A Year in History: 2017

Evgenia Kulik, Director of HSE eLearning Office

Number of Students in HSE’s Online Coursera Classes Reaches 1 Million

Evgenia Kulik, Director of HSE eLearning Office


The Higher School of Economics began working with Coursera in 2014. Alongside the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and Saint Petersburg State University, HSE was one of the first three Russian universities to put its courses on a global learning platform. We were pioneers in the creation of massive open online courses (MOOC) in Russia, which is why before launching our first courses we focused on and learned from the experience of leading Ivy League universities around the world.

HSE’s presence on Coursera is connected with the implementation of the university’s general social mission. Above all else, launching MOOC made HSE’s general courses in economics, sociology, and management accessible, and it turned the idea of equal access to a quality education into a reality. It was important to improve the international reputation of Russian education and promote the university’s brand. HSE’s MOOC were in demand among the platform’s Russian-speaking audience, and we treated them as contributing supporters of Russian-language learning and education.

When we started creating our first courses, certain HSE instructors had of course already had experience in creating online classes, but only within the campuses. The first course creators needed consultation, as they had to figure out how this format is unique and what it takes to organise instruction and grading when you have several thousand students. Both then and now we aim to offer the courses of our leading professors, experts, and researchers to the international audience. These are people who are highly sought after for any number of projects, so it can sometimes be problematic working with their schedule and we might not be able to design an online course as quickly as we’d like. Nonetheless, coming up with an online course is a new step in the careers of most instructors. As researchers, they are interested in trying their hand at a new venture and discovering new boundaries for their profession.

HSE’s first course on Coursera was called Financial Markets and Institutions and taught by Nikolay Berzon. This class still remains one of the most successful on Coursera in terms of number of students. Usually only 5%-8% of students finish a course on Coursera, but Nikolay’s class is unique because an average of 18% of students end up completing. When we launched the course, we received a large number of thank you letters with students saying that not only was there a high level of instruction, but the instructor had beautiful academic voice.

The Higher School of Economics is a top-5 university around the world by number of courses on Coursera. We offer students 77 online classes, 34 of which are taught in English. The number of students registered for HSE’s courses totals 1.2 million, which is a 32% increase compared to last year. In addition, 80% of our students are residents of foreign countries (30% for the Russian-taught courses and 95% for English-taught).

The Russian e-learning sector is important for HSE as well. In 2015 the university was one of the founders of the National Open Education Platform association alongside seven other top Russian schools. The project does more than just create high-quality Russian-language content for use by other universities; a network is formed among leading national and regional universities, and organisational, legal, and financial mechanisms are create to make online courses part of the academic process. We hope that as a result this greatly changes the entire market for higher education.

The university actively uses online courses in its own educational programmes as well. In the 2017-2018 academic year, 15% of disciplines’ academic plans are at least partially, if not entirely, taught online. HSE uses 37 of its own online courses, as well as courses developed by at least 45 other universities. Lastly, 11% of disciplines use the English-taught online courses.

Our future plans include continuing to build a pool of online courses and specialisations in English, as well as develop our network of Russian universities in the online learning sphere.