On the way to a unified university: Vice- Rectors for the areas of study
In 2010, as part of an effort to reform the structure of the University and its system of management, temporary posts of vice-rectors for the areas of study were established. Their task was to unite the University’s fragmented resources (premises, equipment, library and information resources, food services, etc.) and organise them so that they could be accessed and used by all students.
Gradually, as the tasks were completed, the need for such powers disappeared, and these positions were abolished.
How has University life changed in the last seven years? What did the vice-rectors manage to accomplish in their areas of study? Let us recall those vice-rectors who worked to ensure that the educational programmes and research were carried out:
- Ilia Dementiev, Senior Vice-Rector of St Petersburg University; Sergey Tunik, Professor of the Department of General and Inorganic Chemistry; and Vladimir Eremeev, Head of the Human Resources Division (they were Vice-Rectors for Mathematics, Mechanics, Control Processes, Physics and Chemistry)
- Vladimir Lukianov, Head of the Main Department for Intellectual Property Use and Protection of St Petersburg University and Marina Lavrikova, Vice-Rector for Academic Activities and Teaching Methods (they were Vice-Rectors for Medicine, Medical Technology, Dentistry and Law)
- Valery Katkalo, Rector of the Sberbank Corporate University (he was Vice-Rector for Geology and Management)
- Yury Fedotov, Associate Professor in the Department of Operations Management (he was Vice-Rector for Management)
- Sergey Bogdanov, Acting Rector of the Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia (he was Vice-Rector for African and Asian Studies, the Arts and Philology — Orders for imposition of penalties: 05 April 2017 No 6798/2 ‘On Strengthening Measures of Control over the Safety of the Property of St Petersburg University’; 04 April 2017 No 6590/2 ‘On Strengthening Measures of Control for Compliance with Legislation on Public Procurements’; 10 April 2015 No 3488/2 ‘On the Application of Disciplinary Sanctions’; 24 October 2013 No 9683/2 ‘On the Application of Disciplinary Sanctions’; 03 April 2013 No 2092/2 ‘On the Application of Disciplinary Sanctions’; 01 April 2013 No 1168/1 ‘On the Organisation of Control over the Execution of Orders’; 28 August 2012 No 8241/2 ‘On the Application of Disciplinary Sanctions in Connection with the Delayed Payment of Scholarships’; 20 May 2011 No 3791/2 “On the Order of 21 March 2011 No 391/2 ‘On the Transfer of Employees to Another Job’”; 28 April 2011 No 2893/2 ‘On the Application of Disciplinary Sanctions’; 09 August 2010 No 1931/1 ‘On Provisions for the Implementation of the St Petersburg University Academic Programme “Arts and Humanities,” Academic Research in Philology and a Reprimand’; 19 April 2010 No 1191/2 ‘On the Application of Disciplinary Sanctions’)
- Aleksey Zavarzin, Deputy Director of the Talent and Success Foundation (he was Vice-Rector for Biology, Geography, Geo-Ecology and Soil Science — honoured with a letter of appreciation )
- Sergey Aplonov, Vice-Rector for Research of St Petersburg University (he was Vice-Rector for Geography, Geology, Geo-Ecology and Soil Science)
- Larisa Tsvetkova, Director of the Institute of Psychology with the assigned responsibilities of Vice-Rector for Strategic Development of the Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia (she was Vice-Rector for History, Psychology and Philosophy)
- Elena Chernova, Senior Vice-Rector for Economics of St Petersburg University (she was Vice-Rector for International Relations, Political Science, Sociology and Economics, and, from the end of 2012, also for Management and Geology; she was also responsible for the St Petersburg University College of Physical Culture and Sport, Economics and Technology, and the All-University Department of Physical Culture and Sport)
Let us recall how it used to be when the deputy deans for academic affairs and their subordinates autonomously drew up the academic timetable at each faculty, as they each had ‘their own’ classrooms. The heads of the departments took care of planning the teaching load in their department, and some of them also participated in setting up the timetable, because, after all, some departments also had ‘their own’ classrooms, which teachers and students from other departments were sometimes barred from using. But they did this, first of all, for the members of ‘their’ department, taking into account ‘their’ classrooms. And if, for instance, there were not enough large rooms, they could schedule a small room for a large group of students, saying, ’Not all of them will come to class anyway.’ The situation was the worst for teachers from other departments, who were forced to deal with the problems of arranging for classes on their own, without relying on the administrative staff.
