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Sep 18, 2017
Honorary Lecture by UoL Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Adrian Smith at ICEF HSE
What is higher education for? Is it a public or private good? Who should pay? Who should decide what is taught and how? What priority should it have over other levels of education? What should be the balance of local, regional, national and international relevance? How should it react to technology-driven changes to the nature of the workforce? How should it adapt to the need for lifelong learning? This lecture examines these and other issues based on the experience of the UK.


Professor Sir Adrian Smith, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of London (UoL), discussed these and other important issues during his honorary lecture dedicated to the 20th Anniversary of ICEF.

In today’s world, higher education is getting more accessible to wider groups of the population, regardless of gender, race or religion. Furthermore, and perhaps even more importantly, we can now witness a shift of focus from the plain transfer of knowledge to its production, thus implying active research activities. All of these processes transform the very nature of the contemporary university.

Universities are now evaluated primarily based on the quality of their research, which naturally results in intense competition among institutions. Moreover, this may ultimately jeopardize the balance between teaching and research, as research generally tends to prevail.

The funding policies pursued by today’s universities are also changing. For example, 20 years ago in the UK, the government allocated money directly to universities, but now it gives students loans, and this means that education, which used to be a public good, is now a commodity that students acquire. Given these conditions, the government is now interested not only in assessing the quality of teaching, but also shaping the curriculum itself, which, in turn, must be driven by several factors, such as demand for specific knowledge on the labour market, as well as the need to address the pressing issues of social development (e.g., "population ageing", water supply, climate change, etc.).

Another factor that affects the life of modern universities is the mobility of both students and faculty. According to recent statistics, 30% of students and 30% of faculty in the UK are foreigners. What are the issues that such intensive academic mobility may induce or resolve? This issue requires more serious research in the UK, Europe and around the world.

Professor Smith also touched upon educational technologies, which have not only transformed the job market but also had a significant impact on the university curriculum, as well as modes and methods of teaching.

The structure of the population is now changing due to increased life expectancy rates and a lower share of young people, and, therefore, universities in countries such as Britain, Russia, Australia, China, etc., will soon have to compete for the right to teach the best and most talented students, including international students, while global companies will be headhunting first-class staff with top qualifications. These are just a few of the challenges that universities will have to respond to in the near future.

At the end of the lecture, the speaker offered answers to numerous questions posed by the guests. This lecture brought together around 300 guests, including students, faculty and researchers from ICEF and other HSE faculties and institutes, as well as visitors from other Moscow-based universities, the University of London and London School of Economics.

Video of the lecture >>