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No Competition – No Rating
before March 9, 2006

Russian higher educational institutions are verging towards significant changes. Russian Government considers the situation when all school graduates are admitted to higher educational institutions (HEI) to be abnormal. Labour market annually demands 500-600 thousand of professionals, while HEI train twice as much. Meanwhile Russia is among the world's top ten countries according to its budgetary financed students - 206 per every ten thousand people. The issue of budget expenses reduction arises naturally, but the process of reduction should be as painless as possible, because Russian education employs about 40 million people. Since benefit monetization reform has failed, experts foresee high possibility of massive actions on the part of Russian population. According to the 2005 UN Human Development Index Russia ranks 63rd. This Index makes allowance for such indicators as life expectancy, education and per head income. Russia owes this high position to its education system. However, USSR ranked 40, before it collapsed in 1990.

The reforms, which were deemed necessary to transfer power from the ineffective holder (the state) to effective owner, didn't manage to improve Russia's rating position. Moreover, Russia should make efforts to return to its starting positions. Eventually the Government is forced to carry out the education reform very slowly. The main issue of the reform is what HEI should lose state budgetary funding. What are the criteria for choosing such higher educational institutions from more than 800 ones existing in Russia? Anyway there should exist a rating of higher educational institutions. But HEI leaders aren't going to welcome such ratings. HEI authorities are always unwilling to accept any methods of determining their efficiency. But such rating is necessary; in fact it should determine the level of funding. Russian Federal Education Agency currently lacks the perfect scheme to rate higher educational institutions but, curiously enough, it is the one least satisfied with existing schemes.

Today HEI rating is calculated on the basis of 41 documented criteria. Among them are the figures stating HEI potential and activities. HEI potential accounts for the intellectual component (teaching staff qualification and perspectives and its involvement with academic science), material support (libraries, computers, tools, textbooks and laboratories) and social and cultural context (dormitories, canteens, sanatoriums and sports facilities)

It appears interesting that the rating is based on the information HEI submit themselves. The fact that the submitted figures are documented seems to be a poor excuse for those who accuse HEI of overstating these figures. HEI are rated not according the facts but own statements.

However, rating authors from the Ministry of Science and Education do not recommend to rely on these ratings entirely, but to "use them as the basis" instead. They set a modest mission "merely to inform students" about tentative force distribution. If the rating really works in the sphere of higher education and influences funding issues, its opponents will obviously make all possible efforts to ruin the method. That's why the claims are significantly reduced.

The fact that, despite permanent formula and criteria changes, HIE rankings almost do not change, is indicative. Especially taking into account intensive fluctuations of teaching staff, sponsor investments, growing amount of courses and increased competition among higher education institutions. Is this rating technique really a good idea? Rather a dead one, which doesn't respond to changes in reality. It's also notable that the rating as such actually doesn't exist; there is only a certain HEI's position. The rating as a whole is never referred to, which again proves weak positions of its authors. According to the official method, the rating is no more than an ordinary "heap-and-pile", a soup made of figures, which combines all existing object's parameters. In practice, meaningless total figure of this rating is not the only reason for experts to abandon the method. The main problems are nonlinear interactions of formula components and founded leadership of mediocre contestants. Unfortunately the accuracy of this method cannot be either proved or denied. It is doomed to develop forever. Russian Ministry of Education and Science has chosen the simplest way. But the simplest way is not always the shortest one. The method lacks the idea - that is why it cannot be debated. It can only be replaced by a method that has an idea.

The general problem of HEI activities' rating is that professional training quality of a currently taught student can be estimated only years after he graduates. The ideal scenario looks as follows: experts estimate the graduate's career success according to his position, title or salary, then go back in time and rank HEI according to the average achievements of their alumni.

Then prospective students will view the rating as a comparative average estimation of a certain HEI's graduates' life prospects. But we do not have the time machine. Then, it seems, one should do the opposite thing: find the correlation between current achievements of HEI alumni and formal figures at the time they've studied at the HEI. But this option lacks reliable information criteria.

