RHEC 2019 International Higher Education Conference Underway at HSE
The tenth International Russian Higher Education Conference (RHEC) kicked off at the HSE University Moscow this week and will last until October 25. Bringing together over 400 participants from 15 countries, this year’s forum focuses on ‘Contributions of Higher Education to Society and Economy: Global, National and Local Perspectives.’
Of more than 160 proposals submitted, the Organizing Committee has shortlisted 64 papers to be featured over the course of this year’s programme. In 2019, the Conference keynotes represent a premier cohort of world-renowned R&D hubs, including Oxford, Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, Peking University, etc.
According to Isak Froumin, Head of the HSE Institute of Education, the increase in submissions demonstrates the growing potential the conference gives scholars for research and collaboration. Moreover, while the programme of the first conference ten years ago included mainly theoretical works on educational systems, today, most of the papers are based on empirical data.
The Purpose of Reforms
Marina Borovskaya, Deputy Russian Minister of Science and Higher Education and the former Rector of Southern Federal University, noted that the conference held by HSE University discusses the purpose of reforms that are underway in university education today, as well as their impact on economic and technological development at the global level.
According to Marina Borovskaya, the transformation of higher education that is underway in Russia is due in large part to Russia’s national project ‘Education’. The federal project ‘Young Professionals’ is aimed at making Russian universities more competitive in the global sphere, as well as implementing new educational projects and programmes. The federal project ‘New Opportunities for All’ changes attitudes towards human capital; continuing acquisition of competencies and their transformation into qualifications becomes the foundation of professional development. The federal project ‘Education Export’ demonstrates that economic development is impossible without educational and research collaboration.
The deputy minister emphasized that regularly engaging in dialogue, sharing resources and strategies, and providing mutual support is essential for researchers. The Tenth International Russian Higher Education Conference is a platform that provides this very opportunity.
A Productive Path
According to HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov, the conference plenary sessions are dedicated, first and foremost, to the contribution of education to economic development and human capital. More than ever before, high school graduates are pursuing higher education, and access to it is a critical socio-economic problem. In most countries, students try to get into prestigious, highly ranked universities, which provide the highest quality of education, but not everyone succeeds in their intentions.
Another important issue is the changing mechanisms of higher education management in different countries. Administrative problems exist both in countries where key decisions are made within the university, as well as those where the state plays a crucial role. In Russia, about 65% of higher education is dictated not by government decisions, but by market demands, and that is why it is important to understand not only regulatory mechanisms, but market-based management.
Yaroslav Kuzminov stressed the fact that a university is a unique kind of organization, wherein professors are a key element of its capital and, at the same time, a key decision-making body. So, in-depth studies of universities are of interest not only to those who work in education, but to professionals in general management theory and economic theory as well.
‘We are happy that many colleagues come to this conference every year and engage in discussions on various topics,’ Rector Kuzminov noted. ‘This is a productive way to develop academic communities, since the key challenge for research today is its segmentation, whereby colleagues have no interest in research achievements in fields that are not directly related to their own academic interests. Our conference stands against this negative trend.’
Research without Borders
HSE Vice Rector Maria Yudkevich noted that each higher education conference is not only a presentation of completed studies, but a place to discuss new research, establish new contacts, and launch new projects.
Vice Rector Yudkevich spoke about large-scale international higher education projects, in which HSE University has participated over the last decade. The first such project was implemented jointly with the Boston College Center for International Higher Education as a study of professor salaries in 29 countries, and was presented at the first conference ten years ago. It was followed by other projects, including those about universities in BRICS countries and changes in higher education in post-Soviet countries.
One of the goals behind HSE researchers’ participation in these kinds of projects is to engage in dialogue about Russia’s system of higher education with their international colleagues. ‘We are attempting to compare countries and understand what is happening there. But our studies are conducted not only on the macro level. We also study what is happening within universities and academic communities (such as the consequences of academic inbreeding),’ the HSE Vice Rector said.
Yaroslav Kuzminov added that young new researchers have been involved in these studies. ‘We can see a new generation of researchers aged 25 to 40 entering the academic market. The current generation is exceptionally productive—they have no bounds—and communicate to their peers in different countries. If not all national education systems, their approach takes into account at least most of them. We will see the effect of this approach in both academic and scientific research, as well as policy.’
From Quality of Education to Quality of the Economy
Fifty-minute plenary reports on the first day of the conference were delivered by Professor Simon Marginson (University of Oxford) and Professor Laura Perna (University of Pennsylvania).
Simon Marginson’s presentation focused on the contributions of higher education: what they are, how they are valued, and how their value can be enhanced in Russia. He discussed the many societal and economic roles higher education plays, including helping individuals become a full-fledged and needed members of society and providing students the tools for successful interaction with society. The quality of higher education therefore determines the effectiveness of a country’s economy. It is universities that create the most important stimuli for social involvement, civil dialogue, and critical re-thinking of reality. According to Professor Marginson, Russian higher education still does not sufficiently contribute to Russia’s socio-economic development, and it is necessary to provide conditions for its expansion.
Laura Perna discussed ways to achieve equal access to higher education. She outlined a series of problems that need to be solved to achieve this: university applicants need to be better counselled in regard to the admissions process, career guidance, and financial aid, and there need to be equal opportunities for receiving high-quality education. Higher education should not facilitate socio-economic inequality, Laura Perna argues.
Sixteen Sessions and Ten Roundtables
The three days of the conference include 16 sessions and 10 roundtable discussions on critical issues of educational policy, including universities’ interaction with the Academy of Sciences and business entities, their role in overcoming inequality, and others. In addition, the conference will host an annual symposium for emerging researchers of higher education, in which plenary speakers will also participate. ‘This is a unique opportunity for representatives of different generations of researchers to engage in dialogue,’ Isak Froumin said.