We think globally and help locally; there’s no separating the two

International research and community service are not mutually exclusive, and young universities can easily and productively combine both missions from the outset, says Yaroslav Kuzminov

June 22, 2020
HSE students
Source: HSE university

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HSE University is one of the largest leading universities in Russia. It incorporates more than 100 research centres and more than 40 international laboratories. The university has four campuses – in Moscow, St Petersburg, Nizhni Novgorod and Perm – with a total student enrolment of about 44,000. How did a small social sciences university established in 1992 grow in just decades into an institution at the forefront of Russian higher education and a member of the international education and science community?

HSE University is one of two greenfield public higher education institutions founded in a difficult period of early post-Soviet Russia. Being a young university without any historical baggage constraining its options or hindering its ambitions, HSE concentrated its efforts on innovative education programmes and technology because Russia’s new market conditions required new economists and administrators. The country was embarking on sweeping political and economic reforms. These needed to be underpinned by a firm research base, and HSE became one of the Russian government’s key thinktanks; university researchers provided (and still provide) vital expertise in policy development in a variety of areas. These features distinguish HSE from older Russian universities. Uniquely, we also systematically adopted the international research university model for the Russian context. That the university was being built from the ground up during a period of economic transition made this possible.

We are frequently asked by representatives from other universities and by government officials from different countries: what are the true drivers of university development? The answer sounds straightforward, but it is very revealing about the ethos of HSE. First, ours is a culture of change and internationalisation. The story of HSE shows that an entrepreneurial spirit and environment, as well as a willingness to take risks, are key features of a university aspiring for excellence in an accelerated manner. It is also important to nurture true openness and an international outlook in all endeavours. Since its founding, HSE University has relied on its strong links with leading European institutions.

My colleagues Ivan Pavlyutkin, associate professor of economic sociology, and Maria Yudkevich, vice-rector and director of the Center for Institutional Studies, conducted a study several years ago that asked faculty and administrators: “What is unique about HSE?” They received a variety of responses, but the most frequently cited characteristics were:

  • shared values of a new science for a new society, as HSE was the first university in Russia to be grounded in the social sciences
  • a model of fast, intensive growth; the university is always looking for new niches and designing new rules
  • an open and competitive environment for both students and faculty
  • multitasking and playing in several markets: education, basic and applied research, and government consulting.

The theme of next year’s Times Higher Education Young Universities Summit, organised in partnership with HSE University, is “local impact, global influence”, and it is well timed. On the one hand, many world-leading universities focus their research and education strategies on meeting the big challenges related to global development and sustainability. On the other hand, research and practice show that demand for even top global universities to be locally embedded is increasing. Large multiversities show that all three dimensions of activity – global, national and local – can be in play. The question is whether governments should promote a specific set of global and local aims for a university’s trajectory, or whether the growth of global competitiveness itself brings benefits for national and local communities.

Our vision is that research, in addressing vital issues, is global – but also directly solves local problems. So, local initiatives are implemented, while education and research are being developed in accordance with international standards. This proves that even internationally oriented universities are becoming more diverse in terms of their basic functions to ensure sustainable development.

We see that all leading universities play an important role in both global and local activities, and that this is not simply a feature of young universities. However, young universities can use this multitasking as their starting point and thereby lay a rich foundation for success.

Yaroslav Kuzminov is rector of HSE University.


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