From where I sit - Bear must broaden its horizons

October 28, 2010

International university rankings are a popular topic - not only for the press, but also for the academic community. Opinions on them differ, but one thing is certain: rankings are important for researchers, students and the general public.

The most important questions are: who are the rankings for and what do they tell us about long-term trends in global higher education? I would like to see them used not only as a system tool for the academy, but also as a basis for research and comparative study. That is why the Global Institutional Profiles project created by Thomson Reuters to power Times Higher Education's World University Rankings is essential for the international academic community.

Of all the rankings indices, research-paper citations are becoming more and more important. In Russia, we must realise that if we wish to sit at the global academy's top table, we have to increase our citation impact.

And in terms of teaching indices, to my mind the ratio of PhD to master's awards could be used as an additional criterion for pedagogic evaluation.

Most Russians think that the country's higher education institutions need a special rankings system to reflect their specific characteristics. Others argue that only a national ranking is appropriate.

I disagree. I think that major rankings should be fully international, as long as they are as transparent as possible.

Russia does not need to create a rankings tool specifically for its universities. The country must not shy away from global league tables, as they will help to indicate the educational reforms its institutions need to bolster their reputations.

The poor showing of Russian universities in the THE World University Rankings can be explained by the fact that the country's academy maintains many features of the Soviet system.

In the Soviet Union, the education system was focused on one - and only one - employer: the state. Universities were held on a tight leash by the Communist Party. International contacts were underdeveloped.

Even today, the economic policy of the Russian Federation is domestically oriented and the country remains only weakly integrated with the world economy. This has to have an effect on the world rankings.

Russia, including its academy, is far less internationalised than the US, the UK, China and other countries. This is having an effect on the internal policy of Russian universities.

The transformation of the country's educational system to conform with the bachelor's-master's degree model has been a laboured process (under the Soviet system, specialist degrees were awarded after five years of study). Generally, the reform we have seen has been the result of governmental pressure, not universities seizing the initiative for themselves.

Management structures and systems in the Russian academy also haven't changed much since Soviet times. Sometimes institutions are oriented towards the development of international cooperation, but only some of them are ready to integrate with the global academy.

The situation may change for the better if the Russian Federation joins the World Trade Organisation. Russian universities will then be able to adapt to the realities of the 21st century.

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