Main components of RUDN competitiveness

Main components of RUDN competitiveness

Rector of the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia Vladimir Filippov gives his insight into the participation in 5-100 program, about the university’s outlook in 2020, and RUDN’s rationale for participating in the ratings.

— Any project has supporters and opponents. Some believe that universities strive to participate in 5-100 program only with the aim of obtaining additional funding from the state. What is your position on this issue?

— Well, I would like to compare the above view with our old Russian folk tale, where a soldier cooked soup from an axe that would not be sufficient enough without adding some carrots, onions, potatoes etc. to the axe. It is exactly the same for us. What I mean is: 200 million rubles were allocated to the University for 2016 which is not a considerable amount of money. In fact, it is of little importance for the University.  For instance, RUDN budget for 2015 amounts to about 7 billion rubles. Of these, over 4 billion rubles come from RUDN’s own extra budgetary funds, that we can allot for discretionary purposes. Participation in the project is an incentive for us to make the University stronger and successful in priority areas and increase its competitiveness, because Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia is a priori an internationally oriented university

— One of the tasks of "5-100" project is getting into the top 100 universities in the international ratings. On the one hand, they testify to the results of the University’s activity. On the other hand, critics point out a subjective approach in their compilation, and any change in parameters assessment can lead to unexpected results. Do you think that getting into the ratings is a priority?

— Regarding the ratings the situation is ambiguous. Of course, upward-going in the   ratings  is an important goal for any university, but I would like to emphasize that it is not the main focus. We should not sacrifice our mission. It is not a good idea to close down all faculties and specialties and keep, for example, the Institute of Medicine and the Faculty of Sciences in order to ensure good performance indicators by using the respective fields of study. The main goal is development, especially in the context of our university multiprofiled and multidisciplinary status, and the achievement of the mission the University has set forth.

Nonetheless, we should not forget that RUDN is an internationally oriented university and trains students from 152 countries. We understand perfectly well that parents also take into consideration world ratings, i.e. what kind of university is it, is it included in the top 500 universities in one of the world's ratings or is it completely unknown?

Moreover, a number of countries have agreed to integrate into the world system of higher education. For example, Brazil has proclaimed that within a certain period of time 100,000 bachelor graduates will be offered master or graduate programs in other countries. Ecuador has set the task to refer students only to universities that are included in the top 500 list. Dozens of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America have already agreed not to enroll  students on the state-funded basis to higher education institutions that are not included into top 100. The above ensues the following stand for RUDN: If we do not enter the world ratings, international students will not be referred to us.

— Vladimir Mikhailovich, what parameters should be added to the system of university rating?

— Ratings do not always reflect quality, they are like the indicator of the patients’ average temperature in a hospital. For example, the indicator "the number of Nobel laureates" is brought sharply in the focus in one of the ratings. You know, I' m not sure that the above indicator greatly affects the education quality of 90% of students. A maximum of 5-7% of students at the relevant university are in some way in contact with these Nobel laureates. Therefore, the concept of "average rating" does not mean that there is a very high quality of education in all areas in the above university. Education in the field of Biochemistry, where Nobel laureates prevail might be rather efficient meanwhile in Humanities education may be very weak.

I support not the term "rating", but the term "ranking", when the strengths of the institution are determined for specific positions: education, research. A number of parameters is used to evaluate each type of activity.

I find it very difficult to perceive when different indicators are summed up through some coefficients, for instance 100 chairs plus 25 watermelons and it will make 125. You see, we should not mix up different things. Previously, for example, the indicator for internationalization was 20%, now it is 5%, and it is of just little importance.

It is better when there are many ratings in different fields of study, rather than one rating that summarizes all your activities by indicators and brings it to a common denominator.

— Vladimir Mikhailovich, can you identify the key differences between RUDN 2015 and RUDN 2020 ...

— The paramount thing is to improve the quality of education. In particular, we have scheduled a number of activities.

First, we plan to renew the teaching staff; an effective contract system will come into operation. Second, we will recruit well-known scientists and develop world-class laboratories that will provide a basis for conducting joint research and holding international conferences, for example, in mathematics, chemistry, medicine, physics.

The third change will affect the infrastructure. The construction of a new comfortable dormitory and a block of apartments on the RUDN territory is on our agenda. In this way, we will be able to recruit world-class full-time teachers from different regions.

Fourth, further development of Life Long Learning programs for Soviet and Russian universities’ foreign graduates. It is one of our strong areas, as RUDN now has the largest number of LLL programs (about 2000) among all Russian universities. Annually we earn 400-500 million rubles in this area. We also plan to raise the figure to one billion rubles per year.

