Astrakhan is a country the size of Western Europe, with a population of almost 17 million. This population is quite well educated, a positive legacy from the former USSR; other inheritances are less positive. Great efforts have been made in recent years to reform Astrakhan’s education system to meet the needs of a modern competitive economy.
This review considers how far these efforts have succeeded, and what more still needs to be done, in the higher or tertiary education sphere. The report, therefore, focuses on education at the stage – or level -beyond secondary, including higher professional (vocational) education, but comments on other aspects, notably secondary general and vocational education, where it is necessary and relevant to do so.
The report analyses the main challenges and makes a series of recommendations, structured around the following themes: System structure and labor market relevance Access and equity Financing Improving quality Governance and management Internationalization Research, Development and Innovation System structure and labor market relevance The higher education sector has recently expanded and diversified, but in the years o come, demographic and other changes will reduce the number of students leaving school and put pressure on the viability of at least some universities.
Rationalization of the higher education sector, when necessary, should be achieved by improving quality assurance – so that only deserving and well managed universities remain – and then allowing well informed students to choose the institutions likely to give them the best deal. Fuller, more objective, independent information and guidance should be provided during secondary education to help students make sensible further education and employment choices. Schools should deliver this with input from employers.
A national curriculum should be developed for the 12th year that will equip school leavers in Astrakhan with subject knowledge and skills comparable to those of 18-year-old school leavers in European countries. A new school leaving exam should be developed that enables school leavers to demonstrate the standards of knowledge and skills they have acquired. To meet employer demand for graduates with lower tertiary vocational qualifications, college provision should be expanded and new higher technical schools created.
A number of other steps should be taken to boost the status and attractiveness of college tertiary vocational education, including making colleges part of the higher education system. To ensure that internationally recognized, and form a “ladder of qualifications” with clear progression routes up the ladder, a National Qualifications Framework should be developed, reflecting national circumstances, but capable of mapping onto the recently adopted European Qualifications Framework.
To enhance responsiveness to labor market needs, universities that are licensed and have passed institutional laity accreditation should be free to decide, without seeking MOMS’ permission, what subjects/courses to offer, how many places to offer in each, and what syllabuses to teach, provided they have consulted the relevant employers, who agree on the need for the courses and will help design and quality assure them. Universities should be free to withdraw or modify courses if employer or student demand dries up.
Close relationships with and involvement of employers should be one of the criteria for institutional accreditation. An independent statistical system should be used to establish graduates’ success in finding employment. To enhance transparency, accredited universities should also be free to award their own degrees/ diploma certificates. Those licensed, but not yet accredited, could have diplomas issued either by the MOMS, or by an accredited institution prepared to quality assure and vouch for them.
Accredited universities, whether public or private, offering courses to meet employer endorsed labor market needs should have access to the necessary funding, including for up to date equipment and facilities. If private sources or sponsorship cannot be found, the state should make funds available. To assure equity of access and better quality of education for the less well-off and for children in remote rural areas: Incentives should be developed to attract better educated and highly motivated teachers to remote areas, including those who can teach higher grades to the depth needed to enter and succeed at university.
Provision of fast and reliable Internet access to all higher education institutions and their students should be reviewed and accelerated. Meanwhile, Astrakhan could borrow from the experience of Russia in developing new generation learning and teacher training materials for delivery using CT. Better career information and guidance during secondary education, as recommended, would greatly improve the situation of pupils whose family backgrounds or geographical location make it difficult for them to make informed choices about their educational or labor market opportunities.
Individual universities should be encouraged to earmark more grants for disadvantaged students in their areas. Mobility and flexibility should be encouraged by providing opportunities for students to change focus within their chosen discipline or to change institutions where appropriate. The experience of Finland and Korea – Mounties that have scored highly in COED PISA assessments and manage to combine excellent academic results with equitable treatment for all – should be studied to find lessons for Astrakhan.
Resource manipulation maximize the efficiency and equity impact of the voucher system, it would be desirable to increase the tertiary education budget, thereby reaching a greater share of the total student population. Funding for research needs also to increase. Most research funding should be allocated to research teams and projects on a competitive basis, with independent peer reviewing of research proposals.