We can also talk about HEI alumni career prospects - professional and career success, level of achievements. After graduating, former students find themselves struggling and competing for prestigious jobs, promising projects, etc. They don't exist on their own. An employer chooses them out of several applicants. That's why the HEI rating should depend on employer's preferences towards certain HEI's alumni. Here lies the field for choosing the possible criteria. For example, balance fluctuations of employing and dismissing certain HEI graduates. If a certain HEI graduate is replaced by another HEI graduate, we can regard this as an advantage of one HEI over another. If a company develops, we use expansion factor, which levels input and output.

Another example is a vacant position contest. There always appear some vacant positions, which are then occupied by someone. One may just raise the question of company's vertical hierarchy specifying the HEI employees had graduated from. There's no sense in insisting on a certain option, because it will most likely be predetermined by the type of information available.

Anyway, there will always be a local winner in the contest between the two HEI graduates. Since we are talking about one HEI advantage over another, the rating will include only those HEI, which already have graduates and, thus the period of work in the education market would play a less significant role.

In this situation rating calculation turns to ordinary linear equation system solution. What is a "linear equation system" in this situation? If in local contests between HEI "A" and "B" employers have consistently preferred HEI "A" graduates, and in other cases, between "B" and "C" they have chosen "B", then in the rating list first goes "A", then goes "B", then "C". And the gap between them will vary according to their contest advantage. But if "A" stays separate, and "C" is separate too, then our equation system has no solution. No competition - no rating.

So, compiled ratings will reflect HEI graduates' advantages, or, more specifically, employer's preferences. Given linear equation system will have a solution, if a so-called (n+1) equation, setting an average all-HEI rating, exists. If you avoid solving the equation system and set priorities according to employer's polls, then large HEIs will have an advantage due to larger amount of graduates, which lacks objectivity in reflecting a balance of forces.

But this perfectly simple solution has many contradictions. First of all, who will question employers' HR departments? It is a huge piece of work. It requires data survey on many market entities and looks like a serious problem. Now Russian Ministry of Science and Education receives 41 parameter from each of 800 HEI, and it's not the same sort of thing as questioning some thousands of companies. However, if existed, an appropriate state institution could cope with such a task. One more problem is that a HEI graduate from Saint Petersburg will stay in Saint Petersburg, and a HEI graduate from Vladivostok will stay in Vladivostok. If every graduate stays where he lives, there will be nothing to compare. There will be a labour market competition between local HEIs. Of course, that doesn't happen in real life.

The situation that a HEI teaching more students will have an advantage over a HEI teaching fewer students is also possible. If we imagine that two HEI "A" graduates and ten HEI "B" graduates apply for the same position, a successful candidate is likely to belong to the ten rather than to the two. That's why the first suggested parameter is preferable, because it is better adapted to the "occupation of labour market by a certain HEI".

Do we need to take the whole HEI history into consideration while compiling the rating? Of course, we don't. If we consider HEI graduates for the period of 30 years, then they would have an obvious advantage in the competition for a position due to their more extensive working background over graduates of a HEI, which exists on the education market for about 10-15 years. Moreover, we need a dynamic parameter, not a piece of history. That's why market estimation over the recent ten-year period is reasonable.

So we've found the solution to small problem. And what about the grand one? Future students don't care about their predecessors' success. Rating forecast for the nearest five years based on HEI dynamics over the previous period is likely to be the most correct way to solve it. If five years ago the HEI has lost 5 positions in the rating, four years ago - only 4, three years ago - 3, etc, we can predict that in two years time it will reach its real position. We see no problem in extrapolating HEI's evolution over the last ten years onto the next five years. This is the most important parameter for the future students.

Anyway, we shouldn't stop after we've compiled the HEI rating. It is necessary to create rating's secondary scales. We can suggest HEI rectors' ratings based on the HEI's ratings for the moment of their accession and for the current moment, as an example. These data should be published officially. Then HEI themselves would promote only those persons for executive positions, who can really improve the HEI's rating. The suggested parameter is easily applicable not only to the HEI rating calculations, but also to the ratings of faculties and even majors. This method would result in discarding only those HEI, whose graduates are least appreciated by employers.


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