria Yudkevich.

 

Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, September 27, 2013