Institute of Education

Research & Expertise to Make a Difference in Education & Beyond

International Summer School on Higher Education Research

The IV International Summer School on Higher Education Research, which was devoted to ‘Higher Education, Society and State’, was held June 4-10 in St. Petersburg. Organized jointly with the China Institute for Educational Finance Research at Peking University, the Summer School brings together senior and junior scholars in the field of higher education research; it aims to facilitate the exchange of ideas, enhance research quality, and foster the integration of early-career researchers into the international academic community.

Summer School's Program

List of participants

Faculty presentations 

A historical perspective on the relationships between higher education, society and state was presented by Jussi Välimaa, who provided an overview of social theories and their explanatory approaches to the role that higher education plays in modern societies.

Apart from the theory espoused by Bourdieu, many macro-level social theories do not pay sufficient attention to higher education despite its important role in socialization, transmission and formation of values, norms, culture, and reproduction of social structure. The role of new knowledge is also underestimated. The most relevant concepts, in his view, are related to the networked society, knowledge society, and information society. A critical synthesis of these theories has enabled Välimaa to propose a concept of a networked knowledge society. Under this approach, institutions of higher education can be seen as multiple purpose platforms, resource bases and important nodes of social fabrics.

Pedro Teixeira’s seminars on the economic perspective revealed the evolution of economics as a discipline, with increasing intervention into other areas that are not traditionally considered to be related to economic activity (e.g., education, health). The challenge is to identify and understand the limitations of the economic perspective and work in cooperation with other disciplines, using a wider range of methods and methodologies.

Simon Marginson, Director of the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) Centre for Global Higher Education and a recognized expert in the internationalization of higher education, has an ongoing comparative project with HSE, on federalism and higher education systems, and there may be further projects in future. He addressed the conceptual issues of the relationship among higher education, society, state and market. One way of understanding the social role of higher education is through notions of public and private goods.

Marginson presented at two sessions, one on higher education and the public/private distinction, and the other on higher education and social inequality. Among the specific issues discussed at these and other sessions were key concepts of the state, the changing nature of the state and its relationships with higher education in a historical comparative perspective, key concepts in higher education (e.g., human capital theory, markets in higher education, public and private goods in higher education, etc.), and the limits of existing frameworks and emerging potential frameworks for understanding higher education dynamics.

National systems differ in terms of level of participation, social mobility, level of income inequality, governmental role in redistribution of income, public support for higher education etc. The United States is one of the most unequal systems, with Russia and the CIS also demonstrating a moderate to high degree of inequality. Nordic countries, on the other hand, provide better opportunities and social mobility.

Higher education was also approached from the state and policy perspective, including organizational and governance challenges for large higher education systems and how they differ from similar challenges faced by smaller ones. Isak Froumin approached the issue by first providing the definition of a system, its major characteristics and elements. Higher education systems are complex systems, where the elements (higher educational institutions) are diverse and operate in different systems simultaneously (at the global, national, local levels). Still open are questions regarding the role of the state, society, students, and the academic community in governing higher education systems.

One of the key policy challenges is how to ensure change in higher education systems. Change becomes especially difficult with large higher education systems, such as those in federal states like Russia, the U.S., China, Mexico and others. Froumin’s study reveals that functional division of responsibility impedes implementation of a single comprehensive policy in such states. It also shows a lack of coordination between federal and regional level initiatives.

Throughout the Summer School participants had the opportunity to present their own research. Each was given 30 minutes to give a talk, answer questions and receive the feedback from faculty members and other participants. All participants also took part in group projects on topics related to the theme of the Summer School. The groups presented their insights on the final day.

‘This was the best of the four Summer Schools held so far’, said Simon Marginson. ‘The standard of the students, and student contributions to discussion, was high. There was a serious minded, focused approach to the sessions’.

Marginson was eager to share words of wisdom for young people embarking on a career in higher education. ‘Higher education is important to all societies and is becoming more important’, he said. ‘The social science of higher education is not yet strongly developed. Your research and critical scholarship is potentially important – you could make an important original contribution to understanding this sector’.