Anna Novikova: ''For the society it is still important the sacred sound of the phrase ''my child is a student at MSU''

A media culture expert Anna Novikova tells about public intellectuals and and other topics

Anna Novikova: ''For the society it is still important the sacred sound of the phrase ''my child is a student at MSU'' Photo: Aleks Galler

Universities still play the role of the expert that evaluates educational services in the eyes of the majority of the society. However, more flexible project groups can gradually take this role from the universities. What changes in the university environment in connection with the development of the digital era — read in the second part of the interview with Realnoe Vremya of media culture expert, Doctor of Culturology, Professor of the Department of Communications, Media and Design at the of the National Research University Higher School of Economics Anna Novikova. Read the first part here.

''The system of effective management in unskilled hands can be a tool for pressing of undesired people''

A sociologist from Kazan Iskander Yasaveyev, having analyzed the situation in the local educational system, concludes that ''the university community is being ''in the doldrums'' because fellows have been translated into effective contracts that require achievement of planned targets. Do you gree with him?

Everyone sees it, it is true, in different universities of the world this problem manifests itself in different ways. Conferences are gathered on this issue. I agree that the university environment is being in depression. But what other environment is not being in depression?

I can't tell that I am an enemy of the effective management system. It is caused by objective necessity, as we have already discussed, in particular it allows to form temporary research groups. It standardizes the rating system and removes the bias, etc. However, there are boundaries, and if they are crossed, then everything turns into insanity. In those cases where the process is reduced to absurdity, there is nothing left. Then people have to go to the place where the management process has not yet been brought to the point of absurdity. The system needs to leave some niches for expert assessment. In that case there will be the possibility of mutual enrichment, exchange of scientific experience, communication, there will be opportunities to decentralize education.

''Any opportunity to be free entails responsibility. If you speak on behalf of a specific university and the program you read is approved at a department meeting, the department shares the responsibility with you. If you do a self-presentation, then you yourself are responsible for what you say.'' Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

Why do we need decentralization of education?

This problem is solved more or less in Europe and the USA and is absolutely not solved in our country. Research centers are in several places, but in the others there is almost a cultural desert. But it should not be this way. With the right approach, the system could facilitate this task. Because if it works, it is possible to select people by some indicators and to launch the process at the new place. Today I see how the attempts to create new temporary teams in Vladivostok are being made, which will ''stretch'' the environment and will develop a cultural space where a local cultural community will increasingly be shaped. This is also a kind of social and intellectual elevators. Of course, the rating system in some sense simplifies this process. But it can also be turned into a repressive measure and in this way to squeeze out those people who for some reason they don't like. This is a great tool for pressing. A great one. Unfortunately, in our country it is very often used this way.

How does the position of the scientist change in the society in connection with this? Is he or she able to influence something? Do they have independence in his statements, judgments, actions?

On the one hand, the independence of the scientist is increasing. Because a much larger number of people now have the opportunity to be a public intellectual. The access to the media is free. You can participate in open lectures, you can be invited to different projects like PostNauka, Arzamas and so on. You can even sit with the phone in your room to record lectures, upload them on YouTube. If you find your audience, you quickly become known. Quite a large number of professors, especially young, successfully use it.

Of course, they are forced to adapt to the needs of the audience, and it's a kind of pop science. But it's not bad. It is good if they continue to do some deep activity and grow themselves and not become just a speaker who voices one and the same things, looking for acute topics. That is, the possibility to be free in your statements increases.

On the other hand, any opportunity to be free entails responsibility. If you speak on behalf of a specific university and the program you read is approved at a department meeting, the department shares the responsibility with you. If you do a self-presentation, then you yourself are responsible for what you say. Accordingly, in the case, if what you say disagrees with the university's position, you may be faced with a choice — either to become silent or to leave in free floating and stop hiding behind the brand of the institution.

''For example, I can do my science anywhere. I need a desk, PC, Internet and library, because at the moment the Internet has everything. Then there is only my intellectual activities and the forms of self-presentation to the society that I choose.'' Photo: iobrazovanie.ru

Is it good or bad?

In some ways it is good. When a person takes on the mission of a public intellectual, of course, at some point he starts to be responsible for himself. It is also depends on a science you do. There are sciences that can be practiced independently. For example, I can do my science anywhere. I need a desk, PC, Internet and library, because at the moment the Internet has everything. Then there is only my intellectual activities and the forms of self-presentation to the society that I choose.

If you can't do it, if you need finance in order to pursue your scientific work, then you need to look for funding opportunities. In the current conditions this can be done through crowdfunding. You can also get a grant, but then you are a hostage of the strategy promoted by the university or the foundation. It uses you, you use it.

Modern technologies give a great choice. I would not say that in my eyes the reputation of a person with PhD is apparently higher than the reputation of a public intellectual, who at some point made the decision to withdraw from the university hierarchy. I'm not going to define the level of his of her expertise by the presence of a diploma — I trust my academic experience more than any document. On the other hand, for the layman it is more difficult to understand the level of an expert than for me. He needs intermediaries, and in this case the university is the mediator that puts the stamp ''approved''.

Could someone else besides the university to be such such expert community?

Probably yes. Now different types of aggregators that examine, for example online courses, are actively forming. They publish courses on their platform and become centers of expertise. They certainly have pretension to approve the qualification of a person along with with universities.

The question of progress today is much more difficult than the question of publication. The problem how to make so that in the sea of information the reader could find its writer has not been solved yet, although many are actively looking for a solution. When this problem is resolved and the society accept it, it will be clearer what role will go to the universities. Universities are fighting to preserve the role of the expert at least in this area. It is still unclear whether the universities will cope with this task or more flexible project groups will take this mission from them. For this, the games between universities and these communities are not enough. It is important whether the society is ready to recognize someone's authority despite the universities. The society is changing not as fast as digital optimists, to whom I refer myself, would like.

''Today for our society it is still very important the sacred sound of the phrase ''my child is a student at MSU''. It is not so important what he or she studies, how much, where, it seems that it introduces him to a certain elite.'' Photo: tvc.ru

At what extent the society is ready to accept the knowledge without the brand of the university? Today for our society it is still very important the sacred sound of the phrase ''my child is a student at MSU''. It is not so important what he or she studies, how much, where, it seems that it introduces him to a certain elite. I often ask parents the question, ''What do you want for the children — them in some kind of environment, them getting a profession or them gaining a set of competences then they can apply in the future?'' I answer myself that I want my child to have a set of competencies, the ability to think and so on. Because what profession he will need – it is very difficult to predict right now, the market of professions is changing quickly. The environment is important, but the family provided it for my children and the brand for me is not so important, more important is the confidence that the child will be given the competences that will help him continue to learn, to adapt to the changing world.

By Natalia Fyodorova