How Universities in Russia and the U. S. are Working to Improve Quality

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How Universities in Russia and the U.S. are Working to Improve Quality

Vera Gushchina

Voronezh State University

Voronezh, Russia


Stuart Umpleby

The George Washington University

Washington, DC

May 12, 2009

Prepared as a working paper

How Universities in Russia and the U.S. are Working to Improve Quality

Vera Gushchina and Stuart Umpleby

In recent years more attention is being paid to the improvement of education quality by the Russian academic community. This trend is caused by the need to be integrated into the Bologna process (i.e., to comply with standards that are accepted by the systems of higher education in Western Europe, the United States and other developed countries). This causes an interest by representatives of Russian establishments of higher education (EHEs) in European, American and other educational models, their methods of quality improvement and the criteria of evaluation accepted in those countries. According to many ratings of higher education quality in different countries around the world, the first places are occupied by U.S. EHEs. For positions of Russian EHEs in global ratings see Gerasimova (2008). Therefore, it would be useful to get acquainted with the system of organization of educational processes at an American EHE. Due to modern communication and information means I had an opportunity to have a conversation with a representative of an American EHE, Professor Stuart Umpleby(, who is not merely involved in problems of quality at a theoretical level but who also for many years has devoted a great amount of effort to improving the quality of life in the Department of Management (where he works) of the School of Business of The George Washington University, situated in the U.S. capital. He is also a strong advocate of the ideas and methods of quality improvement. He has taught numerous courses and delivered lectures on this topic at EHEs inof Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia.

A virtual dialog with Professor Umpleby was conducted by Vera (1) Gushchina who is Associate Professor at the Cultural Studies Ddepartment of the Philosophy and Psychology Faculty of the Voronezh State University (VSU). A few years ago, she studied under Umpleby’s supervision at The George Washington University(GWU) within the Junior Faculty Development Program of the U.S. Department of State (2).

Q: At the beginning of our dialogue, it should be noted that in a national ranking of American universities GWU is in the 53rd place. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2004 there were 4,236 EHEs (those which grant degrees) in the USA. According to American standards, GWU is in the top group of American EHEs. According to other rankings, e.g., scientific research, GWU is among the top 25 private universities. Therefore, it could serve as a rather high level model of an American EHE.

American education as a whole and higher education in particular is relatively decentralized and independent of government direction. Support for higher education at the state and federal levels appeared only in the second half of the nineteenth century, and a federal Department of Education was formed in only 1980. However, its powers are severely restricted, and under any circumstances one should not argue that it governs U.S. institutions of education. Its powers encompass the following: it develops a policy of federal financial support to educational institutions (its annual budget amounts to $68.6 billion), distributes and traces usage of those funds; keeps statistical data on American educational establishments and distributes results of scientific research. It focuses the nation's attention on key issues of education, prevents discrimination and secures equal access to education (see:

Based on the experience of a particular American EHE one should not make conclusions about the U.S. higher educational system as a whole. However, in the U.S.A. there are many institutions such as a national corporation developing standard tests (Educational Testing Service), accreditation agencies, etc., which secure continuity between different levels of education, as well as relative uniformity of the educational process, including curricula (Luedtke, 1992). Therefore, the educational process and other aspects of a particular EHE's life will be differentiated by organizational rules, courses taught, but, on the other hand, EHEs are part of a single process of higher education and are typical for an American EHE.

Shifting directly to the topic of our interest, quality, the first question I would like to ask is, How long have you been interested in quality problems and how long have you been involved in those problems at the department and at the school?

A: I became interested in quality improvement methods about 1990 after
reading articles in the press.  I began reading books and attended a one
week short course offered by the GWU School of Engineering.  I was
impressed and continued reading. Later I initiated quality improvement activities in my department and later my School (with the support of administrators). Initially I worked mostly with staff – secretaries, people who made copies, etc.  We had some noteworthy successes.  Later, with the support of the Dean, quite a few faculty members became involved in this activity. I wrote an article on what we did (Umpleby, 2002).

