Academic development includes not only investing into people's professional competences (though it is very important too) but also establishing links, networks connecting individuals as citizens of the academic world. Besides that, it means making them more involved into the life of the institution. In other words, it is a complex development of the academic environment not only at the local level but also as an integral part within the general scope of the global academic market. Atomized actors, even the most professionally competent ones yet not connected to each other within a dense network appear not to be able to create the academic environment of a university.
That is why networking with other universities, both national and abroad, is so important. The approach features mutually beneficial relations: an innovative system build at a university will certainly provide positive externalities. Such relations ensure the transplantation of academic practices.
Let's consider teaching assistants, for example. We weren’t the first to come up with the idea; such practice is common to many universities abroad – we have just built this tool so that it addresses our needs in the best possible way. For us,teaching assistants aren't the mere way to shift partially the professors' routine to the assistants or just to diversify the teaching process with some new elements, which the professors don't often have time for. It is also a way of creating conditions for the students who are interested in teaching to become familiar with the profession at an earlier stage.
Or let's take research centers for young scholars at HSE. There is a high demand for them, they are growing in number, and some of them are being improved to reach higher professional level, expand their scope and start working on new problems. Here we have created a very flexible tool that adapts easily to the changing institutional conditions.
For example, when creating our system of research centers, we didn't try to change the frameworks of the overly-regulated chair system. Instead, we found a new niche not constrained by strict rules and regulations. This is the least conflictinducing form of creating new system unlike commonly used approach where something new is created at the expense of something old while the latter is unsuitable for the new conditions and just tends to hinder changes – exactly because of its old nature. Therefore innovations are all about finding such niches.
To what extent is human factor crucial for innovation at HSE? And to what extent does it relate to the institutions? In my opinion, it is not impersonal, formal institutions that play the major role for us. People are the most vital factor for us; it is people who help us grow in the first place. We engage good people into our team, and generally, they fit in well. That means we are going forward.
Is such an approach risky? Surely. But the worst risk we can take is ceasing development as whenever it occurs the redistribution begins immediately – it is a zero-sum game that causes conflicts. We do have to avoid zero-sum games by exploring new opportunities and finding new niches.