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Regular version of the site

Reputation Always Hinges on Trust

On the second day of the conference ‘Education and World Cities 2019: New Horizons of University Reputation’ participants discussed university reputation beyond the rankings, the importance of establishing distinctiveness, as well as the role of international accreditations in the development of universities and business schools.

Reputation Beyond Rankings

The second day’s programme began with the plenary session ‘Reputation Beyond Rankings’. Experts gathered to discuss strategies for managing a university's prime asset―reputation.

A university's position in the international academic rankings is only one of the elements that comprises reputation. Relations with stakeholders are another core element, and the speakers paid this dimension a lot of attention. ‘The most important factor is listening to your stakeholders,’ concluded Mark Sudbury, Head of Global Network Development at the World 100 Reputation Network, at the very end of the session.

Juan Manuel Mora, Vice-Rector for Communications, University of Navarra, presented the first report. He pointed out that reputation always hinges on trust. To improve our reputation, we need to improve our institution's quality. But how to do that? He presented two useful cases―the first was based on the experience of companies, the second one considered the experience of universities.

The experience of companies includes such elements as perception assessment; identification of stakeholders; ability to listen to stakeholders; and, finally, openness to change, considered as a necessary quality of the entire reputation management system.

On the other hand, what can universities teach us? The expert identified the following elements: leadership qualities that top management must possess in order to be able to carry out changes; the need not to be like everyone else, that is, the desire to establish distinctivness; understanding obligations to the community; and, finally, a transparent two-way communication, referring to communication through a university—stakeholders. The expert emphasised that the conference ‘Education and World Cities’ corresponds to the communicative approach.

Maria Yudkevich, Vice-Rector of HSE, spoke about the results the 5-100 project that is aimed at improving competitiveness of Russian universities. Initiated in 2013 by the government of the Russian Federation, the project takes into account the positions of universities in international academic rankings, while creating special conditions in which the Russian universities compete with each other. And this competition has positive consequences.

In particular, she noted that the project has led to a tremendous increase in the quality of Russian research. Since the beginning of the project, the Russian universities have managed to switch from a teaching mission to a research one. They began to cooperate more intensively with each other and with the non-public sector. Yudkevich also mentioned the prominent development in the field of international scientific and educational cooperation—Russian and foreign universities have been developing academic exchange programmes, joint programmes, as well as conducting research.

Moreover, the project has another significant consequence: ‘Universities, which are a part of the programme, are forced to think about their own mission and identity.’

Before that, universities used to be like ‘ministries’—you get money from the government, and you get guidelines from the state about what you should do. You don’t care about your priorities because they are given from outside. Project 5-100 has completely changed this.

A a government representative, Diana Parker, Deputy Head of the Department of University Education in the Ministry of Higher Education and Training of the Republic of South Africa, focused on the reforms the government of South Africa has been taking to transform the higher education system in the country. The situation there is a far cry from what we are used to having in developing countries, and the reasons for this lie in the history of South Africa. 

‘In South Africa, we do not rank universities at all, so we do not have a ranking system. We don’t encourage universities to pursue rankings, even though they do,’ the expert said.  Universities in the country are autonomous. Therefore the task of the government is to develop the efficient tools to support them, not to manage them. One example is the university capacity development programme, which has a collaborative nature—to unite universities in order to solve certain problems in the field of education.

‘The key about rankings is that people are using them. So certainly, international students are using rankings as one of the ways of understanding which countries and which institutions they should be thinking about,’ the Parker said. In this regard, it is really essential for universities to understand what the rankings are and how to interpret them, given that they are based on different methodologies.

Competitiveness and Identity

The plenary discussion ‘Distinctiveness and Reputation’ was opened by Kirsty Lehmusto, Director for Communications at the University of Helsinki. She adressed the topic how universities can solve the issues of promotion and funding when strengthening their brands.

Any university, even one as respected and well-known as the University of Helsinki, needs international rankings to open doors. In telling the world about the university, it is not just enough to talk about its achievements and history, it is necessary to show the country and the city where the university is located, and this approach allows us to emphasise its features.

