«Innovation and creativity is in the DNA of this institution» – interview with QS specialists


The QS specialists Shadi Hijazi and Jacques Faisant de Champchesnel visited SUSU. The company conducts expert and analytical research and annually publishes competent rankings of the best universities in the world. In the framework of implementation of the Action Plan on realization of the Competitiveness Enhancement Program (Roadmap), the QS specialists and SUSU discussed the development and implementation of measures for increasing the University’s reputation in the international arena.

Describe the future of university education. What is the University of the future?

Jacques de Champchesnel: To answer this question we have to look at the role of the university. First of all, this is this specific role of moving from teenage to adulthood. This is this unique moment when an individual is getting some kind of independence, his way of thinking, of living. Unfortunately, it is not possible for everyone on this planet. One of the elements of moving to adulthood is to find one’s way to become employable, to find one’s way to the future and to be part of society as an economic actor. So, universities will always symbolize a move from teenage period to adulthood, but I will focus on the second role. We have to look at the different stakeholders, students and their families, everybody in the university, and employers. What are employers looking at? How are they recruiting? When we talk to families and students, the first thing they are concerned about is, «what is going to be my future»; «what is going to be the future of my son or daughter». And if employers start recruiting in different way saying, «yes, we trust this system» or maybe, «we don’t trust» or maybe, «we are going to recruit differently, we are going to internalize the university» or maybe, «we are going to look first at people with different skills and not only during the university time but all along the life», which means that it is no more this specific time, but it will be as well a different stage of one’s life. You work for a year, and then you go back to university and then work again you get some training. I would say there is always this kind of symbolic dimension, but universities will have to become not only one moment in one’s life but, as it happens already in a lot of different countries, you study, you work, and you get trained again. To become a university of the future, we need to provide the necessary education at different stages of a person’s life and make sure students meet the expectations of employers.

SUSU. Interview with QS specialists

What are the essential elements of modern higher education system?

Jacques de Champchesnel: First of all, the difficulty is in the word «modern». It is relative, we are always modern compared to another period. So, let’s try to limit the meaning of «modern» here; less modern would then be a university with less student mobility and less mobility of knowledge by means of different digital technology. We can see that the content is moving faster, and a good example is MOOCs. When I grew up, education was more national. For the past twenty years, it has become global. Students do not necessarily want to study at university in their home city, region or country, they look worldwide. It is essential to take this into account. With this comes the challenge of language; we have to make sure that we address the diversity of languages. Today English is the «lingua franca». Two thousand years ago it was Greek and then was Latin; and today it is English. If you do not accept it, then it is better to live in a different age. But it doesn’t mean that we must overlook other languages. Languages come with culture, which is the way of thinking, teaching, and education. Talking to the diversity of the student body is essential and it is the key challenge for the university of the future.

Could you elaborate on the opinion that these days it is important for universities to find the right balance between maintaining standards and offering flexible structures?

Shadi Hijazi: I think this is the most relevant question that every university is trying to find the answer today. That is because the university is a means of transferring knowledge from generation to generation, but also finding the solution for tomorrow problems. In our age, we have a new structure coming with online learning and MOOCs. The new technology is changing our students’ mentality today. At the same time, part of what you learn at university is discipline. This only happens in the structure. So, a successful university will always try to find the balance between giving students enough flexibility to be creative and innovative but at the same time tell them, «this is serious, we are preparing you for life and success is not easy». Our traditional structure or normal teaching method can help in bridging the gap between expectations of people who are just focusing on solving the problem and the real life. Every university I am aware of is thinking about how to do that.

Ben Sowter was once asked a question, "Do world university rankings have no respect to publication in local languages?" This question bothers our university as well. 

Shadi Hijazi: To begin with, no, that is totally not correct. From the beginning, QS have decided to use the most widely spread measurement of international research which is SCOPUS. One of the main criteria that we looked at is that it is the best database, that collect articles not only in English, but in Russian, Arabic, all languages. It is the best option for the whole world. We are talking about international ranking. If I am doing a ranking for Russia, it would be very easy to have one scale that I can measure all Russian institutions for. But if I am measuring all universities in the world, I need some authority that measures all universities and have as many local language papers as possible. And of course, SCOPUS use a lot of Russian language journals, but you need to write a small summary in English for your paper so that it is more exposed internationally. We think it is fair to have a comparative indicator for all universities in the world. And second, we think even if you have the most excellent research in Russia, China, Japan or in Arabic countries and you only publish in your local language, then your audience will only be those people who are able to read your language. Today it is a fact of life that English is becoming more or less not the language of culture, but rather related to the international communication. We should encourage researches to publish their papers in internationally indexed journals, so that people from other countries are more aware of their research. We think this is a good mission and we help Scopus achieve it. 

SUSU. Interview with QS specialists

What do you think SUSU should focus on primarily to deliver greatest value to its stakeholders?

Shadi Hijazi: If I can say one phrase and then elaborate, I would say, «SUSU, please listen». SUSU is a university with a great heritage. Decade after decade, it has contributed to the development of this region, this country. It is a very respected university; everybody understands its contribution to science. Sometimes we tend to be very proud of ourselves and forget to look outside. I believe everybody in the university should keep their eyes open to what is happening around to make sure that the university is answering those questions. Professors need to always listen to what are the problems outside and try to solve them with students. The management need to see what other Russian and international universities are doing and make sure that we deliver something better. Study the problems in the region, in Russia, and ask SUSU researchers to focus on those areas. This happens when we start by listening to what is happening outside. Once you open your ears to listen, I have no doubt, such a great university is very adaptive, very innovative, it will help solve many problems of the world today. Start by listening and innovation and creativity are in the DNA of this institution.

Ekaterina Kuznetsova, photo by Oleg Igoshin
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