RANEPA Rector Vladimir Mau: Our job is to help the smart become successful
Three-quarters of students reported being stressed out during the online learning period; yet, almost half of them have eventually adapted to the practice during the pandemic, according to a report written by experts fr om leading Russian universities and commissioned by the Ministry of Education and Science. How can a university make learning comfortable and convenient? Why does one need to specialize in two fields? Why is it not a good idea to choose a ‘promising’ profession? Rector of the Presidential Academy Vladimir Mau answers questions from Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
Dr. Mau, how can we cure student stress fr om the pandemic and online learning?
Vladimir Mau: The various reactions to having to stay at home and study online are a complicated story. What has given them the stress, exactly? Was it the lack of personal contact, or the pandemic proper, and the risk of catching the infection? Or was it that everyone has gone through different situations and some had problems with studying online? Each of these factors is important. But the digital infrastructure is definitely of the essence, and I am referring to homes as much as the university. The availability of broadband internet is not even the issue here; it is one of the easiest things to get these days. But we have many families wh ere several children have to share one computer, and each of them needs to study.
How can this be helped? Students need some equipped spaces they can use to study. Perhaps it's time to restore internet cafes that used to be popular some time ago. Limited opportunities and possibilities for remote participation can be a major source of stress.
By the way, surveys of students and teachers have shown they have actually adapted to the new situation after 18 months of the pandemic. Many have realized that telecommuting could be convenient and did not have to cancel out socializing, just changed its form.
Universities are summing up this year’s admissions period. Have applicants' interests and preferences changed in any way?
Vladimir Mau: Over the past decade, we have seen a steadily growing demand for more expensive and more complex programs – for example, those offering two foreign languages or tuition in a foreign language. There are double-degree courses such as our joint programs with the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology or the Russian-French University programs. Students increasingly view education as an investment that should pay off.
One does not simply apply for “promising” specialties. What is considered promising today might no longer be promising five or six years fr om now
The average National Final School Exam (EGE) score an applicant needs to show to be admitted to RANEPA is growing from year to year. This year, to get a place and a state grant, one had to score at least 94.34 in each of the tests. The strongest competition was for legal and economic professions, management, as well as state and municipal administration programs.
Everyone seems to want to be the boss, don’t they?
Vladimir Mau: No. These programs do not train bosses. They prepare management specialists. Most of it is about a very difficult part of dealing with people, the ability to progress, and to be a leader.
Are there programs wh ere winners of School Olympiads have taken all the state grants available?
Vladimir Mau: Yes, there are more than ten such courses this year. Legal support of national security, public administration and legal regulation (with two foreign languages), business journalism, political journalism, media journalism, politics and business in the Middle East, leadership and management in the global world, and others. Almost all of these fields are interdisciplinary; one-third of them are Liberal Arts programs.
What does this mean? I doubt this is about liberty or fine arts.
Vladimir Mau: Liberal Arts is a multidisciplinary bachelor's degree, wh ere students can specialize in two subjects within one field of study. We would like all programs at RANEPA to develop along this path.
Why is this important? The modern world is defined by technology evolving too rapidly, and the demand for various specialists is also changing fast. Suppose a student will spend the next six years at the university; this means their most promising specialty might not even exist yet when they enter. It is a lost cause to enroll in “promising” fields because by the time you graduate, the situation will be completely different.
How can this be helped? A university’s job is to teach people how to adapt to the challenges of our time, to help them find their niche. I often say – our Academy’s mission is to help the smart become successful. Success in the modern world is associated with the ability to be flexible and adaptive.
Are you talking about the much-hyped ‘soft skills’?
Vladimir Mau: Soft skills are important if you already have hard skills. Marketing yourself is important if you have something to sell. Our job is to provide students with fundamental knowledge that never grows old. The periodic table, the times table, or foreign languages will definitely not become obsolete. Again, the most important mission of every university now is to make sure that graduates are able to identify the challenges of the time and respond to them, constantly learn and relearn. Students have actually realized this already. There is a huge inflow of applications for multidisciplinary bachelor's programs – dozens of people compete for one place. Parents, however, still find it difficult to wrap their minds around it. They keep asking, what will you specialize in? And they are surprised to hear that a student can specialize in several things.
What should one focus on in a multidisciplinary degree program?