As an example, classes for medical students were for a long time sought out in the building at 41 Sredny Prospekt (four or five stops by public transport or 20-25 minutes on foot from their building at 8 21st Line), while there were large classrooms in the building at 7 22nd Line, which was not as far away. Likewise, history students could not even dream of using the ‘philosophers' classrooms’ – the building at 5 Mendeleyevskaya Line was divided into two sections by an iron grille. In those days, sociology students and political science students could not have classes in large rooms in the building next to theirs, since it ‘belonged to’ international relations students. Brick walls divided two parts of one building at 1-3 Smolny Street, which had separate entrances. In order to go to the neighbors’ refectory, cafe or library, you needed to first go out onto the street and then go into another entrance – if they let you in (they each had ‘their own’ guards, and you needed a special pass to get in).
Up until 2010, there was such a notion in the laws on education as an ‘autonomous structural subdivision with partial powers of a legal entity’ (see ‘Can there be “separate units with legal identities” at the University?’). The lack of an effective management model for such a large and diverse structure as the University, the lack of consolidated information about the University’s resources (its buildings, finances, employees, students, equipment, etc.), and the lack of management tools for the heads of the University’s subdivisions (the deans of the faculties) – all of this, together with this provision in the laws on education, led to the "feudal" fragmentation of the University (see ‘Why are there no "classes at the faculty?"’). Following the path of least resistance, the University’s administration was compelled to issue to each dean a general power of attorney for the disposal of funds (both from government and non-government sources), property, personnel, etc. The deans, who had this general power of attorney, could, completely on their own, determine how to spend non-government funds raised from student fees and other sources.
As of 2008, the administration of the University had no idea how many members of the administrative staff there were at the University who had the right to hire and dismiss employees and to appoint salaries, since there was no list of the general powers of attorney (which gave this right to an employee). At that time, there was no precise information on the number of teachers and researchers (at the end of 2008, the figures received by the rector from the Accounting Office, the Personnel Office and the Financial Planning Office for this category of employees differed from each other by 1.5-2 times!). The data on the number of departments, buildings, educational programmes, grants, etc. were confusing. The lack of a unified system for keeping track of the personnel, salaries and other resources undermined not only the unity of the University, but also its economy (see ‘An interview with the Rector: The Rector of St Petersburg University speaks openly about University revenues’, Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 04 April 2011, clause 6).
The University had as good as disintegrated into a number of virtually non-collaborative components. The deans retained ‘their own’ methodologists, laboratory technicians, programmers, cleaning staff, security guards, etc. They spent ‘their own’ money on repairing the premises and purchasing furniture, technical equipment, etc. to maintain ‘their own’ faculty. Neighbouring faculties did not know about the equipment that was nearby, and if they did, they could not use it. For example, almost every dean had their own risograph and rather basic printing office for the reproduction of educational, methodological and promotional materials. The deans spent money on repairing ‘their own’ hostels for ‘their own’ students (see Minutes of the Rector's Meeting held on 05 September 2011, clause 5). They pursued their own policy for accepting prospective students and sent ‘envoys’ to the provinces to attract schoolchildren to ‘their own’ academic programmes. It often happened that such ‘envoys’ ran into and competed with each other in ‘promising’ regions.
The deans managed the property of the University, each according to their own rules. The principles behind the allocation of resources (for salaries, for instruction, or for research) were, as a rule, non-transparent, and the real state of affairs was unknown, not only to ordinary employees but also to the administration of the University. How effectively the resources were used depended not only on the competence of the deans, but also on their ability, while holding a position of trust, to make rational decisions that were not always popular. But even at best, these decisions were good for the faculty, not for the entire University, for its educational or research activities.
How best to consolidate?
During the first stage, the administration of such a ‘feudal’ conglomerate was next to impossible, as was the application of uniform norms and rules. To ensure the proper running of the University in these conditions, the rector appointed seven vice-rectors to administer the academic programmes and research activities in the respective areas of study. They had a common task: to make an inventory of the available material resources, to unite them and to establish an optimal system for their accounting and effective use in the interests of all University students and under uniform rules. This is why, even with the introduction of these posts, it was clear that they would be temporary.