Finally we strive to enhance the quality of the student pool. Contrary  to other universities, which now have 5-7% of international students and try to take the indicator up to 20% we have already reached about 30%. It is essential for us to create a system to search for talented youth and to recruit to RUDN gifted students from different countries. One of the methods is the Internet Olympiads. Moreover, we plan to raise tuition fees at our university, even if we take fewer students, we are sure to provide quality assurance. 

— A number of universities are engaged in "5-100" project, which means that in 4 years’ time international students will have the opportunity to make their own choice. What new package of education programs can RUDN offer?

— You know, we have much more opportunities in this respect as compared to other universities.

First, the multiprofiled status of our university allows us to provide fields of study that no other university can offer. For example, space activities: master students are offered a course on how to use the achievements of space activities. Second, we can develop interdisciplinary programs. For example, between Engineering and Sciences faculties, Agrarian and Ecological faculties, etc.

Third, we have international graduates that present a unique resource as they know the labor market and can suggest which specialists are in demand. Thus, using international alumni’ experience we can develop programs that will make our graduates be in great demand among employers. This is most relevant for master's and LLL programs.

— A highly qualified specialist is the “product” of the consistent teacher-student collaboration. You touched on the issue of changes in the personnel policy. However, an effective contract (based on performance indicators) can scare away potential teachers who have great professional experience.

— I understand what is at stake. We should be more flexible when it comes to the contract indicator on the "number of publications". We have made the first steps in this respect. We have introduced a grade system of the positions for associate and full professors regarding the number and status of required publications. A person him/herself can choose a niche ranging from an associate professor-methodologist to a world-class full professor.

It is essential for us to carefully consider aspects of proficiency of those whom we recruit. We should have elicit understanding of what we need from applicants. If there is a good teacher, and we require him/her to publish papers in Web of Science and Scopus journals we are likely to lose a good teacher and fail to reach any desired outcomes. Therefore, a differentiated approach to an effective contract is necessary.

Furthermore, there should be a flexible system of remuneration. It is high time we introduced more criteria parameters according to which the salary could be calculated automatically. Our system provides a bare minimum for teachers and an incentive module, as well. Wage leveling destroyed the Soviet Union. Vladimir Lenin said that in the struggle against the West, the one who had higher labor productivity would win. We have lost to the West to this effect. At the same time, speaking about the teacher’s labor productivity, we can not talk about such parameters as, for example, how much sand he/she sped out with a shovel. He/she should meet other requirements related to labor efficiency. In general, the levelling in the university will lead to nowhere.

— One of the indicators of international cooperation of the university is cooperation agreements and   double diploma programs. RUDN is the leader among Russian universities by the number of joint master programs. By what criteria do you choose universities regarding cooperation, and what are the main lines of action?

— Last decades marked a stage when the concept of network interaction of higher education institutions was just coming into existence. Network master programs, double diploma programs, regulatory issues were also on the agenda. Today RUDN is a basic university of the CIS network university (26 universities), coordinator of the University of SCO (80 universities). There comes a period when we do not really care about the number of universities with which we cooperate. The task is to interact with universities from the TOP-500. To this end we have created the department of international scientific and educational cooperation within the office of  vice rector for research. Our priorities include researchers’ exchanges, development of world class laboratories, internships in foreign universities, joint scientific publications and research. Such cooperation leads to projects that can be financed through international funds.

— What is RUDN student's campus vision by 2020?

— This is challenging as RUDN is in high demand. Due to our university popularity we have a large number of international students. The specificity of Moscow is such that, unlike in Paris or in London, we are not in the position to accommodate international students in private apartments, we have to offer them accommodation in campus. If we want to recruit more students that can choose from a variety of different universities, then it is necessary to create better conditions for them, otherwise they will not come to us. For example, each dormitory room should be equipped with a TV, refrigerator, Internet. Mandatory condition is regular maintenance, cleanliness, security, etc. We have to work in this direction. 

— The reputation of the university, in fact, determines its competitiveness. Is it possible to assess the reputation in terms of money?

— I think we can. We feel the effects of this by ourselves. It is not accidental, for example, that some universities try to compete with us and try to create somewhere in the Caucasus, in Central Asia a university that would have the name "Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia". They do exist, but they have nothing to do with us. Reputation in monetary terms can be estimated by the cost of training and the number of tuition fee-paying students. For example, MGIMO bills a very high cost of tuition, one of the highest in the Russian Federation, and applicants go there because of MGIMO’s brand. 2014 shows that Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia ranks first in the number of tuition fee paying students among thousands of Russian universities (700 state and 300 non-state). Therefore, of course, we evaluate our brand in rubles that we have got, in particular, this summer.

— Summarizing our interview, try to outline the main components of RUDN’s competitiveness in the current context...

— Undoubtedly, these components include human resources, presence of leading scientific schools and infrastructure; the above makes it possible to implement the action plan we have devised.