Institute of Education

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Seventh International Summer School on Higher Education Research: An Enthralling Journey of Learning and Discovery

From May 31 to June 6, 2019, IOE hosted the Seventh International Summer School on Higher Education Research that took place in the picturesque historic locality of Pushkin, near St. Petersburg. The theme of 2019 was “Theoretical and Conceptual Perspectives in Higher Education Research.” The Summer School brought together about 30 participants and faculty from different countries, including China, Eastern and Western Europe, India, Russia and the USA. The School program this year was specifically framed to cover key theories and concepts developed in sociology, economics, history, cultural and comparative studies as apply to higher education research.

School Program

List of Participants

Faculty Presentations

The Summer School comprised five days of intensive and invigorating learning and networking to exchange perspectives on various conceptual dimensions that higher education scholarship draws in from across disciplinary realms, while also foregrounding specific individual research projects by the early-career attendees. The School formats included seminars, panel discussions and participants’ presentations.

The Summer School opened on the evening of May 31 with introductions and a welcome dinner. The formal program got underway with a session, “Historical Perspectives in Higher Education Research” by Prof. Jussi Välimaa, a historian by training (Finnish Institute for Educational Research, University of Jyvaskyla). His seminar had a challenging task of spotlighting the most important milestones in the development of universities, mostly in Europe. During one session, Prof. Välimaa argued that although various forms of higher education can be found in many societies, the university came into existence as a European innovation, which gained ground across the globe over the time. He highlighted fundamental beliefs and values of European universities which established an intellectual basis for all European universities. There are 1) the belief in the dignity of man, who is able to grow mentally and spiritually, and that makes education important; 2) the belief in an ordered universe subject to rational understanding, which opens a research domain; 3) the belief in human’s mastery of their environment, which suggests the utility dimension; 4) the culture of questioning and the analytical approach emphasizing critical thinking and 5) publicity of research and open debates. Various university models existed in different historical periods and it is important for researchers to take into account various historical layers in contemporary universities.

Prof. Gaële Goastellec, University of Lausanne, presented a sociological perspective in higher education research. Her presentation was focused on sociological theories and inequalities of access to higher education as one of the main domains where sociology contributes in relation to higher education. She introduced two axes along which various sociological approaches could be analyzed: social structure – actors and social cohesion – conflict. Theoretical approaches included functionalism, structuralism, interactionism and methodological individualism. Each of them had their own ideas in relation to access to higher education. Prof. Goastellec also considered other conceptual approaches which could be used for the research on educational inequalities, including A. Sen’s capabilities approach.

Prof. Simon Marginson, University of Oxford, introduced yet another dimension. His seminar “Higher Education as Self-Formation” was largely concerned with ideas developed within educational philosophy. Prof. Marginson argued that the educational process can be understood as formation of persons as social beings through immersion in (diverse bodies of) knowledge. Are students objects or subjects in higher education, self-creators or social creators, ‘little screws’ (in Stalin’s words) in a machine of society/economy or active human agents? Drawing on ideas by A. Sen, M. Foucault, Confucian ideas and the Bildung tradition, Prof. Marginson accentuated that it is important not only to focus on structural constraints, but also on agency as a way through structural constraints.

Next, the floor was given to junior-career attendees who presented their doctoral research projects. Yusuf Oldac (Oxford University) further contributed to the self-formation discussion by giving a recap of a biographical study he is into that focuses on self-formation in international student mobility. Another four papers further elaborated the inequality discussion: Anubhav Das (University of Delhi) introduced the ideas on sociology of examination; Tatiana Chirkina (IOE HSE) presented a study of social inequalities in the choice of postsecondary education, Ty McNamee (Teachers College Columbia University) – on rural students navigating urban higher education environments, Shikha Diwakar (National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, India) – on academic and social experiences of undergraduate first generation college students.

The summer school provided me with the unique opportunity to receive first-class teaching from higher education research specialists in a relaxed and encouraging environment and to gain an international perspective through working and socializing with fellow early-career researchers all over the world. 

Sally Hewlett 
PhD Student, University of Bath, the UK

The second day started with the economic theories and concepts in higher education research presented by Prof. Pedro Teixeira (University of Porto). He highlighted four stages in the development of economic thought: classical political economy by Adam Smith, economic science by Alfred Marshall, neoclassical synthesis by Paul Samuelson, and the expansion of the economic domain associated with the work by Gary Becker. This latest period is marked by the predominance of neoclassical economics, development of applied research, and economics has been largely seen as a science about choices. In this period, higher education has become a special focus of economics, as it has economic effects, is driven by economic motivations and pertains to the use of the resources. Prof. Teixeira focused on the human capital theory as one of the foundations of economic approaches to higher education. He also discussed the limitations of the economic approach to higher education.

Prof. Isak Froumin (IOE HSE) gave a seminar, “Higher Education and Regional Development,” which addressed systems of higher education, characteristics of higher education systems in federal countries and regional higher education systems. In drawing on B. Clark’s approach and other theories of higher education systems, he highlighted some systemic features, while also focusing on certain specific aspects of the Soviet and Russian higher education systems.

Prof. Gaële Goastellec and Prof. Jussi Välimaa delivered a joint seminar, “Comparative Methods and Socio-Historical Approaches to Cross-Fertilize Research on Higher Education.” In this session, they put together sociological and historical approaches to higher education as well as insights from the comparative research domain. They discussed some conceptual ideas on comparative research and provided examples of comparative studies in higher education to demonstrate the complexity and challenges of cross-cultural comparisons. Socio-historical comparisons are not less challenging than cross-cultural ones and also require a lot of reflections from researchers.