Resource allocation It would be advisable to separate clearly the voucher and scholarship elements of the education grant, by establishing a distinct scholarship fund to attract students into study programs of high national or regional priority. Resource utilization Public tertiary education institutions should be allowed to operate under the same financial management rules as private institutions, including receiving the amount corresponding to the education grants and other government subsidies in the form of a block grant that can be used flexibly within the context of sound financial management practices.
Taxation regulations should be equal for all tertiary education institutions. All tertiary education institutions should manage their resources according to standard and transparent accounting practices, and prepare annual financial reports that would be audited independently. Equity considerations There is a need to introduce provisions (collateral waiver, interest rate subsidy, etc. ) to address the issue of affordability of the new commercial student loan scheme for the neediest students.
The government of Astrakhan may also want to consider setting up an income contingent student loan system. This could be more efficient and equitable than the new commercial scheme. In order to ensure an equitable distribution of public resources at the tertiary education level, it is essential to put in place a reliable management information system to collect information on key personal and social characteristics of students (socio-economic origin, gender, rural/ urban origin, ethnic origin, etc. That would be used to analyze the benefits incidence of public spending and guide corrective policy measures The government of Astrakhan should take steps to decentralized existing quality intro mechanisms and move towards a stakeholder based quality assurance culture. These steps should include phasing out the classifier of higher education courses and State Standards, and allowing individual HESS to decide on the courses they will offer, and the contents and curricula for those courses, provided they have proved their competence to take those decisions by passing institutional accreditation.
International experience suggests that, instead of the MOMS or government agencies controlling quality, it is more effective to entrust quality assurance to an independent accrediting agency or agencies with the direct involvement of professional associations and/or employers. The National accrediting HESS that have met the criteria (institutional accreditation). The government’s role should become the strategic management and quality control of that independent agency.
To minimize overlap and burdens on institutions, attestation should be phased out as unnecessary once institutional accreditation is established, and the remaining quality assurance mechanisms reviewed to rectify real and perceived duplication and avoid conflicting roles and goals. A sound institutional accountability and self-evaluation culture and process should be plopped in higher education institutions, including new tools for institutional self- assessment which focus on outcomes and competences achieved, rather than inputs and processes.
The government should provide incentives to encourage institutions It is also important to further develop an independent capacity to gather, analyze and report data on the performance of higher education in Astrakhan; to encourage the use of this information in the development of public policy and institutional decision making processes; and to report on the performance of HESS and the higher education system through the media, the Internet and other means widely available to the public.
The National Centre for Educational Quality Assessment, which does this Job for the education system as a whole, should be made independent of the MOMS. If the Centre does not have enough capacity to evaluate higher education in the necessary depth, a new independent body with that specific role should be set up The review (recommended above) of remaining quality control mechanisms should look critically at whether standard national tests continue to be needed: at the end of the second year (which will, after introduction of the 12th year of schooling, become the first year) and at the end of degree courses.
National tests are inconsistent with allowing accredited HESS to decide course content and syllabuses for themselves, and could be inconsistent with the course outcomes sought by international or regional employers. To improve teaching and learning quality further, steps should be taken to ensure that academic staff should have fewer mandatory hours, are not overburdened with administrative compliance checking reports, have more time to prepare course materials and update their knowledge, and have more funded opportunities for professional development.
Governance and Management All HESS that gain accreditation should be entitled to academic autonomy, and allowed to make their own decisions on introducing new undergraduate and postgraduate courses, on course content, on examinations, graduation standards and certain changes to entry standards. To improve HE governance and bring Astrakhan in line with best practice in developed countries, all HESS should be required to set up governing boards with majority external representation, in addition to their scientific or academic councils; and the governing boards should appoint rectors.
All HESS should have the right to determine academic pay and conditions, manage their own budgets and introduce income generating ventures. The MOMS’ role in the management of HE’s, and controls over them, should be reduced to the minimum possible level. Curriculum Higher education institutions in Astrakhan need to place more emphasis on preparing globally minded, locally responsible, and internationally competitive students. The development of competences required by the knowledge economy should be given high priority by the government, the higher education institutions ND by employers.
