Institute of Education

Research & Expertise to Make a Difference in Education & Beyond

8th RAHER International Conference: Pushing the Frontiers of Higher Education Research

On October 19–21, IOE welcomed the 2017 International Conference by the Russian Association of Higher Education Researchers (RAHER). Held for the eighth straight year since 2010, this forum has distinguished itself as a foremost venue for young scholars, accomplished academics, institutional leaders and policy professionals to discuss top-priority agendas in global university development and their implications for broader socioeconomic contexts. This year, the Conference’s special topic was ‘Dynamic Universities for Dynamic World.’  

With its far-reaching R&D and networking scope in the field of higher education, it is the IOE Laboratory for University Development that has over the past several years come to play an increasingly significant part in advancing RAHER annual international forums. In 2017, the organization and ongoing support of the 8th RAHER Conference were led by the Lab’s experts Daniil Kozlov, Farida Zagirova, Daria Platonova, Oleg Leshukov and Mikhail Lisyutkin. Another IOE division, the Centre for Higher Education Sociology, also had an important stake in this year’s event, mostly thanks to Natalia Maloshonok and Saule Bekova who served on the Conference’s Program Committee.

By offering a vibrant mix of plenary discussions, special sessions and expert workshops, the 2017 RAHER Conference aimed to take systemic perspectives on various facets of curriculum, instructional and governance development that are central to making university landscapes better prepared for capturing and sustaining the global transformative momentum in the economy and society at large. Why have some universities been faltering, while others have taken the lead in the race for excellence and innovation? How has the academic profession been changing amidst active transitions in institutional and learning organization? What are the ways that students perceive and react to the remapping university space? How does university politics relate to broader multilateral sociopolitical contexts? These were among the central questions addressed in the course of this year’s Conference.

The forum opened up with a brief welcome address by HSE Vice-Rector Maria Yudkevich and IOE Head Isak Froumin. Next, the floor was given to HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov, who shared his reflections on HSE’s quarter-century-long development path as one of Russia’s most dynamic universities fueled by a visionary synthesis of national and global best practices in higher education. The 2017 RAHER event has also set itself apart as the one enjoying the all-time broadest international scholar participation, with its keynote plenary speakers representing a premier cohort of globally recognized authorities in various domains of studies.

A plenary talk by Dr. René Kizilcec, Director for Digital Learning Research at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, aimed to highlight robust strategies for making online learning a more accessible and effective tool that would reach for and empower broader population groups worldwide. In his lecture, Dr. Kizilcec largely drew on findings from comprehensive longitudinal research Stanford’s Learning Analytics Lab that he heads has done over the past several years on how sociocultural and psychological factors, such as identity matters, self-regulation, peer influence, etc., are involved in online learning perceptions, motivation and outcomes, as well as on practical approaches to effectively bridge achievement gaps.

Dr. Christopher Morphew, Dean of the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University, gave a speech on key objectives and challenges in accelerating the development of educational institutions. With his track record including high-impact research and presentations, as well as major roles at leading academic organizations, such as the Association for the Study of Higher Education and American Educational Research Association, Dr. Morphew is broadly recognized as a source of advanced perspectives on national and international contexts of institutional diversity in higher education and best-practice university cooperation.

Dr. Imanol Ordorika, who is a Professor in Social Sciences and Education at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, gave a talk about the expanding role of universities as important agents and mediators in various complex sociopolitical settings. With quality education and cohesive social capital becoming an increasingly powerful sustainability factor, it is crucial to implement informed strategies spanning all layers in multilateral stakeholder relationships (e.g., regulation & control, institutional organization, funding, leadership & operations, partnerships, etc.) that would allow best resolving the parties’ conflicts, misunderstandings and political ambiguity for universities and external environments to become better aligned and mutually amplifying at all levels.    

A Conference presentation by Dr. Susan Robertson, a Professor in Education at Cambridge University, aimed to provide an outline of various development roadmaps that modern universities pursue in retailoring their academic models for more effective integration into the global environment. With her vast experience in international education, including a profound familiarity with scenarios from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, etc., Dr. Robertson has covered a host of transformation best practices at all levels, while also focusing on the underlying factors of diversity in such transitional approaches, processes and models, as attributable to complex interrelationships between national educational tradition, economic contexts, politics, and globalization narratives.      

Dr. Bjørn Stensaker, a Professor in the Department of Education at the University of Oslo, has devoted his plenary talk to university collaboration as a multifaceted imperative where a lot more needs to be done by all the stakeholders so as to advance the existing and future cooperation agendas from mere slogans to more appreciable and practical action that would generate higher-impact synergies in every aspect of university contribution to the economy and society at large. What is really challenging, Dr. Stensaker has stressed, is nurturing a transparent, proactive and sustainable partnership environment founded on mutual respect and shared goals, since parties to higher education alliances will most typically differ significantly by their organization, resources, values & vision, etc., and such variations and stakeholder disagreements in attitudes and expectations often prove to be very hard to reconcile.     

Dr. Attila Pausits, Head of the Center for Educational Management and Higher Education Development at Danube University Krems, who is a world-acclaimed expert in higher education innovation, presented about the academia’s ‘Third Mission’ as a pivotal driver in national socioeconomic development. Drawing on his comprehensive findings from the Austrian university context, Dr. Pausits has pointed out that no consistency has been reached so far by both institutional leadership and broader stakeholder cohorts in understanding either how this university mission should be best implemented or what the most feasible and accurate strategies for measuring socioeconomic effects from the academia are. Accordingly, Dr. Pausits has noted, this calls for deeper multi-dimensional research efforts to first discover and then evaluate the entire multiplicity of ways – often subtle and inexplicit in nature – that higher education determines societal change, from implications for individual life courses to effects at the community and national levels.       

The 2017 RAHER Conference also featured a series of special events that aimed to provide further insights about today’s most relevant areas of global educational scholarship. One of such top-priority subjects, the 21st-century skills agenda, was discussed at an expert seminar sponsored by Sberbank’s ‘Investment in Future’ foundation. In the course of the discussions, HSE Professor Andrey Podolsky and Dr. Jarkko Hautamäki of the University of Helsinki presented about major challenges in modernizing the curricular and instructional practices in place to better accommodate novelty competence and literacy requirements driven by the actively reshaping socioeconomic landscapes. In particular, Andrey Podolsky stressed, it is important to more plausibly determine the opportunities and limitations of the 21st-century skills framework, and to clearly define the meta-subject skill sets that need to be prioritized with social capital of different age groups, educational attainment, occupation, career stage, etc. Recurring to and carefully perusing academic classics on education and mental development, such as the scholarly legacy of Piotr Galperin, could become of great help, he believes, in devising more effective 21st-century skills strategies across schooling domains.     

Another Conference seminar, organized by the IOE Laboratory for University Development to pay tribute to late Dmitry Semenov, former Lab Head and HSE Rector Aide, aimed to draw attention to various academic inputs by the brightest early-career scholars in higher education. The seminar’s scope included, among others, their latest work on the role of universities in regional socioeconomic development, evaluating the efficiency of HEIs participating in Russia’s ‘5–100’ Academic Excellence Initiative, analyzing the academic discourse on digital learning in higher education, etc.

Alongside its comprehensive academic agenda, the 2017 RAHER forum has also marked an important milestone for the education scholarship community as the newly established Russian Education Research Association (RERA) officially got underway on October 19. The Association will proactively contribute to further advancing professional networking in the field on both domestic and international arenas, with a major focus placed on fostering the development and community integration of young academic talent. In particular, RERA’s near-term agenda envisages entering the European Educational Research Association.