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Acting Director, Academic Supervisor Evgenii Krouk
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Victor Romanov
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Deputy Director for Academic Work Sergey Tumkovskiy
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Data Culture: HSE Will Teach All Its Students to Work with Data

HSE will launch a new project called Data Culture in September 2017. Starting their very first year, HSE bachelor’s students will learn to work with data, and students in a number of programmes will also become familiarised with methods of machine-learning and artificial intelligence.

Why Study Data Science

The development of computer technologies, methods for collecting and processing information, and the accumulation of what we now call ‘big data’ – these are things that affect all areas of activity. It has become clear that many professions have changed entirely, and it is now necessary for every educated person – that is, not just IT specialists – to be skilled in working with different types of information.

‘Whereas before we were able to talk about how computer scientists and IT specialists were separate from historians, philosophers, and other specialists in the humanities, now the professional activities of both groups are closely intertwined. This is because the texts with which those in the humanities work are also considered big data and can be processed the same way – that is, with the help of contemporary analytical and information-focused methods. This fundamentally changes the essence of the profession,’ HSE Vice-Rector Sergey Roshchin says.

For this reason, it is necessary to teach students in all fields to understand the capabilities and limitations of big data, as well as the potential and specifics of machine learning. In addition, students in fields such as economics, management, sociology, political science, etc., must be able to use the corresponding technology.

Background: How and Whom HSE Teaches to Work with Data

HSE teaches students in different faculties how to work with information and data; this includes the Faculty of Computer Science, MIEM, and also various business informatics programmes in the Faculty of Business and Management. Over the last several years, the percentage of HSE master’s programmes aimed at preparing specialists who work with data has only grown. For example, in 2014 the Data Science and Mathematical Methods for Modelling and Computer Technologies programmes opened, while the Data Analysis in Biology and Medicine programme began in 2016, and the Financial Technology and Data Analysis and Statistical Learning Theory programmes was established in 2017. And this is far from the entire range of programmes HSE offers.

The Intellectual Data Analysis minor, which has become one of the most popular undergraduate minors at the university, was launched in 2015 for all undergraduate programmes. Despite its difficulty, students from practically all majors select the minor – from philology students to students of mathematics. This means that not only professionals, but students as well are starting to see why it is necessary to acquire the skills needed to work with data in all subject areas, and this includes big data.

‘Students will be offered courses of varying levels of complexity, as students in various undergraduate programmes have a different amount of training in mathematics and informatics due to external factors…’

‘The Intellectual Data Analysis minor has allowed us to become acquainted with students from different programmes and focus on what the students expect of us and what they need in their specific fields of study,’ notes Faculty of Computer Science Dean Ivan Arzhantsev. The success of this minor has demonstrated the need to create lines of courses on data skills, including those focused on certain subjects and those that give rise to practical data analysis coursework.

As a response to this demand, a mini-minor became available to students in January 2017 on Contemporary Methods in the Humanities. The minor introduces students to new research methods and problems in history, literary studies, linguistics, and cultural studies as concerns computer text processing methods. The Data Culture project further allows students to master the skills and culture surrounding data. 

About the Data Culture Project

Over the next two years, HSE will create a system of disciplines that give students competencies in working with data and contemporary information technology.

‘The project largely extends to majors that previously did not focus on, or focused too little on, this kind of information,’ comments HSE Vice-President Igor Agamirzyan. ‘It goes without saying that fields in one way or another related to data already have such courses, but these classes can be strengthened, and advanced variable tracks can be offered. In addition, it is necessary provide basic skills in working with data to students for whom data and information sciences are a prerequisite for future activities, even if they do not relate to computer sciences, information technology, and electronics.’

Students will be offered courses of varying levels of complexity, as students in various undergraduate programmes have a different amount of training in mathematics and informatics due to external factors.

The basic level does not presume a deeper knowledge of mathematics and is aimed at programmes that are not at all maths-focused. ‘But students will still have to work hard because it’s certainly impossible to master contemporary data analysis methods without effort,’ Ivan Arzhantsev adds. And a higher, expert level of knowledge is meant for those who are going to solve nonstandard problems and develop new data analysis methods.

The implementation Data Culture disciplines will take place in stages. In the 2017-2018 academic year, data courses will be included in the academic plans of more than half of all bachelor’s programmes. Humanities, law, and design students, for example, will now be offered an introductory course on digital literacy, while economics students will have a course on machine learning. Starting in 2018, all remaining educational programmes will join the project.

A Learning Revolution

The Data Culture project can be considered revolutionary, as no other Russian university currently has a programme similar in size to Data Culture. There are certainly courses on data science, but only in certain programmes and not as a basic competency for all majors. Leading Western universities have been developing courses related to data analysis, but such development is not yet taking place on a large scale. ‘The thing is not to ‘be the first,’ Sergey Roshchin explains. ‘The goal is for our university, as well as other schools, to conform to the current level of contemporary technological development and to instil advanced competencies in students and graduates.’

According to Igor Agamirzian, the field of data science has been developing for nearly 25 years already, but large-scale instruction in data science has not yet taken place. HSE plans to change this. ‘At some point, in the mid-1980s, an entire programme called Programming: The Second Literacy was launched to teach schoolchildren about information technology and programming. So in the contemporary world, the second, and by now even the first, literacy is becoming not only programming, but the entire range of knowledge related to information, data, and searching – that is, the possibilities that information technology offers. Now it is not programming, but the culture of working with information that has become the second literacy,’ Igor Agamirzian concludes.