Academic staff of HESS should have training and incentives to encourage them to find out about international developments in their subjects and to introduce international elements into their curricula. Participation in the Bologna process should be seen as a unique opportunity to learn about the content of other countries’ higher education courses, and adapt courses in Astrakhan HESS to include international elements. In addition, when curricula are updated, the opportunity should be taken to include an international dimension when appropriate. Second language
Astrakhan needs to raise English language competence among its higher education graduates. This should be done in addition to the current programs aimed at providing language competencies in Russian and Khaki. An internationally functional command of a second and third language should be emphasized, beginning in earlier levels of education so that only reinforcement is necessary at the higher education level. Student and academic staff mobility Astrakhan could benefit by dramatically increasing the international mobility of students and academic staff.
More outgoing and incoming students and professors loud be highly instrumental in the internationalization of HE’s, and would, in the long run, contribute to the improved competitiveness of the country. It is advisable to increase funding for student and academic staff mobility, including the development of cost recovery mechanisms and the implementation of partnerships with employers and interested international organizations. It is highly recommended to increase the number of international students and academic staff in higher education institutions in Astrakhan. This requires more international dissemination of information about
HE’s’ capabilities and offerings, as well as more reciprocal agreements, more matching funding programs, more initiatives to support the hosting of top level professors and researchers from abroad and further development of HE’s’ administrative capacity to support international activity. International higher education providers A quality control mechanism should be established and enforced, to ensure that programs offered by international providers of higher education are of appropriate quality and that foreign providers have to meet the same standards and conditions as national providers, in practice as well as in law.
Research At the national level including through participation in bodies advising government. This will help to strengthen research in universities, integrate research and teaching, and link research, innovation and educational policies. Special funding mechanisms should be introduced, to improve the material base, information resources and integration of research and teaching in HE’s. We recommend a new Fund to grant financing on a competitive basis for projects in government priority areas.
A new competitive Fund is recommended to support development of the research potential of the HE’s. This Fund would provide mechanisms for financing the activities of research teams. There should also be a new competitive funding mechanism to stimulate three-party collaboration between HE’s, research institutions and enterprises, and support the transfer of technologies and the centralization of research products.
Laws and regulations should be changed to reduce the current very high teaching load required of academic staff, and give them more time for research. Mobility schemes should be developed to improve the quality, relevance and international orientation of research in HE’s. The schemes would be for both research students and academic staff. They might take the form of industrial internships for Master and PhD students, exchange of personnel between companies and HE’s, consulting services to local companies from HE staff, and international exchanges.
To encourage individual researchers from all sectors to participate in applied research, technology transfer and the development of new products, their share in the profits from realized new products should be substantially increased and any legal obstacles to this removed. To facilitate the centralization of research products, HESS should be granted the eight to establish spin-off companies. These companies will bring together HE’s, individual researchers and private capital in the development of new products.
The Committee for Supervision and Attestation should revise its requirements for higher scientific degrees and academic titles, to give more weight to the publication of scientific papers in reputed international Journals. The Bolas Scholarship Programmer should offer more of its places to science and technology students (including those studying for higher degrees) in areas identified as national priorities, including nuclear studies, space research and technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and oil and gas technologies.
At institutional level HESS should take account of research output, quality and publications in reputed international Journals, when deciding which academic staff to promote. HESS should encourage their academic staff to participate in national and international competitions for research grants. Most of the funding should go to the research teams. The Techno parks should extend their functions and offer services to researchers that would facilitate the transfer of technologies and centralization f research products.
In order to reduce the teaching load of the academic staff without increasing costs, HESS may wish to introduce a modular structure of course delivery. HESS should make it a priority to dramatically improve information resources for both academic staff and students. They should subscribe to the most important Internet based information resources – databases such as 1ST Web of Knowledge and knowledge. They should ensure that there are enough computers, with fast Internet access, to meet the study and research needs of all staff and students.