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HSE Expanding from Social and Economic Sciences into a True Multidisciplinary University

On December 7, at a meeting of the International Advisory Committee, HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov discussed the changes underway at the university and explained how the Higher School of Economics is working towards true international competitiveness as part of the 5-100 Project.

In 2013, HSE was among the universities selected to participate in the , the main purpose of which is to turn Russia’s top schools into world-class universities by the year 2020. Recently appointed leadership at the Russian Ministry of Education has decided to continue the project, and its international council is now headed by Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets. According to Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov, this will provide stability for the project’s future and maintain its key components, including the list of schools that make up the project.

What are some of the developments HSE has main so far? How is HSE different from other international universities? What has to be done to overcome the problems that are arising?

Above all, Rector Kuzminov notes, HSE is simultaneously a project- and research-oriented university. The results of the research taking place at HSE are recognised at the international level, and HSE’s expert staff has become a more important part of the political and economic agenda in Russia. Both of these components are developing in parallel, but they cannot always be perfectly in sync with one another.

There are examples of certain divisions of HSE achieving success in both fundamental research and in more applied developments. In the , for instance, the projects being carried out for the government and businesses have stimulated research in other fields, including scientometrics. Conversely, most important in the Centre for Cognition & Decision Making are fundamental aspects, thanks to which sought-after applications are being uncovered. There are also examples of less even development, like in the , where fundamental results fall behind application. It is important to note that the Institute of Education still serves as a key advisor to the federal government on issues related to education policy. Nonetheless, Kuzminov adds, this imbalance does not detract from the merits of these divisions, which represent research communities that are developing successfully overall.

What brings together representatives from all sciences are questions concerning the university’s development, and this includes finding the best applicants

Over the last several years, HSE has turned into a massive, multidisciplinary university. While research in the field of economics was initially playing catch-up, the colleagues who came to the and  were already recognised at the international level. (There to tell the International Expert Council about the recently established  and the Faculty of Physics, which is being established now, were the deans of these faculties).

HSE is increasing the diversity of its academic culture – it is difficult for students of journalism, engineering, physics, and economics to identify the professional areas that unite them. But what bring together representatives from all of these sciences are questions concerning the university’s development, and this includes finding the best applicants.

HSE is aiming to work out a single set of rules for all teachers and academic staff, and this is very much appreciated within the academic community. Salary is not negotiated individually and does not depend on one’s personal relationship with the dean; instructors can boost their salary severalfold through their own academic achievements and publication in international journals. There are, however, different guidelines for assessing academic productivity in different communities. Historians and philosophers focus on book publications, engineers and programmers look at conference presentations, and lawyers in both Russia and practically all other countries around the world publish very little at all in international journals. The university strives to factor in all of these aspects since it cannot avoid compromising with the well-established characteristics of other academic fields, Kuzminov adds.

The university faces other problems as well.

Firstly, the number of students at HSE is increasing, and the student body is becoming more and more diverse. This is largely due to the master’s programmes, which have students from different universities with varying levels of motivation. And though this does not cause tension or conflict, it is still necessary to create a unified community of students, which is why a special service has been created to work with students. The head of this service is HSE alumnus and Vice Rector, Igor Chirikov.

Secondly, since the university is growing, a portion of the powers previously held by a centralised body that protected educational and academic infrastructure is being transferred to the faculties. This means that the faculties have to establish a team of effective managers who will be responsible for various administrative aspects, such as marketing the programmes offered by the faculty. Such specialists are extremely difficult to find on the labour market.

Lastly, a weak ruble means that there is a ‘price gap’ between the amounts HSE is able to offer foreign professors and existing capabilities. This is why the university looks for other alternatives when it decides against hiring full-time staff from the Western market; for example, HSE offers part-time opportunities so international faculty can head research teams here and train students. At the same time, HSE tries to include its own instructors in the Western academic community.

Solutions to these problems were discussed at the International Advisory Committee meeting.

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