As a higher education researcher, I found this summer school as highly theoretical, informative and focused. It was truly an international summer school in terms of lectures by the experts and the presentations made by the scholars from different countries on their different areas of research on higher education. It is rare to find such specialized and focused programme on higher education research. It was a valuable learning experience for me.

Amardeep Kumar 
National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA), India

After faculty seminars, the participants presented their research projects. Jarmo Kallunki (Universiyt of Tampere) discussed the changes in the university funding model in Finland in 1995–2025; Ekaterina Tanenkova (Siberian Federal University) addressed evaluations of economic institutions in higher education; Sneha Bhasin (Jawaharlal Nehru University) – the educational mismatch among engineers in India. Hanwen Zhang (University of Hong Kong) presented a mixed-method study of student loan defaults in China, Ekateina Minaeva (IOE HSE) – a study of educational exports in the global market.

The third day’s program started with a panel session, “The Contributions of Higher Education,” a project led by Prof. Simon Marginson in cooperation with international and HSE colleagues that has recently been launched by IOE HSE. Prof. Marginson presented a conceptual framework of the project and discussed various dimension of contribution of higher education. Anna Smolentseva (Senior Researcher and Program Chair of the Summer School, IOE HSE), Pedro Teixeira and Jussi Välimaa presented some ideas for their prospective research on social, economic and cultural contributions of higher education.

The School continued with presentations by another four participants. Ray Mitic (New York University), who is among the first honorees of IOE’s SemyonovAward 2019, introduced his study on the contributions of Russian higher education to civic engagement. Nian Ruan (Hong Kong University) presented her study on women intellectual leaders in humanities and social sciences, Tatiana Bajenova (Westminster University in Tashkent) – a study of think-tanks and universities in the market place of influential ideas; Hanna Posti-Ahokas (University of Jyvaskyla) – a study on the international alumni from Finland.

In the second part of that bright sunny day, the enrollees and faculty were off on an excursion around the Catherine Palace and Park.

This is my first time attending an international Summer School. I must say it was amazing, in terms of not only academic capacity improvement, but also team building activities. If formal sessions open a window for exploring the landscape of higher education from different perspectives, then informal sessions are more like a bridge, which connects faculty and participants closer. Thank you for all of these fascinating sessions, presentations, group activities and excursions. That definitely will be the cherished experience of my whole life. 

Jiale Yang 
PhD Student, Tsinghua University, China

The fourth day of the School kicked off with a seminar, “Conceptual Approaches to Measuring Costs and Performance in Higher Education” by Prof. Tommaso Agasisti (Politecnico di Milano). Prof. Agasisti focused on ideas and models which underpin performance assessment of higher educational institutions. He also highlighted the limitations of the assumptions that are embedded into those models, the limitations of the data used (proxies) and warned researchers and policy-makers about simplification of research results while factoring them into institutional and national decision-making.

The rest of the day was allocated to presentations by the School attendees. Takeshi Yanagiura (Teachers College Columbia University) gave a talk on the effects of credit hour completion requirement on postsecondary attainment, a program introduced in Indiana. Jakub Krzeski presented his study on the evaluation of biology in Poland since 1990, Tatiana Shutova (Cardiff University) – a study on the introduction of compulsory MOOCs in Russian higher education; Gulfiya Kuchumova (Nazarbaev University) – a study on the research education of PhD students in the context of the reforms of doctoral education in Kazakhstan.

The papers in the next session focused on inequalities: Sally Hewlett (University of Bath) discussed her research project on the academic experience of disability policy in higher education, Amardeep Kumar (National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, India) – on social justice in higher education and policy of positive discrimination in India, focusing on the one sub-caste, Anuradha Bose (National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, India) – on diversity competency of institutions of higher education; Alexandra Karchevskaya (public administration, HSE) – on unequal access to higher education of rural students in Russia.

The last session included presentations by Jiale Yang (Tsinghua University) on China’s world-class university policy change based on the advocacy coalition framework, by Anastasiia Makarieva (IOE HSE) – on global university rankings as geopolitical tools and market devices, by Aleksandra Zhivkovikj (University of Oslo) – on the institutionalization of quality assurance in higher education in Macedonia and Slovenia; and by Stanislav Avdeev (IOE HSE) – on the analysis of international collaborations in the field of higher education research.

After a hard working day, the Summer School set off on a boat excursion, “White Nights.”

It was an enriching, engaging and stimulating experience for higher education scholars. The seminars and panel discussions with an incredible group of experienced researchers and participants from varied disciplinary backgrounds from across universities around the world, sharing their research and insights on aspects, contemporary directions and challenges for higher education have all made this summer school a rich and vibrant international forum. 

Anuradha Bose 
National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA), India

The Summer School program also included group work, which was carried out by the participants late in the evenings and was presented on the last day. The groups were formed to ensure the diversity of cross-cultural and disciplinary perspectives. All groups did very good job working out a research topic and most relevant theoretical perspective(s). Going forward, some groups might harness these ideas and conceptions in framing their specific research projects.

The last day of the Summer School also included a panel session on publishing articles in international journals, which is always a site of challenges and certain constraints for early-career scholars. The Summer School has also featured a good deal of informal talk: faculty narratives of their personal experience, their academic paths, the evolution of their research interests and many other things which are usually left outside the classroom.

Overall, the Summer School was a very edifying and rewarding experience for all of the faculty and participants that will hopefully help everyone grow in multiple ways.

Our special gratitude goes to Anastasia Pichugina (IOE HSE) who has done excellent job turning around all organizational and logistical matters of the Summer School.