Vladimir Mau: Education as an investment – what this means for the individual, society and state

15 November 2021
Vladimir Mau: Education as an investment – what this means for the individual, society and state

The format of education is changing rapidly. The most recent model treats education as an investment in one's future. Rector of the Presidential Academy Vladimir Mau spoke to Snob about the disadvantages of standard programs and a growing demand for a high-quality individual approach in education.

Education is not a service

To begin with, viewing education as an investment stems from the recent decisions to stop treating education as a service. The President of Russia has initiated the corresponding amendments to the Russian laws on education. Indeed, education is not a service. For a teacher, a professor, it is more of a ministry. For a responsible citizen, education is an investment in their future. For the state, it is an investment in the future of this country. This is a very important distinction: a service ends once it is consumed; an investment yields a return. In this sense, education is primarily an investment.

Critics of this approach claim that seeing education as an investment reduces teaching to goods-money relations. This is a strange approach for someone who probably has had some kind of education and studying experience.

An investment primarily refers to putting in a certain amount of effort expecting to get a return. This can imply money as well as time and energy. Those who join degree programs – at least at leading universities – are not doing it to have a good time on campus. They count on a result – an effect from the effort expended.

Incidentally, the state also wants to get a return on its investment in education – a general increase in prosperity, productivity, and culture. For the state, it is also an investment.

Expanding accessibility of higher education

The idea that education is not a service but an investment does not exclude the need to improve the availability of higher education and government financing. I am actually an advocate of a system that would include universal free (that is, state-funded) university education, one program per person.

The recent decisions made by the President and Government to increase the number of university places for students with state grants are a step in this direction. Over time, we should create a system where every citizen will be entitled to higher education at the government’s expense. This will also be an investment – on the part of the student (they will have to spend time on education) as well as on the part of the state.

Understanding education as an investment is also important for ensuring the continuity of education, because in the modern world, people have to learn throughout their lives. Continuing education largely refers to teaching adults and professionals. They come to universities and – talk of goods-money exchange – pay their own money or use scholarships from companies that agree to make this investment.

It follows from the above that with the growing prosperity of society, private demand for education will also grow.

Once basic material human needs are satisfied, we begin to invest in health and education – both our own and our family’s. Let me emphasize that this will not happen because the state is poor, but because society is prosperous. Moreover, even if universal higher education is achieved, with the government paying for it, private spending on education will continue to grow. People will strive to constantly update their knowledge and skills. Actually, this is already happening before our very eyes.

A standardized curriculum is not the best way

However, viewing education as an investment should not be reduced to parents paying for their children’s schooling. It is even more important to avoid distorting the essence of individualized education. It does not imply any programs imposed externally. Individualization precisely refers to being able to choose your educational trajectory based on recommendations. The President has more than once mentioned the need to ensure such an opportunity in his remarks.

Until recently, most schools tried to individualize educational trajectories – mostly (or even exclusively) by offering elective courses. The more elective courses on offer, the higher the quality of the university. Modern information technologies have expanded the scope for individualization, in particular, such tools as personal and professional skill diagnostics, digital footprint, and artificial intelligence. Importantly, this does not rule out training according to the standard program the student has joined. But it is not the best way to go in education.

It is gratifying that students and attendees who enroll with good universities understand things correctly. As a result, a clear trend has outlined over the past ten years – a growing demand for more complex programs, including those the university finds it difficult to implement. Most people understand that only by expending (investing) effort and time can they get a return in the future – for themselves, for their families, and for their country.



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