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Education – Higher Education in the Spotlight

December 2, 2013

by Marie O’Flynn

This article explores the relationship between Ireland and Russia within an overall economic context and in particular it explores the significant efforts being taken within the higher education sector to benchmark their institutions globally. The Ireland Russia Business Association (an IEA subsidiary) held a seminar in Dublin in June 2012.  John Whelan, the then chief executive of the Exporters Association said; ‘’The Ireland – Russia Joint Economic Commission (JEC) was set-up to drive the development of the trade between the countries, which reflected the fact that Russia is a strategic European growth market for the Irish companies.”

The Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore T.D. and the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov signed the Declaration for Partnership in Modernisation in 2011. Since then a number of working groups have been established with the aim of promoting the development of trade between the two countries.  First on the list of working groups established to drive the agenda by increasing links and co-operation between Irish and Russian enterprises is in the area of Education and Training. John Whelan emphasised the importance of the new Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the level of trade and investment between Ireland and foreign markets such as Russia, over the coming years.

Given the importance of Education in the JEC, it is interesting to consider opportunities for Universities and Higher Education Institutes (HEIs). While much has been written on World University rankings, it is accepted in HEI circles that rankings cannot be ignored. One worry for Higher Education in Russia and the CIS is that they are falling in the rankings vis a vis their BRICS neighbours.

The International Rankings of the Higher Education Institutions in Russia and/ or the CIS are not high. Two Russian Universities feature in the top ten BRICS Universities in QS World University Rankings in 2009 (see Table I) , Lomonosov Moscow State University (ranked 101) and Saint Petersburg State University  (ranked 168).  Only Lomonosov survived in the top ten in 2013 but fell in ranking to 120. However CIS Universities and HEIs now have to look to an international arena to improve their rankings.

Table I                 Top 10 BRICS Universities in the QS World University Rankings

2013 Rankings

2009 Rankings

Peking University 46 Tsinghua University 49=
Tsinghua University 48 Peking University 52=
Fudan University 88 Lomonosov Moscow State University 101=
Lomonosov Moscow State University 120 Fudan University 103=
Shanghai Jiao Tong University 123 University of Cape Town 146=
Universidade de São Paulo (USP) 127 Shanghai Jiao Tong University 153
University of Cape Town 145= University of Science and Technology of China 154 
Zhejiang University 165 Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB) 163 
University of Science and Technology of China 174 Saint-Petersburg State University 168=
Nanjing University 175= Nanjing University 168=

The Russian government has, in the last month, officially approved the list of leading universities that will receive state subsidies this year. The aim of this initiative is to help improve the image of HEIs in the international arena and their positions in global university rankings. The total amount to be allocated is in excess of US$ 20 million. The ministry of Education conducted a rigorous selection process.  It was based on an evaluation of universities’ development strategies and led to the listing of several of the country’s leading technical universities. Evidence suggests a consolidation of HEIs with Universities such as the Financial University in Moscow absorbing many HEIs throughout the Russian Federation and student population increasing from under 20,000 to over 81,000 in 2013. Similar restructuring is taking place in a number of universities in St Petersburg, with FINEC the lead University there. It may be getting easier for Irish HEIs to foster relationships with relevant HEIs with a view to partnership, co-operation and strategic alliance because of this type of consolidation.

What is now becoming evident is the push towards international recognition of Universities and HEIs in the entire CIS as well as Russia. This week Interfax has announced an International University Rating for CIS, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The key objectives of this project will be to classify universities in the CIS, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, reflecting the variation and profile of the institutions; increasing the quality and competitiveness of universities in these countries; promoting them in global university ratings and deepening cooperation within the higher education systems in these countries. The ranking methodology considers education, research and international activity. Education takes into account reputation appraisals from a panel of international academic experts, reputation appraisals from a panel of international employers and recruiters, and quality indicators for a range of academic activities.

More and more of the Universities and HEIs in the CIS are working towards the Bologna Process. Like European Universities and HEIs teaching is taking place through English particularly in the area of Business Education. The Financial University with which Dublin Institute of Technology has a co-operation agreement has a School (the International Finance Faculty) which teaches almost exclusively through English.

In Ireland the HEIs have been aware of opportunities in Internationalisation and indeed the Higher Level Group report on International Education takes the view that , from an national perspective, the most compelling rationale for internationalisation is the investment in future global relationships, with students educated in Ireland who will become our advocates overseas , with educational institutes that will be the research and teaching partners of the future and with countries that will become Irelands important trading and business partners.

HEIs in Ireland are also conscious of Rankings. In the QS University rankings eight HEIs featured in the ranking series of the top 200 Universities in the world for thirty individual subjects: viz. University College Dublin, University College Cork, NUI Galway, Dublin City University, Dublin Institute of Technology, University of Limerick and NUI Maynooth also feature in the report. See link: http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2012

In the Mac Aleese Report,  HEIs were encouraged to develop and implement holistic internationalisation strategies as an overall part of their mission and functions. Increased mobility of student and staff, international dimension of curricula, international experience of faculty with sufficient command of English and a second foreign language and intercultural competences, transnational delivery of courses and degrees and international alliances should become indispensable components of Higher Education in Europe and beyond.

The challenge:

In comparing the CIS to Ireland the leap in terms of size, fit and strategic partnerships may seem far- fetched. While efforts have been made in by individual academic units and, indeed individual HEIs, there is a lot more to be done. Ireland needs to be nimble to grow and prosper and strategic partnerships at HEI level. This will progress the aim of developing the JEC agenda by increasing links and co-operation between Irish and Russian enterprises is in the area of Education and Training. The Irish Russian Business Association is available to all sectors, including the Further and Higher Education Sector.

While strong links have already been developed in the CIS / Irish HEI space in particular areas, perhaps more should be done to harness strategic alliances in academic disciplines, looking for synergy which will enhance all parties and perhaps even affect international rankings.

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