She explained that although Finland was a small country and they had only one major university, they brought hope for the solution to many relevant problems. The University of Helsinki offers know-how in the field of education, deals with nature protection, creates a clean and safe environment, sustainable urban development, and health.

Every top university needs to be a cradle of new thinking.

Ian Rowley, Director for Development, Communications and Strategy at the University of Warwick, spoke about the experience of cooperation with major international companies, upon whose request they conduct research and predict the development of the market. This activity is a crucial element of promotion and strengthening reputation. 

He defined that often the identity of a university borrows something from the characteristics of the city or region in which it is based. The University of Warwick is famous for innovation and its rich relationship with the business community that grew out of the industrial heritage of West Midlands, the former capital of automotive manufacturing in the UK. The first academic departments of the university helped to solve the problems faced by local enterprises in the 1960s, and this helped the university to be considered to be innovative, and emphasised the difference between the young institution from its senior colleagues, as well as other universities founded in the postwar period. 

Maria Yudkevich, speaking about the experience of promoting the university, emphasised its features: the Higher School of Economics has four campuses in different cities, which is an advantage and a pitfall at the same time. Promotion becomes effective when it is possible to unite all the distributed campuses of the university, while it is necessary to preserve the individuality of each of them. In such circumstances, a creative approach that allows to make a name for itself at the lowest cost to be of great importance.

It is not enough to say that we are among the best universities in the world. Universities need to be able to tell their own story. The art of communication, according to Maria Yudkevich, is what universities all need to learn, as it becomes the basis for making reputation in the modern conditions. Also, it is necessary to understand at what level progress is being made, insofar as the tasks may differ when interacting with the global and local community. Rules can be set within a country, but in terms of the international market, rules can only be adopted.

The goal of any university is to show its strengths and talk about academic success. Communication does not have to be direct; it is not necessary to speak about yourself, it can be done by graduates of the university and its partners who become ambassadors of the brand.

Ratings are not an end in themselves, but measurable parameters to measure progress. The main task of universities is to improve the quality of teaching, develop scientific activities and infrastructure.

There are some things that are directly related to the activities of any university: internationalisation, international cooperation, establishment of infrastructure for lifelong learning, development of the city—from tourism to friendly environment. Cooperation between universities, on the one hand, and competition between them, on the other, contribute to the comprehensive development.

International Accreditations: Challenges and Opportunities

The day ended with a plenary discussion ‘International Accreditation and Reputation: Successful Russian Practices’. Experts discussed the possibilities and limitations of business accreditations included in the so-called Triple Crown. Elena Rogova, Dean of the St Petersburg School of Economics and management, and Yasmina Selimovic, Dean of the School of Economics and Business at the University of Sarajevo, spoke about their experience in obtaining international accreditations, and gave practical advice about organising the processes in the run-up to accreditation.

Dmitry Tolmachev, Director of the Higher School of Economics and Management of the Ural Federal University, presented the study findings on internalisation business schools in CIS countries. According to the analytical centre Expert, the number of international business schools in Russia and neighboring countries is growing very slowly, but there is still a positive trend. Over the past two years, one programme has received EPAS accreditation, and another one has got AACSB, several institutions have been preparing to receive EQUIS, EPAS and AACSB accreditations.

Business schools in CIS countries have been looking for new opportunities to increase their international visibility, and they have been conducting international seminars of accreditation agencies. This activity yields fruit—the gap between schools with international accreditations and other players in the business education market will only increase.

International accreditation has opened many doors for us. For example, exchange programmes with the world’s leading business schools have become possible.

Valery Katkalo, first Vice-Rector and Dean of the HSE Faculty of Business and Management, listed several reasons why business schools should strive for international recognition. ‘Accreditations allow us to look at ourselves from the point of view of a completely different system. First of all, Russian universities are still quite closed institutions compared to, for example, European business schools. Secondly, any accreditation is a great leap forward in the development of modern academic culture, in terms of readiness for external evaluation—both professional and academic—in the international community. Finally, it is important that accreditation always involves a team that values the development of a product that allows Russia to be promoted to the global market. The abilities to promote your product globally through accreditation, strengthen internationalisation and develop partnerships with the best business schools in the world are another remarkable results that any business school should strive for,’ he explained.