Q.: When our EHEs have tried to improve quality, they have established departments (systems, agencies, etc.) for quality. For example, in VSU this department has the name “agency of education quality”. There is a staff here who supervise and direct the activities of other departments – monitoring education quality, strategic planning, and conducting internal audits. Their purpose, I suppose, is to align the EHE with world quality standards in the area of education. As a result, some faculties have been certified as corresponding to those standards. However, one cannot argue that after this procedure something has changed, particularly in a better direction, in our educational system. Moreover, many things in this system remain unclear and cause questions for many of our EHE people.

The activities of that agency staff encompass, mainly, creating forms for documents, and then they audit whether chairs and faculties keep their documents in accordance with those forms (see: Additionally, they have created a number of new documents and report forms, which should be filled in by the faculty for improvement of educational process quality. For instance, they have introduced an intermediate assessment of students' knowledge, which requires additional hours from a teacher to fill it out, as well as preparing of relevant reports, but neither the faculty's teaching load nor the structure of the educational process has changed at our faculty because of these forms in any way. So, the quality effort has become a bureaucratic formality that devours hours from teaching and, therefore, worsens the educational process. I, like many other colleagues, believe that such bureaucratic methods of struggling for quality will not promote the improvement of the higher education system in our country or promote its successful adaptation to the Bologna process.

Because of this I would like to know what are the methods of education quality improvement in the U.S.? Are there any criteria for evaluation of this quality?

A: Quality improvement does require additional time. People need to work not only IN the process (their usual work) but also ON the process (improving the existingusual process) (3). (While I was leading this quality improvement work in our School, I received a small salary supplement from the Dean.) The idea is to train all staff in the use of quality improvement methods. A consultant might be hired to get things started, but very soon people in the organization should be leading the quality improvement effort. Quality improvement is essentially applying the scientific method to improving processes within organizations. People, wWorking in teams, people should be continually experimenting with better methods not add additional burdens (4).

Testing ideas for improvement should be done by the people who work in the process, not by others. The goal is to reduce the time to complete a task, reduce errors, and improve the satisfaction of customers (students and employees), not bosses. Transformation to a new quality level implies a cultural change in an organization and in the activities of its employees.

PHere problems are solved by members of the School, who work through various organizational structures. For instance, at one time there were four committees for improvement of quality in our School (education, research, service, and facilities maintenance). Each had about 10 members. The School has about 100 faculty and at least 50 staff. Staff includes secretaries, people who maintain audio-visual-computer equipment, people who handle admissions, course catalogues, websites, publicity, fund-raising, alumni relations, graduation ceremonies, advising of students, etc. There is a Baldrige Award for education, which serves as a guide. Accreditation agencies have similar check lists (5).

Q: What are the criteria for rating U.S. universities?

A: Depending on the purpose, different criteria can be used. There are different ratings administered by different organizations. Primarily, ratings are based on a combination of average test grades of students admitted tojoining the university, the ratio of accepted students to applicants, the salaries of graduates, surveys of graduates, the EHE's reputation among other EHEs and educational specialists, facultyuniversity researches' publications in leading scholarly journals, etc.

Rating universities as research centers is based on such criteria such as amount of money spent for research from its own sources and received from outside sources, the amount and number of grants from sponsors and alumni, the number of academicians who work at a university, prominent scholars and their honors, and candidates who received doctoral degrees and found jobs.

All universities are trying to move up in the rankings, so all are trying hard to improve.  About every five5 years accreditation agencies independent from the state certify that programs are acceptable.  Deans from other schools do this work, based on data assembled by the university being reviewed. The data collection required in the self-study is a major undertaking (6). A university can have accreditation renewed have accreditation renewed or lose accreditation or be put on probation. Such a procedure is also used for secondary [15-18 years old] schools, if students cannot pass tests on reading and math.

The key to quality in the U.S. is competition, not trying to do one’s best. Yes, people try to perform well as a matterpoint of personal pride and pleasure in a job well done. But the main driver for organizations is competition. Businesses, and universities, must do at least as well as the competition or they will go out of business or decline in rankings or in market share. Cooperation and learning from others is also important. In order to share the methods used by the best organizations a number of national awards for quality in management have been established for businesses, government agencies, health care organizations and educational institutions. The Malcolm Baldrige Award, established in 1987, is the leading national award, and many educational institutions seek to win this award. Even more organizations use the checklist as a guide to improvement.

Q: As I understand, private donations play an important role in funding higher education in the U.S.

