Climbing the global university rankings07 июля 2014 года
The governmental initiative dedicated to enhancing Russian universities’ global competitiveness, also known as the 5/100 initiative, aims to enable five Russian universities to enter the top 100 world university rankings by 2020.
The project was announced by presidential decree on 7 May 2012.
A special Council on Global Competitiveness Enhancement of Russian Universities was established. It consists of 12 members, six representing Russia and the other six representing the international academic community.
The project did not start from scratch: higher education reform aimed at bridging the gap between Russian universities and global leaders had already been going on for 10 years.
What was done in those 10 years?
First, a number of federal universities – a kind of ‘umbrella organisation’ for regional higher education – were created. Second, some institutions were given national research university status.
Third, the government announced new academic mobility grants, particularly targeting leading foreign researchers to bring them to Russia. As a result, famous scientists of Russian origin and internationally acknowledged, oft-cited foreigners started coming to Russia. Thus higher education in the country began to move towards internationalisation.
A number of universities launched innovative research projects in partnership with industry, opened their first research and development, or R&D, departments sponsored by commercial organisations, started deeper integration with Russian Academy of Sciences research institutes, and established new laboratories for fundamental and applied research.
Many universities now have cutting edge centres and amazing labs. They also pay much more attention to foreign languages so that lectures by foreign professors can be given in English. More and more universities now have supervisory boards presided over by influential members of society and have started building endowments.
The goal announced by the president in 2012 seems more than ambitious but very exciting.
In order to implement the 5/100 project, several bodies have been established. The project is supervised by the Ministry for Education and Science, which is also responsible for state funds' management.
The Council on Global Competitiveness Enhancement of Russian Universities, where I work, is chaired by Minister Dmitry Livanov (pictured). As the description of the project published on the ministry’s website says: “The council’s task is to help leading Russian universities maximise their competitive capacity in the global academic environment and ensure that at least five of them are in the top 100 world university rankings by 2020.”
According to Livanov, however, “entering the international rankings can’t be a goal in itself”. He said: “We understand that the rankings only provide a rough evaluation of university performance.”
A special expert group provides the council with support and gives feedback on documents provided by universities that participate in the programme. It is also important to recognise the role of SKOLKOVO Moscow School of Management, where most training sessions and workshops are held.
Roadmaps for university development
Universities are working on roadmaps for development, and a special roadmap implementation monitoring system is being devised. Most of the universities have hired Russian and international experts who help them define the roadmaps and prepare all the documentation required by the Ministry for Education and Science.
This is how the project is carried out:
Stage 1. July 2013. Participating universities were selected on a competitive basis.
Stage 2. October 2013. Each university works on its roadmap for development.
Stage 3. December 2013. Roadmap implementation starts; performance evaluation will follow – to be done annually in the 2014-18 period – and may result in roadmap amendments.
Meanwhile, since April 2013 project supervisors have also been organising institutional or general events such as workshops, which will go on every year until the end of 2018, and have been submitting annual data required by global rankings publishers (the first results were evaluated in October 2013).
So far, the international advisory council has had four meetings. The first one was dedicated to general issues related to the 5/100 project and the council’s role in it. During the second meeting, council members examined all the 36 applications from Russian universities that wanted to participate in the project.
The council’s main criterion was feasibility so in the end only 15 universities were allowed to submit their roadmaps for assessment. They were awarded special grants for roadmap development and advised to invite external experts in.
The council sits twice a year. The third meeting, which took place nearly six months after the second one, was dedicated to an evaluation of the roadmaps the universities had submitted.
Unfortunately, many participants failed to explain in their roadmaps what was so unique about them and their suggested strategy for development so members of the council had to spend quite some time trying to understand the peculiarities of each particular application.
They were particularly interested in what the resource requirements were that could ensure a significant performance gain in terms of both education and research.
The participating universities represent different regions: four are situated in Moscow, a city of over 12 million inhabitants; three in St Petersburg, the second largest city in Russia with more than five million inhabitants; two in Siberia, in Tomsk which has nearly 0.6 million people and Novosibirsk which has over 1.5 million; one in Kazan (1.2 million people); one in Samara (also 1.2 million); one in Ekaterinburg (1.4 million inhabitants); one in Nizhny Novgorod (nearly 1.3 million people); and one in Vladivostok (nearly 0.6 million).
Each of these cities has its own academic environment; they also differ in terms of living standards and appeal. There are three federal universities and 11 national research universities among them.
The council also paid attention to the participants’ baselines: some were in the process of merging with other higher education institutions; others were trying to diversify areas of research or strengthen their traditional specialisation. Participating universities differ significantly in terms of enrolment count, infrastructure etc – some have newly built campuses, while others are only starting construction work.
The universities still need to regain their balance; their senior leaders are trying to engage the most creative and active administrators, faculty and students in the process, which is not easy.
We believe that gathering such people together is essential for the project and is of key importance at the current stage.
We do not yet have specific criteria to measure the ‘commitment rate’ among students and university employees, but research in the corporate sphere suggests that having 20% to 25% of employees on board is enough to ensure sustainable performance and dynamic development.
According to the universities’ own estimations, the commitment rate among employees is still not high enough. We believe it is important to monitor the level of commitment among university employees since it has direct impact on the enhancement of institutional competitiveness.
Participating universities have already gained both substantial financial support and reputational bonuses. Yet members of the council believe that positive stimulation is not enough.
Therefore participants who perform inadequately and do not stick to their roadmaps will be expelled from the programme. The council is now considering the possibility of inviting new participants to take their place if they show significant independent progress in global rankings.
Higher education institutions seem to be genuinely interested in the project.
First, they improve their positions at the national level. Second, they gain more attention from the regional authorities and other stakeholders. Third, the project offers significant new incentives for students and faculty members.
We should also remember that all the participating universities receive extra funds to the tune of 10% to 40% of their budget. Therefore being expelled from the programme would cause severe financial loss.
The council’s fourth meeting, which took place in early 2014, has shown that participants’ performance evaluation should take into account the current stage of the programme.
It has also become clear that the programme can be divided into three phases: a) first, universities have to reach a certain level of commitment to transformation among students and employees; b) then they have to build up and maintain high capacity growth (be success stories); and c) they advance in the rankings (generally and by subject) and improve their reputation.
As a result of the meeting, one university was expelled from the programme.
In 2014, members of the council also started field trips to participating universities. Therefore their work consists of two strands now: studying the situation on site and evaluating roadmap implementation.
We are now at a crossroads, where we need to choose between the well-trodden road of formal processes – and the path to new soft-power mechanisms. The council is inclined to take the latter path, which is of course more difficult but also more exciting.
* Oleg Alekseev is a member of the Council on Global Competitiveness Enhancement of Russian Universities set up by the Russian Ministry for Education and Science.
This article was first published in the new journal, Higher Education in Russia and Beyond, published by the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Russia.