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Regular version of the site

Farida Zagirova: “It Was Such an Amazing Experience Interning at the University of Oslo”

While doing their Doctorate at the HSE Institute of Education, students take research internships with IOE’s world-renowned partner institutions as an important compulsory part of the PhD track. Upon returning to IOE after she had completed her research abroad program at the University of Oslo (Norway), PhD candidate Farida Zagirova was only too glad to talk to IOE News on how this internship opportunity came about and what exactly it contributed to her academic career.

I had been very much looking forward to embarking on the ‘study abroad’ part of my PhD, but once the time came to start planning my internship, I realized there were in fact not so many options available to choose among since my study field, which is academic heterogeneity in higher education, has this far received only very limited research focus.        

After talking to my academic supervisor at IOE, we decided to probe internship opportunities in the UK. It turned out that Dr. Simon Marginson of University College London, who is IOE’s long-standing partner over a diverse R&D agenda, was willing to offer me an internship slot at the research center that he runs at UCL. But hardly had I set about preparing trip documents and planning my visit when academic capitalism and bureaucracy stepped in to ruin my UK arrangements. As a new tuition policy had been introduced for foreign research interns coming to UCL, where the fee rate was increased to how much regular international students pay for their training, my HSE scholarship was no longer enough to budget for all the study, boarding and living expenses in the UK.      

So, this twist of fate prompted me to start looking for a different option and finally set my eye on the University of Oslo in Norway. My decision to seek out internship at this university was largely explained by a great deal of positive feedback that I had previously heard, including from a good fellow of mine who interned there some time before. But I think what became really decisive in making this choice was the acquaintance with Dr. Bjørn Stensaker, whom I met during last year’s RAHER International Russian Higher Education Conference, where we were discussing how modern universities should develop in seeking to better respond to various socio-economic transformations of today.        

An accomplished international scholar and a man who always thinks outside the box, Bjørn has focused most of his research on the quality, management and transformations in higher education, and, as I could infer from our brief talks during the 2017 RAIVO Conference, he is easy to get along with and in fact well versed about far broader academic realms. So, this is why I was pretty confident Bjørn would be the right person to learn from, but I must honestly say the actual experience I received as Bjørn was supervising my internship program has exceed all of my expectations.    

Unlike UCL, the University of Oslo provides a full tuition waiver to foreign research interns, and one can flexibly tailor the study program, including lectures, seminars, consultations, etc., to best meet their personal academic goals through preliminary arrangements with the faculty. For example, I decided to enroll in MA courses titled ‘Higher Education and the Europe of Knowledge’ and ‘Organization, Governance and Management of Higher Education.’ Also, I have done the course ‘Reviewing the Literature: Situating your Study in the Field.’

The internship has proved particularly important for refining my understanding about how to proceed to further steps in my PhD project. As I was able to thoroughly discuss my thesis with Bjørn and access all the necessary resources at the university media center, all of this has helped me deepen my knowledge of the field while also largely rethinking the study perspective and enhancing the methodological groundwork. My special thanks are also due to my internship peers from the U.S., Germany, the Netherlands, Iran and other countries who would always help by sharing valuable academic feedback and advice.       

As part of my visit, I also worked closely with my host research team on developing their R&D agenda for the next three years. Ensuring the high quality of this research plan is of special importance as it is on the basis of this agenda that the university council subsequently decides on how much funding will be channeled to the research team. So, our work on the R&D plan involved comprehensively analyzing the pros and cons of the contemplated agenda, evaluating ways to reinforce the research profile, barnstorming on the mission, staffing and competency aspects of the research team itself, etc.      

In addition, following a special invitation from the university’s Master’s Department, I served as a guest expert when evaluating the proposed topics of MA students’ graduation papers. And I must say I would have barely been able to handle this task but for the diverse academic background that I have acquired at IOE. This broad expertise came in so really handy when I had to delve into and objectively judge about a wide range of education-related subjects that the students’ papers sought to explore.