Vladimir Mau: The focus should always be the same – hard work. Learning is not supposed to be fun. I often tell students, if it’s too easy, you’re underperforming. You should be interested and engaged and you should work hard – this is the way to achieve the result.
More than 200,000 people join RANEPA programs every year
The key to success is hard work plus an interest in the chosen field. It is important to choose what you are really interested in and put a lot of work into it. If you choose a super promising specialty that disgusts you, it isn’t going to get better in the future. If you are fascinated by some ‘old-fashioned’ ancient languages or ancient history and that fires your imagination, you will be successful in both life and in work.
So parents, please, try not to impose on your children anything that makes them sick. Focus on their interests and preferences. We all make choices, and there can be no guarantees for the future in any case. What is really important is to learn to be a hard worker. I would say it is more important than talent.
How does a university attract new students today? The ‘born with gadgets’ generation has very ambitious demands.
Vladimir Mau: Young people are often accused of not being able to concentrate for long periods of time because of ‘clip thinking’ or ‘clip attention.’ But I believe RANEPA and other universities get the best of the best, with high average EGE results, and they are quite capable of learning. We must always be guided by our students’ needs and interests. But this does not mean that we have to adapt to them. We have very diverse cohorts of students with high EGE scores. And we must provide high quality education to each of them. Indeed, they do not just want a diploma – they want knowledge and future success.
We are vigorously introducing modern technology, but technology cannot solve everything. More effective training should be the main criterion here. However, modern technologies such as augmented reality, computer simulators and models are very important indeed; they are not just a trend, but something that modern education cannot do without.
As I said, remote learning is not a form of education, but a technology that has penetrated our daily lives, and it will not go away when the pandemic ends. We already know from experience that remote participation is highly effective in certain fields. On the other hand, there are programs where face-to-face group work is essential. In that case, online learning formats will play a much smaller role.
You mentioned simulators and augmented reality. How does a virtual lab work for future managers and civil servants?
Vladimir Mau: The Academy has been holding the Russian round of the Global Management Challenge for over 15 years. It is an international management competition among about forty countries. They use business simulators that simulate the operation of a company. For example, a team needs to work out a business development plan for a company for the next five years. In recent years, we have used simulators for managing a region, a municipality, a network of educational centers, etc.
Are you saying a student has a chance to try on the role of the general director of a plant or a regional governor?
Vladimir Mau: Yes, that's right. Typically, they work on the challenge in teams of five – mostly senior undergraduate or graduate students, or adult students. The team uses a computer model to manage an enterprise or a region, and makes administrative and strategic decisions concerning personnel management, finance and investment – all in virtual reality.
Most programs at RANEPA are for professionals who need retraining or advanced training. How do you teach adults?
Vladimir Mau: Indeed, many of our students are adults at different stages of their careers. This is the fundamental difference between the Academy and all other universities in Russia and the world. Usually a university is primarily a higher education provider, which also offers a few retraining or professional development programs. We, on the other hand, focus on those who approach education meaningfully. They do not enroll in a program because their parents said so, or because they need a diploma to get a job. They have made this choice to invest in their development, in their career. These people want new knowledge and new experience. The more advanced the program, the greater the role of group communication and individualized approach in learning.
The first two years of a bachelor's degree program are devoted to building a general background; after that, the further you go, the more individualized your trajectory becomes. Moreover, we plan to transition from just offering elective courses to a more profound strategy using artificial intelligence and taking into account the student's personal achievements and career experience to plan their track.
Personalization of education is a major challenge, and a key task for the next 10-15 years. And not only for universities, but also for schools.
The key question
This year the Academy marks its centenary. How has the school changed over the past 100 years?
Vladimir Mau: Historically, the Presidential Academy dates back to the Institute of Red Professorate, which was founded in 1921. Since then, its names and formats have changed many times, new schools have emerged, and in 2010, they were merged into the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration. But its mission has remained unchanged – to provide education for professionals at different stages of their careers.
When did the school begin to accept school-leavers?
Vladimir Mau: RANEPA opened its first undergraduate programs in 1992, and it was the most significant change in over 30 years. It is important that the adult understanding of education – as an investment rather than a service – is gradually spreading among our undergraduate and graduate students. More than 200,000 people join our programs every year.