The Main Indicator of Education Quality Is the Level of Research
This is what Dr Manoj Sharma believes. At the beginning of this academic year, he became Vice President of HSE University-St Petersburg and has started to supervise the international activities of the campus, from the academic mobility programmes to partnerships with world universities. We spoke to him about language barriers, key tasks, and Russian peculiarities.
— Dr Sharma, you only recently came to St Petersburg, but we greeted each other in Russian.
— Yes, I am eager to learn Russian. Even before my departure, I started taking online lessons with a lecturer from the Moscow campus. I think that the process will go much quicker now that I am in the language environment with all of you.
— HSE University is not your first experience of working with Russia, is it?
— No, it is not. But it is my first experience of working directly in Russia. Previously, I cooperated with a number of Russian universities on behalf of my 'home' university—Amity University (AMT). In Vladivostok, we started a branch of our university at the Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) and organised joint educational programmes for the students. There is a representative office of FEFU at AMT in India as well. I also worked with Lomonosov Moscow State University and the Peter the Great St Petersburg Polytechnic University.
— What kind of cooperation was it?
— We developed joint research, joint conferences, and short-term mobility programmes—these are the three primary areas. We also worked on a double-degree programme with FEFU, but this process is not finished yet. It is not going as quickly as we would like it to; in Russia, many processes related to organisation and paperwork are rather slow. But there is another reason why the project dragged on: the language. We solve work problems with the university staff in English, but the education is primarily in Russian. The Russian language is not the most popular among Indian students, and it often becomes an obstacle. That is why the first task of the joint project with FEFU was opening The Pushkin Centre at our university in India to popularise the Russian language among students.
By the way, there is one educational track which is very sought-after by Indian students: medicine. A Russian medical diploma is highly valued, and students who received such an education in Russia are in high demand in India. That is why my other goal is to show Indian students that Russian universities have other expert programmes and are able to train not only doctors, but other specialists well.
— You underscore that one of the primary areas of focus for you is education internationalisation. What do you personally mean by this term, taking into account your current position at the university in particular?
— Thank you for the question. Indeed, it is a very extensive term. First of all, I understand it as scientific cooperation between universities in different countries—registering and obtaining a patent together, using modern distance learning technologies to give students an opportunity to access world-class experts.
There are three main internalisation work-streams which are important to me and which I plan to introduce in HSE University.
First, 10–15% of lectures on each subject should be delivered by lecturers from partner universities, including top world ones. It gives the students a chance to understand what world standards of education are and get acquainted with the international education experience.
Second, lecturers' qualifications have to meet world standards. We should support lecturers, provide them with internships at partner universities to improve the quality of teaching.
Third is the demand for students. We should strive to make the value of our graduates proportional to the value of graduates from universities in the USA.
There is another important thing. Each country has its own educational system, and the main indicator of how well it works is the level of research. If it is high, it means that the level of partnership with researchers from other countries is high as well. The problem of many universities is that their research is highly localised because, at best, the researchers cooperate with colleagues from other universities in their city or country, but often it is limited to one university only. All of this makes research rather narrow and not always practice-oriented, especially at the international level. One of the internationalisation goals is to provide an opportunity to conduct research with scientists from foreign universities. There is an exchange of experience, we can learn from colleagues, which will take research to another level. Lecturers who take part in such projects are more valuable to students, as they can both share their experience and broaden the horizon of knowledge. As a result, students trained by such lecturers become not only competent staff members in the future, but qualified researchers as well, which is important for any field.
This is a time period when we need to leave a mark on the global landscape. Russia was focused on cooperation with Europe, but now it is time to pay attention to other regions: Africa, Latin America, and the Asia-Pacific region as a whole, which is very favourable for partnership. We can look at the case of India, which is ready to train its students all around the world and welcome international students. We should develop the same thing in Russia: go beyond the local space and the boundaries of the native language. One of the missions I came here with is to show HSE University to the world and bring world universities and international students here.
— Given the current sanctions, how important is it to talk about extending outreach to the global space?
— Let's look at it from a slightly different perspective. Sanctions limit cooperation with countries with a total population of about three billion people—but the global population is more than seven billion people. The population of India alone is one and a half billion people. There is great potential we can work with. Sooner or later, the foreign policy situation will stabilise. But even now, we have various opportunities for international cooperation.
— What would you consider a good result for you in a year?
— I wouldn't like to talk about a single year, as it is a very short period in the international sphere. The world wasn't built in a day. I entered into a contract with HSE University for five years, and I think that we will be able to see the first results in three years. In this perspective, one of the key tasks is to raise the university's position in international rankings, establish new partnerships, and let HSE University enter the markets of new countries with a combined population of about four and a half billion people. We should attract students from these countries.
Overall: enter the global market, work on rankings, and establish significant partnerships.
Besides, I would like to increase awareness of the HSE University brand in the global educational environment, provide students with new mobility opportunities, and develop partnerships with new regions. In addition, of course, I want to help the team of the international office at HSE University-St Petersburg to reach a new level and work even more productively. I want to bring a new impulse to this work.
— On a more personal note, what surprised you about Russia when you arrived in St Petersburg?
— The rich culture and people's kindness touched my heart. I have always thought that Russians are open-minded and kind-hearted. When I came here, I truly realised and felt it. People's hospitality, open-mindedness and kindness were deeply moving. To my mind, our cultures have a lot in common. Now, Russia is my home away from home.
— It is only the beginning of the academic year. What would you wish to the students of HSE University-St Petersburg?
— I want to greet everyone from the bottom of my heart because if they are studying at HSE University, it means that they have already done some serious work. Everyone who came here has already won. Work hard, be happy, and may your studies be good! We are here to help you make your dreams come true. Think of the university as a family. I want to say to all the first-years: Welcome to the family! We will accompany your every step and help you!
Dr Manoj Sharma was born in Aligarh, India.
In 1988, he received a Bachelor's Degree in Commerce at the Aligarh Muslim University. In 1990, Dr Manoj obtained a Master's Degree in Business Administration (MBA). In 2012, he completed his PhD in Education Technology at the CMJ University.
From 2005–2022, Dr Manoj worked as Director of International Affairs and Projects at the Amity University, Noida, and Director in E-Learning at all the Amity University campuses.
- Integration of online learning into the educational process. Received accreditation from EFMD-CEL Belgium. The university was ranked 18th in the QS world university ranking.
- Opened several foreign campuses, micro-hubs in Russia, Spain, Poland and Kazakhstan.
- Successfully coordinated various international projects, including USAID, ERASMUS+, UKERIE, Going-Global, NCP.