A: Yes, people, often those who do not have children, give stocks, bonds, or real estate to universities. They may specify that the money goes for a specific purpose, for example a scholarship for a poor student, or an endowment for a professor in a particular field, or funding to put the donor’s name on a building. Money given to non-profit organizations, including universities, reduces the taxes a person payspaid.

Q: Therefore, thanks to donors and also because of their own commercial efforts (7), a number of universities now have endowments over one billion dollars. According to a recent report, their number has reached 56. Harvard is the richest university. Its endowment totals $25.5 billion. Yale with $15.2 billion is second. Among foreign universities, only the University of Toronto managed to raise its endowment to 1 billion during the previous year. Even Oxford and Cambridge cannot boast similar figures. Unfortunately, in Russia the tradition of private giving to educational institutions has not yet taken root.

A: [something is wrong – different answer but this is in Rus. original – Vasyl – everything is right – just a transition to the internal criteria of quality assessment, perhaps it isn’t very smooth – V.G.] (8). As to internal assessment, organizations choose their own methods of quality evaluation. Correct?

A: Yes. Questioning customers and employees is essential toally important for improving quality of final products and consumer and/or client satisfaction. (9 – the initial phrase was not understandable for me, so I changed it this way). Universities, like other organizations, choose different methods for quality evaluation and its improvement: "Gap analysis" (difference between what is and what is desiredwe want), Six Sigma (control of final product quality), etc. (See: Surveys of students are widely used at universities in the U.S. Among faculty in our School of Business I have used as a tool a we had discussions on identifying and debating of quality improvement priorities (10 – this phrase I have changed).

My students and I use as a tool Quality Improvement Priority Matrix to identify the problems that are the most urgent in the department orand the school (see Appendix).


Матрица приоритетных показателей улучшения качества

(Quality Improvement Priority Matrix)


Показатели (features)






Компьютерное оборудование


Программное обеспечение


Рабочие места (офисное пространство) для преподавателей


Места для проведения конференций и других мероприятий


Компьютерные лаборатории


Копировальные машины




Безопасность офиса


Помощь со стороны лаборантов


Помощь со стороны помощников преподавателей


Ежегодный отдых


Социальная деятельность


Формы проведения досуга


Здание / физическое окружение / природная среда


Оплачиваемые счета


Расписание занятий


Оборудование аудиторий


Наличие проекторов


Наличие каталога курсов


Наличие веб-сайтов преподавателей


Наличие веб-сайтов кафедр и деканата


Наличие сайта университета


Территория университета


Парковка для преподавателей и технического персонала


Парковка для студентов


Наличие периодики в библиотеке


Наличие книг в библиотеке


Возможность межбиблиотечного займа


Координация с другими кафедрами и



Атмосфера поддержки на кафедрах (факультете)


Защита сотрудников заведующими кафедр от вмешательства администрации


Прозрачность процессов


Поддержка поездок (на научные мероприятия)


Фонды для поддержки исследований


Издание серий научных трудов


Помощь в написании исследовательских предложений


Владение студентами английским языком


Общие способности студентов


Оценка читаемых курсов


Ежегодные отчеты преподавателей


Заработная плата




Пенсионное обеспечение


Возможности для академической работы с преподавателями кафедры и факультета


Возможности для академической работы с преподавателями других факультетов


Помощь в изучении ИКТ и программного обеспечения


Стратегический план факультета


Организационная работа на факультете по выполнению его стратегического плана


Использование методов непрерывного совершенствования на факультете


Возможности для практических консультаций в местном регионе


Возможности оказания помощи местным бизнесам/бизнесменам и государственным служащим


Продвижение преподавателей, которые работают по контракту


Gerasimova, E. (2008). “Real grade or ‘anti-Russian conspiracy’,” in Nezavisimaia Gazeta. 18 Sept. -

Luedtke, L.S. (ed.) (1992). Making America: The Society and Culture of the United States. Washington, Forum Series, pp. 282-295.

Umpleby, S.A. (2002). “Creating and Sustaining a Quality Improvement Effort in a University,” in Russell J. Meyer and David Keplinger (eds.), Perspectives in Higher Education Reform, Volume 11, Alliance of Universities for Democracy, Texas Review Press, pp. 31-36.

It would be nice to have a reference on your statistics for endowments.


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