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Master’s Degree Space: the Global in the Local

The patterns of network cooperation between universities were the topic of the all-Russian conference that was held on April 16-17, 2018 at the A.N. Tupolev Kazan National Research Technical University (KAI).

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This annual large-scale event dedicated to the development of the master’s degree education was organized by the Vladimir Potanin Foundation in partnership with the National Training Foundation. The conference brought together more than 280 participants from 45 cities of Russia — experts, university professors, government officials and media representatives. Traditionally, winners of the Grant Competition of the Vladimir Potanin Foundation attended the forum.


The conference was opened by Andrey Pominov, First Deputy Minister of Education and Science of the Republic of Tatarstan: "Many people might remember the transition period to a two-tier education system,” he noted. “The academic community was discussing whether such changes are reasonable.” It has now become clear, however, that we cannot do without two-tier education. Master's degree programs have become popular among applicants — in particular, in Tatarstan over the past two years, admission to master’s programs has increased by more than 25%.” 

Oksana Oracheva, General Director of the Vladimir Potanin Foundation, spoke about the activities of the Foundation in higher education and recalled its basic principle — competition.  She pointed out the important role of competitions, both for professionals and the organizations employing them, and for the whole sphere:
“By taking part in the competition, a person does more than just address job tasks; they develop personal competences and improves their status.  For a university, participation in a competition is a matter of reputation, because it characterizes the environment in an educational institution as active and dynamic, emphasizes the interest of its employees in development and, ultimately, makes the university attractive to stakeholders.  We are committed to ensure that the competitions held by the Foundation inspire positive changes in higher education.  They often help identify areas that require support." 


Oksana Oracheva pointed out that the potential and the resources of competitive mechanisms are not exhausted: they provide an opportunity for development of the expert community, allow scaling up of best practices and help more accurately identify and frame the problem.  
Irina Arzhanova, Executive Director of the National Training Foundation, said that the two-tier education system has already taken shape and is adequate to the demands of time.  Compared to 2006, in 2016 the proportion between single-tier specialist degree programs and two-tier programs changed dramatically, and the share of master’s degree students increased four times from 2010 to 2016.  “For the whole of the network of federal universities, the proportion of students in master’s degree and research degree programs reached 21.6%,” the expert pointed out.  

Leadership and personal growth in general should be a priority of higher education — that was the key message in the speech of Albert Gilmutdinov, Rector of KNRTU-KAI (Kazan National Research Technical University). 

“Complete helplessness in life, an inability to organize and be responsible for one's work is the main disadvantage of graduates from Russian universities.  The reason lies in the subconscious mindset which needs to be changed.  The goal of education should be to consciously form in young people the basic qualities necessary for life.  People are amazingly uneducated in this area.  They do not understand themselves, other people, the outside world.  Universities are focused on training specialists.  We teach language, physics, engineering mechanics, and the strength of materials, while education should be tooled for molding the student's personality.  Being a professional is a very important part, but still only a part of the personality.  Personal development is also a science that needs to be studied like mathematics.” 


During the panel discussion, Eduard Galazhinsky, Rector of Tomsk State University, reflected on the changing role of universities (and master's degree programs, in particular), and the transforming labor market. “We, universities, must be generators of complexity of the world and we must teach people to live with this complexity. A dramatic shift is taking place, a shift related to aspects of the human personality, environment, infrastructure, and the 'smart economy' is increasingly in demand. Major changes are occurring in competences—the boundaries of professions are blurred, and their depth disappears. There is a demand for a person’s ability to live above the profession, change it while changing oneself, and change oneself together with the profession. The question for a university is how to deal with incoming people who possess no professional education. And here, the role of master’s studies as a special type of programs is critical.” 

Sergey Roshchin, Vice-Rector of the National Research University Higher School of Economics, stressed the extreme importance of the annual conference on master's programs held by the Foundation. He recalled that initially the transition from specialist's degree programs to bachelor’s/master's degree programs was driven by public needs and the changing technologies. "We have drastically changed the structure of education and now we are adapting to it. The share of specialist's degree programs is declining, but so far we are not talking about any superglobal scales. Incidentally, the first large-scale graduation of bachelors took place only in 2015.  The master's degree is an important stage of professional training, completely unrelated to the continuation of research activities and postgraduate studies. It is a sectoral, niche educational product, often offering comprehensive expertise in a particular segment of the labor market. Young people invest in a master's degree in order to advance their future careers and also perceive it as an opportunity to switch. Statistics show that students do not necessarily enroll in the master's degree programs of their home university, while 40% change the area of studies in an effort to obtain additional professional competencies. The vast majority of students combine studies with work. This raises many questions about the structure of master's studies.”  

Dmitry Raychuk, Director of CTD consulting company, gave an overview of the processes taking place in higher education. In his opinion, we are presently observing a transition from the chair-based system of educational management to a curriculum-based, or mixed system. Thus, master's studies are not a continuation of a bachelor’s degree, but an independent, meaningful field. “Bachelor’s degree programs translate previously acquired book knowledge, while master's degree programs involve training through participation in the generation of new knowledge,” he stressed.   

For two days, in parallel sections, participants discussed such topics as the prospects for master's degree program development, analysis of the quality and effectiveness of master’s degree programs, assessment of their impact on the innovative development of the industry and region, the architecture of a master’s degree program, development of socially responsible business and social design in universities and many others.   

On the second day, interested participants could take part in the Projector business game on social design. This was the first experience of a table top business game in Russia based on case studies of actual socially responsible practices of the fellows and grantees of the Foundation.  
For details about the conference, please visit the KNRTU-KAI website

This is the fourth conference on master’s degree programs initiated by the Foundation.  In 2015, the event was held at the European University in St. Petersburg, in 2016, at the Higher School of Economics, in 2017, at Tomsk State University.  


Irina Arzhanova, National Training Foundation.  Institutional Changes in Russian Higher Education.  Choosing a University 

Eduard Galazhinsky, Tomsk State University.  Types of Master’s Degree Programs and the Challenges of the Digital Economy    

Anna Garmonova, National Research University Higher School of Economics.  The Birth of Russian Master’s Degree Programs: the Outlines of a Research Project 

Albert Gilmutdinov, Kazan National Research Technical University (KAI). About the Most Important Training Course, Which Does Not Exist 

Sergey Roshchin, National Research University Higher School of Economics.  Master’s Degree Programs and the Labor Market

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