University248_bwPOLITICAL ECONOMY OF UNIVERSITIES is a collaborative research area of the PAST Centre and the Department of Political Science and Sociology of European University at St. Petersburg.

Dr. Mikhail Sokolov, Ph.D. in Sociology, assistant professor, Department of Political Science and Sociology, regional programs director, European University at St. Petersburg.
Dr. Anastasia Kincharova, Ph.D. in Sociology, research associate, Department of Political Science and Sociology, European University at St. Petersburg.
Katerina Guba, Master’s degree from European University at St. Petersburg, junior research associate (PAST Centre), senior lecturer (Department of Sociology, Tomsk State University).
Alexey Knorre, research associate (Department of Political Science and Sociology, European University at St. Petersburg).

The focus of the project is on universities and other research facilities being the playground where different agents interact with each other and try to use academic arrangements to achieve their goals. Among these agents are:

  • students whose goal is to get high-quality education, achieve higher social status, enjoy migration opportunities and student privileges (the ratio may vary);
  • officials those goal is to report successes of the higher education to the higher officials as the evidence of successful implementation of adopted policy;
  • disciplines and other forms of academic classes, parties and status groups whose goal is to feed off academic institutions.
  • university management whose goal is to ensure financial stability of the university and keep their position which requires careful maneuvering around interests of other interest groups;
  • professional experts whose goal is to market themselves to the above actors and stroke their interest, and
  • others

As evident from the above, the project adopts a realistic, non-sentimental approach to studying scientific and university policy which suggests that it is not so different from any other policy. In both instances policy is the domain of self-righteous people, who suspect others of pursuing their own sordid interests, and grabbing as much control over situation as they can.

The project will follow the pattern of the study of American universities discussed in five books listed below. A similar study of Russian universities is yet to come and the project is meant to contribute to the efforts.

  • Caplow Theodor, McGee, Robert. 1958. The Academic Marketplace. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction
  • Jencks, Christopher, and David Riesman. 1968. The Academic Revolution. Transaction Publishers
  • Kerr, Clark. 1963. The Uses of the University. HarvardUniversity Press
  • Cohen, Michael, and March, James. 1973. Leadership and Ambiguity: The American College President. New York: McGraw-Hil
  • Rosovsky, Henry. 1991. The University: A Owner’s Manual. W. W. Norton & Company


  • Modus Operandi of Rankings 

Over the last decade we have witnessed a heated competition among universities to move up their rankings in international and national top lists. The intensity of the competition and the grotesque amount of money spent on it is comparable with that of the football frenzy. However, the mechanics of university rankings, impartiality of the process and the effects of introducing the ranking system have raised many questions and necessitated some research. This project will address the mechanics and functions of the most prominent rankings in Russia with regard to the international experience in studying university rankings.

  • Demand for Educational Services and Economic Strategies of Universities 

Most students in Russia have to pay for their education. At least four-fifth of the total income of the state universities is payments from students, directly or indirectly, in case of state-funded students. Bribes or informal charges may also go into the amount. Universities feed off students, and, essentially, universities compete for students. However, students’ demand remains largely unstudied. This project will examine quantitative parameters of the demand, investigate the demand structure and the factors affecting the market price of educational services. Also, the project will explore the structure of student subcultures that exercise or fail to exercise ‘student control’ over the education system.

  • ‘Academic world-systems’ 

How do national academic systems interact? How does the global academic system affect local ones? Over the last fifty years, different approaches were suggested to understand the phenomena (e.g. Edward Shils’s analysis of center and periphery, the classic world-system theory, John Meyer’s theory of the ‘world society’ etc.). However, these approaches are promoted and used in a very limited number of empirical studies. This project will explore the academic world-systems via social network analysis, using data on student migration, inter-disciplinary collaboration and citation flows. Also, the project will draw on ethnographic study and historical study of local academic communities.

  • Critical Scientometrics 

The focus of the discipline is on practices existing in citation and bibliometrics. Many national academias have already got over the bibliometric fervor. Apart from officially sanctioned efforts to analyze scientific literature, there has been an upswing in amateur bibliomentrics, given that Web of Science and Scopus are available online by subscription. In its eagerness to adopt some elements of Western-style institutional design Russian science goes too far, beyond the boundaries of the original design. Such forestalling may have a negative effect of reducing the credibility of indexes which was never high to begin with.

(a) citation culture and practices in Russia — ethnographic study of citation practices within a local scientific community offers the opportunity to explore how citation is built into scientific communication, infrastructure of citation and the citation-related morals adopted in scientific community.
(b) study of journal systems involved in publication and citation process. Journals are an effective tool of measuring scientific performance using bibliometric methods. Our comparative study includes analysis of the specifics of journal systems and explores what makes them different. This project is along the lines of, firstly, Paul DiMaggio’s institutional studies of organizations and, secondly, studies of classifications by other authors. Andrew Abbot’s work on the history of American Journal of Sociology offers a remarkable example of such study.