Society № 2 September 2017
Education without borders
The online learning sector is undergoing rapid development. Today, it is possible to remotely earn a wide range of degrees in the liberal arts and social sciences. But with technical sciences, things are still a little different, as these subjects require both theoretical and practical learning.
The value of the world education market is now worth about $4.5-5 trillion a year. At about 3%, the share of online education is still rather small, but the sector is growing rapidly. East-West Digital News, produced by Education International and Global Market Insights, cites these statistics in its study of the Russian online education and educational technologies market. It is expected that by 2023, the online learning market, also known as EdTech, can reach over $240 billion, gaining over 5% market share per year.
America has the largest online education market. However, it is a mature market and its growth rate is slowing down to 4-4.4% per year. Now India and China are leading the trend, where market share has increased by 17% per year, followed by Eastern Europe with the same 17% increase per year. With an increase of 17-25%, Russia demonstrates high growth potential. However, the figure is also a clear indicator that Russia is lagging behind, because the share of EdTech in the country is almost three times below the world average.
Nursery to University
For the time being, startups that provide standardised exams are considered the most attractive (in the case of Russia, the united state exam). According to experts, in the near future pre-school and school education, tutoring, corporate programmes and language courses are the most promising.
On the contrary, the previous hype around the massive open online courses, known as MOOCs, with freely accessible and open-licensed short courses, delivered online (such as Coursera), is dying down. Now these giants are more likely to clearly define their positions by developing more partnerships with universities and corporate courses.
However, today hundreds of universities around the world offer their own online courses. Despite their unique content, many courses are highly standardised. This is because universities often outsource all development and maintenance of their digital courses. This is driving a new kind of industry.
Today hundreds of universities around the world offer their own online courses.
For example, the University of California at Berkeley, one of the best universities in the world, uses the cloud platform 2U for its distance learning courses, like another famous Ivy League member, Yale University. 2U is proving to be a very attractive business model for investors – the market value of the company, founded in 2008, is already in excess of $2 billion.
These kinds of big players do not operate in Russia, yet. On the whole, experts estimate the volume of the education market in the country at 1.8 trillion roubles (circa $54 billion). Of these, only 1.1%, or less than $600 million, is in online education. In absolute terms, the figures speak for themselves, although the trajectory is quite positive (in five years the online sector’s share is expected to grow to 2.6%, almost the global average).
In October 2016, the government launched the Modern Digital Educational Environment campaign. According to this campaign, by 2025 Russia is to generate 4,000 online courses. When implementing the project, organisations should learn from other successful Russian MOOCs, such as Lecterium and Universalium. To date, according to research of the Russian online education market, EdTech has established its position in professional training and tutoring for schools and higher education. In 2021 these will remain digital flagships.
One of the primary objectives is to launch online education not only for humanitarian subjects, but also for technical sciences. After all, the training of ‘techies’ was repeatedly considered a priority after the fashion of the 1990s and 2000s for economics and law. Now priorities are shifting, but engineering degrees still seem too tough to many school leavers. The preliminary results of the governmental campaign of this year are in: the number of applications for teaching, foreign languages and journalism has grown. But among the ‘techies’ only IT-related degrees have shown steady demand.
In April 2015, eight leading Russian universities – Moscow State University, St. Petersburg State University, the National University of Science and Technology MISiS, the Higher School of Economics, the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Ural Federal University and ITMO University – founded the National Open Education Platform or npoed. The purpose of the platform is to improve the quality and accessibility of higher education throughout Russia. Today the platform is used by over 80,000 undergraduate and graduate students, as well as by other members of the public interested in learning and development.
Universities are trying different approaches. Specifically for npoed, the National University of Science and Technology MISiS has created nine distance-learning technical courses that will allow future graduate students to test-drive the high level of education at the university, while also earning extra points on admission.
Foundational master degree courses help future graduates not only prepare for admissions, but also better understand which professions they aspire to join, which makes their choices much more measured. With the help of online courses, students develop the necessary skills of independent learning, which can become one of the key competitive factors in a rapidly changing world.
Rector of the National University of Science and Technology MISiS
Digitalisation for the techies
However, npoed still mainly provides individual elements of educational technical courses, instead of offering full degree programmes. This kind of education in Russia is still quite unique. Last year, the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology launched an online master’s programme in modern combinatorics (a branch of mathematics) with a state-recognised degree at the end. The programme costs 250,000 roubles (circa $4,267), and it takes two years to complete. Setting aside the fact that the course is completed digitally, teaching is mostly carried out traditionally and delivered through a series of lectures, consultations, coursework, exams and tests. However, there is no rigid schedule and students independently assess their course material and workload (MOOC on the miptX platform). Only qualification examinations and dissertation vivas require students to attend in person.
According to Grigory Shabanov, the Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs of the Russian New University (RosNOU), many universities forsake online education in the sciences and other complex technical areas of training, putting their efforts instead into delivering courses in philosophy, psychology, political sciences, media, services and tourism.
This is because online education cannot provide every student with the opportunity to develop appropriate skills on real devices and equipment. Implementation of the practical component of educational programmes, such as the development of professional competencies among students, is a serious problem for online education.
the Vice-Rector for RosNOU
Now, technical universities are trying to give students a detailed understanding of the specifics of real production processes. Some of them are establishing partnerships with companies for internship opportunities for their students. For online education this is still an issue, although it can be solved, experts say. ‘Of course, not all technical sciences can be taught digitally. Master’s degrees in technical education involve compulsory research work with a lot of practical tasks and experiments. Some of them can be completed in online laboratories, but simulators of technological processes have considerable financial costs,’ says Elena Savina, project coordinator at the Rybakov Foundation.
Russia is a huge country. And for a resident, for example, of Irkutsk in Siberia to get a degree from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology in Dolgoprodnoe in the Moscow region can be very challenging. Additionally, this distance puts more pressure on students, as they fear the risk of failing to complete their degrees. Given the intensity of technical courses, candidates might be worried about keeping up with the pace of studies. Moving courses online could solve this problem, especially since in Russia over 70% of people are already online. Correctly executed, a switch to online education could lead to a real intellectual breakthrough for the country.
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