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The goal of Project 5-100 is to maximize the competitive position of a group of leading Russian universities in the global research and education market.

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Prerequisites for Leadership in APAC Education Market Discussed at APAIE 2019 in Malaysia

March 30, 2019

Digitizing education. Concentrating resources on the development of breakthrough educational and research products that would meet local and global demand. Attracting academic talent – students, teachers and researchers – both from home and abroad. This is how most Russian and international universities active in the Asia Pacific (APAC) education market see their way forward, according to the data presented at the international round table “Which Universities will Lead in Asia Pacific in 2030?” that was organized by Project 5-100 officers as part of the APAIE 2019 conference and exhibition in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. The discussion, facilitated by Dr Viktoria Panova, Vice President for International Relations at Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU), brought together experts from more than 20 countries. Summarized below are some of their comments.

Pavel Lapo, Head of the Department of International Cooperation at Siberian Federal University (SFU), points out that APAC universities have been gradually working their way up in international rankings, a clear sign that they are following the right development path. To this end, they have engaged in full-blown cooperation with countries interested in advancing education and applying research findings, are actively collaborating with their international counterparts, have put in place a well-designed system of learning that aims to properly balance digital and human experience and makes it possible to train high-quality professionals.

Viktoria Panova and Ural Federal University (UrfU) Rector Victor Koksharov view this development as driven by internationalization, performance-focused management, close cooperation with prospective employers, all-round digitization, the acquisition of state-of-the-art facilities for conducting breakthrough research led by the world's leading scientists and strong government support.

To succeed in the APAC education market, universities must first and foremost show flexibility and a readiness to customize and individualize learning and research, says Polina Petrusha, an adviser to ITMO University's First Vice Rector. This means employing a variety of digitization and analytic tools, including AI, as well as methodological models that help chart out customized learning paths.

International experts are seeing a step-up in Russian universities' digitization efforts. Koenraad Debackere, managing director of Belgium's Catholic university KU Leuven, remarks that most Project 5-100 universities have been testing digital learning platforms and online courses and are actively engaged in the development of MOOCs, or massive open online courses. Like their opposite numbers elsewhere, Russian university authorities realize that digitization is going to cause a sea-change in educational policies over the next few years.

Polina Petrusha stresses that digitization makes it possible to tailor educational programs and research projects to the specifics of regions and countries, open up new areas for collaboration, facilitate all types of academic mobility and expand educational and scientific cooperation.

Aleksey Maslov, who heads the School of Asian Studies at the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs of the Higher School of Economics (HSE), says that the emergence of universal platforms for online learning and scientific research has created a new space for educational and research interaction. He observes that, while Russian universities generally lag a little behind their leading Asian peers on digitization, the HSE ranks fifth in the world by the number of courses it runs on the Coursera online learning platform. Many universities are now working together with software giants to design sophisticated instruments for digital education and research. Clearly, the way forward for APAC's largest education providers is to build joint digital platforms as well as allowing their proprietary platforms to be used by students from other universities.

According to Daria Kozlova, First Vice Rector (Vice President) at ITMO University, leading universities from Singapore, mainland China and Hong Kong are moving ahead at a pace unimaginable for their US and European peers. They are attracting researchers from all over the world and striving to bring back their overseas-based scholars with degrees from the world's top higher learning institutions. These universities have tasks set for them, and appropriate financing approved, in the highest offices of the land. Importantly, China's strategy through 2030 calls for developing home-grown technologies and building up educational and research capabilities while obliging authorities at all levels to lend support to projects in these areas. For this reason, China is becoming an increasingly more formidable player in the region.

Victor Koksharov believes that the improvement of APAC institutions in universities' rankings is a product of their academic excellence programs which are laying the groundwork for accelerated development. He notes that China, Singapore and Japan have an impressive track record in this respect. In Russia, too, Project 5-100 has, in a matter of years, transformed the educational landscape and allowed the country's top universities to secure a footing among the world's best, according to the most influential international rankings.

The Russian experience was in focus at an APAIE sub-session devoted to universities' internationalization programs and ways of training globally competitive students. The sub-session was chaired by Leonie Nagarajan, Director of the Education Department at the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), and addressed by Alexander Bedny, Vice Rector for International Affairs at Lobachevsky University.

To sum up, while experience shows that any university, whether large or more modest in terms of educational and research activities, can excel in attracting high-quality students and research staff through consistent effort, it is, in Victor Koksharov's opinion, multi-profile universities that have lately been gaining in importance, because of their focus on making a contribution to the regional economy and the opportunities they offer to pursue inter- and intradisciplinary research in a wide range of academic fields.