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‘Every Student Should Be Prepared for Life in the Digital World and Know how to Speak its Language’

‘Every Student Should Be Prepared for Life in the Digital World and Know how to Speak its Language’

© RANEPA Press Service

On January 16, HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov spoke at the expert panel, ‘Digital Revolution in Education and New Training Technologies’, at the 2020 Gaidar Forum, ‘Russia and the World: Challenges of the New Decade’, which was held at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA).

As acting Russian Minister of Science and Higher Education Mikhail Kotyukov noted, today’s rapidly changing technological landscape requires universities to rethink the principles of higher education. Universities must learn to adjust programmes in order to keep pace with the needs of both students and industry partners. In today’s society, universities significantly shape the face of a given city or region. ‘I am confident that our universities have great potential,’ said the minister. ‘About fifty Russian universities, half of which are located outside our nation’s capital, rank among the best universities in the world.’

According to Mikhail Kotyukov, the new positioning of Russia’s universities will only spur them to invest more in their success, which will in turn will expand universities’ autonomy.

Dmitry Peskov, Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for Digital and Technological Development, stated that digitalization should not be considered the goal of higher education—this was the goal of Russian education in its previous stage of development. In Mr. Peskov’s opinion, the world is entering an age of technological predetermination: in advanced spheres, solutions for the coming decades are already known. Therefore, rather than technological forecasts, it is economic forecasts that are crucial. At the same time, in addition to their primary area of expertise, it is critical students also be proficient in a technological area.

Mr. Peskov suggested that universities implement new methods, one of which should be having students engage in teamwork. There are many instances in which students themselves work in teams over the course of their studies, after which they continue these collaborative relationships and undertake successful projects or create new products in their professional lives. But this kind of team collaboration can also be built into the education process in order to facilitate and encourage it. Currently, it is common for instructors to assign students to groups arbitrarily. However, student teams should be assigned with a consideration of students’ strengths and skills. If, for example, a student team lacks a marketing expert, it should be easy to locate one at a different university based on available data.

Rector Kuzminov spoke about HSE University’s work in the sphere of e-learning. The University recently launched its 100th course on the Coursera online platform, and it ranks fifth worldwide in terms of its number of Coursera courses and third in the National Open Education Platform. Now it is time, Mr. Kuzminov suggested, to set a new bar in online learning and utilize artificial intelligence, build in capabilities for self-assessment, and develop new games and simulators as well.

Today, HSE online courses are taken by about 2.5 million people worldwide: about 600,000 enrollees are from Russia and about 300,000 are from the US and the EU. This proves, Rector Kuzminov said, that the University can expand its influence via new channels. Thanks to HSE’s online courses, the University has increased both the number (by 30-35%) and the quality of its international student enrolments every year for the past four years. Half of HSE’s international student population come to study at the University after first having taken some of its courses online. This figure is especially significant in light of President Putin’s mandate to double the number of foreign students in Russia.

HSE University is also a leader in the use of online courses on campus: the University now offers about 300 e-courses, of which less than a quarter are created by the University itself. Rector Kuzminov noted that this makes it possible to optimize the work of teachers: routine elements of a lecture are now replaced by online components, which frees up more time in class for in-depth study and increased student engagement. Students of all HSE faculties, regardless of area, study Data Science and the basics of programming, in addition to, in certain cases, artificial intelligence. ‘Digitalism comes with a new language, and no matter what career a student is pursuing, no matter what they want to be, students need to be equipped for life in the digital world,’ he said.

Digitalization enables educators to tailor educational programmes and curricula to students, which is especially important at the master’s level, Yaroslav Kuzminov said. Master’s programmes accept students with different undergraduate educational backgrounds; some students may be better equipped for the programme than others, and it is not their fault. Consequently, the quality of instruction suffers: some students need deeper training in one thing, while others require it in another. Digital learning tools allow instructors to solve this problem, and they also help universities attract leading researchers and engage them in the local academic process. At present, about 300 HSE faculty members teach and collaborate in research remotely.

According to Yaroslav Kuzminov, digital technology provides solutions for four challenges facing higher education:

 providing feedback, continually evaluating student performance and retention of knowledge;

 overcoming the ‘provincial curse’ in education by giving regional universities access to top informational resources;

 improving students’ knowledge and skills by engaging them in digital simulations, games, and lessons, which, though expensive to make, are inexpensive to maintain and deliver high returns;

 overcoming a significant portion of educational deficiencies.

Rector Kuzminov asserted that digital technology fosters student involvement in university life and that digital resources and artificial intelligence provide a valuable complement to a university’s ‘live’ teaching staff, both in terms of providing individual student attention and tailoring student curricula. Universities that can improve their quality of education and increase the scale up their activity by developing digital programmes and partnerships with universities and companies in the outer regions will thrive in the modern digital world. Universities that do not do so will only lose out—their influence will fade, like that of Socrates, who did not publish his works and trained only a small group of followers.

If universities want to become global educational leaders, they will have to abandon the outdated educational approaches to which their existing personnel structures are accustomed. They should work to enlist new specialists and utilize new technologies, even if these specialists and these technologies were not previously characteristic of the university environment. ‘Overcoming itself from within is the key to a modern university’s success,’ Mr. Kuzminov concluded.