‘Improvement at HSE Has Exceeded Our Expectations’
Last week HSE International Advisory Committee held its annual meeting in Moscow. Eric Maskin, Nobel laureate in Economics, 2007, Chairman of the Committee and members of the IAC have talked to HSE News Service about the results of the meeting.
Eric Maskin, Chairman of HSE International Advisory Committee
— Professor Maskin, during the two-day meeting the committee discussed a wide range of topics. How productive was this discussion?
— I think it’s productive when as we did at this meeting you focus just on a few issues. There are too many things going on at the Higher School of Economics to cover everything, and we shouldn’t try to cover everything in a two-day meeting but if we take maybe four-five issues and have a good discussion, an hour or an hour and a half long, on each of them then we can be productive.
— What are the key challenges that HSE has to deal with now or will face in the nearest future?
— One issue which is not new is the problem of operating in a country which is feeling severe economic pressure and also political pressure. There I think HSE has done remarkably well in the circumstances but it’s hard and you have to be creative to work with these constraints. The second issue is how to keep the university together at a time when it’s expanding. HSE recently added two new faculties — Faculty of Computer Science and Faculty of Physics. There are probably going to be more added sooner. As the university gets bigger, it becomes a less unified place and something is lost of the original spirit. How does the university adapt to its growing size, it’s the second problem. And the third problem is improving internationally, as measured by rankings or other metrics.
— You got a chance to meet with some of the faculty here at HSE. How did this meeting go?
— Yes, the International Advisory Committee members were very glad to meet with the faculty. In fact I was only in one of the panels, and my panel met with some of the senior faculty, tenure faculty, but the other groups of the committee members met with international faculty and with junior faculty. It was a very useful experience, I think, on both sides. I've begun to hear from the faculty themselves that they were grateful for the opportunity to speak to the committee, and the committee learned a lot from the faculty about how they see the institution. In the past we largely communicated with the top administration which is useful too -- they have a broad view of their institution. But the faculty see things from different perspective and we were glad to learn from them as well.
— As HSE keeps evolving and growing, what could be done to keep focus on its core values? How not to deviate from the university’s mission?
— That’s a very good question. As I said in my report, in the committee’s report, no university could be good at everything and it’s important, as HSE expands, that it decides what are the three or four or five faculties or departments that it wants to ensure remain excellent. Perhaps the rector knows the answer to this question but we don’t have the answer so in future meetings we would like to hear more about what the mission of HSE is now.
— As the International Advisory Committee chairman you could observe the way HSE has been developing over the past five or six years. Looking at the broader picture, are you satisfied with what you see?
— Oh, yes, the improvement has exceeded our expectations. I didn’t anticipate when I started that, for example, research would have improved so dramatically, it’s a very impressive achievement that the faculty productivity in research has improved both in quantity and quality.
— Next year the Higher School of Economics celebrates its 25th anniversary. 25 years -- is it a lot for a university in the modern fast-changing world?
— I’m from the university that’s been around for more than 350 years so one could say 25 years is nothing. But actually I think HSE benefited from being a very young institution. I think the older you are the harder it is to adapt, and HSE wasn’t constrained by traditions (it didn’t have any) and wasn’t constrained by what was the norm in Soviet times so it’s been able to do things that other universities couldn’t do. In some respect, I think, it’s now the top Russian university and it sounds amazing that it could’ve happened in just 25 years. I only hope that the next 25 years are as successful as the first.
Philip Altbach, Research Professor, Founding Director, Center for International Higher Education
I am always impressed during the few years that I’ve been a member of International Advisory Committee here at HSE that progress continues. This university unlike most in Russia has a vision of modernizing and it continues to carry out of this vision especially in the last year or so in very difficult political, social, and economic circumstances in Russia. The fact that the university has this sort of strong commitment is very impressive to me.
What is particularly impressive is that HSE is continuing to try and internationalize its faculty and students, building a culture of productivity, especially among the faculty and is continuing to change its structure so that it’s less hierarchal than most Russian universities’. As you know, I am a member of the 5-100 Committee, so I have a chance to compare HSE to some of the other very good universities in Russia. I think HSE and maybe one or two other ones of 5-100 are much more innovative than the rest.
The Committee recommended that HSE think carefully about internationalization strategy. It seemed to us that there is no kind of unified vision of what internationalization means here. The focus was too much on the competitiveness of the university (of course it is stimulated by 5-100), but to us the basic importance of internationalization is for the experience of the students, so that they have a chance to see what an international perspective is and for international research collaboration.
Timothy Colton, Chair of the Department of Government at Harvard University
The environment around HSE in economy, politics, and international relations is very turbulent. And somehow HSE seems to find a way not just to survive but actually in many ways to continue to modernize itself and open itself up. That is my personal first impression. We did talk quite a bit about internationalization – that’s something that HSE is very open to advice on.
This applies to the teaching faculty – HSE has hired over one hundred of foreign-trained professors and teachers. So the first phase of this programme is going to continue, but now is time to probably make some adjustments based on the experience. We have also talked about internationalisation of the student body. HSE aims to have 15-20% of non-Russian students by 2020. There was quite a discussion of how to do this and how to make it a positive experience for the local majority because it will still be a very Russian place.
Daniel Treisman, Professor in the Department of Political Science, University of California, Los Angeles
Over the last 5 years we've seen an incredible increase in publications by HSE faculty in internationally respected journals. Five years ago it was not clear at all that it would be possible to drastically increase the number of publications in western academic journals but in fact as the rector Kuzminov said, about one third of the total faculty went from not publishing at all in English language western journals to publishing at least one article there – so I think that’s a huge breakthrough. We’ve also seen some very successful international recruitment, the number of internationally hired faculty has increased. Of course the programme of employment of international faculty will have to adapt over time. And the administration is thinking about that. But they’ve taken a tremendous step forward in the internationalization of the last five years.
Patti McGill Peterson, Presidential Advisor, Global Initiatives, Center for Internationalization and Global Engagement, American Council on Education
International Advisory Committee is impressed by how much progress the university’s made. HSE has set some very ambitious goals, and it has become noted as one of the very best institutions not just in Russia but in the region and, increasingly, in the world. Recently we think the university has paid a lot of attention to try and evaluate properly, particularly in the area of research and publications. We are pleased that they are also doing similar kinds of things in thinking about teaching and service to the country. We think that this combination, that holistic approach to what a university is - research, teaching and service - is a very important combination.