The vice-rectors for the areas of study were not supposed to take charge of the academic or research processes but to get them back on track so that they worked effectively and encouraged academic and research activities, using common University resources: buildings, classrooms, libraries, refectories, equipment and administrative personnel. Out of disparate, fragmented units (each of which had its own, separate services – financial planning, accounting, personnel, maintenance, academic, research, library, etc.), it was necessary to reconstruct a single University. It was necessary to learn how to live together, as a unified whole. At the same time, under the leadership of the new vice-rectors for activities and new heads of administrative departments or offices, unified, centralised services were being established at the University. Among the first to coordinate their activities were those in charge of academic affairs. This took place under the supervision of Ekaterina Babelyuk, at first the Head of the Academic Affairs Office and later the Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs. It was necessary to gradually develop uniform operating instructions for the academic offices (formerly the dean's offices) that would be acceptable to all, to form an information system for collaborative work and to do many other things (see ‘The Academic Affairs Department and Students’ Rights: Past and Present’). The new director of the M. Gorky Scientific Library, Natalya Matsneva, began synchronising the work of the library's branches with the uniform requirements of providing students with literature. Accounting departments and information technology services also started functioning according to uniform rules. All this, of course, took place as the vice-rectors for the areas of study worked in concert with those responsible for different activities throughout the University. Once a week, the rector held meetings with the University leadership to develop consistent approaches in all areas.
Such innovations – the introduction of uniform rules and a clear management system, according to which each member of the administration operated within the bounds of established powers – were at first perceived by many as a deprivation of their apparent freedom (as if someone were taking something away from them), rather than the establishment of a new system that would be convenient and beneficial to all. They thought that if the dean of a faculty did not operate the maintenance services, the security service, the accounting office, etc., everything would quickly fall apart.
Gradually, however, the attitude toward these innovations began to change as both staff and students saw positive developments:
- Salaries rose (see Minutes of the Rector's Meetings held on30 January 2012, clause 3; on 24 September 2012, clause 2; on 26 November 2012, clause 5; and on 21 January 2013, clause 3)
- University resources began to be used more efficiently (see Minutes of the Rector's Meeting held on09 July 2012, clause 2)
- Eligibility for research funding was extended to all (see Minutes of the Rector's Meetings held on11 July 2011, clause 5 and on 27 February 2012, clause 4)
- The state-of-the-art equipment of the Research Park became available to all (see ‘Research Park: On the road to the future)
- Additional payment for research publications was made available (see Minutes of the Rector's Meetings held on31 October 2011, clause 1 and on 28 January 2013, clause 1)
- Opportunities became available to win a competition and go to a conference or on an internship (see Minutes of the Rector's Meetings held on 04 April 2011, clause4 and on 06 June 2011, clause 11)
- Information about administrative decisions became open.
After a period of uncertainty and apprehension about the innovations, all those who wanted to work at it became fully engaged in developing the new rules.
The first steps
Where did the vice-rectors begin? With an inventory of the available resources. As an illustration of the problems they faced, Doctor of Economics Elena Chernova, Vice-Rector for International Relations, Political Science, Sociology and Economics, noticed that parts of the roof of the building at 1-3 Smolny Street differed: the roof of the international relations department’s section of the building was in relatively good condition, while the sociologists’ attic had basins in it to collect water from leaks, and the political scientists' attic was full of used furniture and equipment, which had either been written off or was old property that was unaccounted for. Each attic was locked with a separate padlock, the keys to which were not at the reception desks, and nobody had any idea where they were (that is, the fire safety regulations were being violated).
There were also three branches of the Scientific Library in the building at 1-3 Smolny Street, and each faculty had its own. In each section of the building, there were fears that ‘strangers’ would come from one of the other parts of the building and break or otherwise damage something. Through the efforts of the vice-rector for the areas of study, a single branch of the library was established in the premises of the eighth entrance for all three faculties: international relations, political science and sociology. As a result, some rooms were freed up, which could be used as classrooms, and the library did not need to order so many copies of the same books and textbooks. Some of the extra library workers were transferred to other branches or the central branch. In three years, due to the pooling of resources, everything was put in order: the attics were freed from trash, the old furniture and equipment were collected and given to a second-hand warehouse, and everything was repaired – the roofs, toilets, heating plants, manholes and manhole covers, electrical panels, classrooms, etc. Moreover, repairs were carried out where they were needed, and not according to the principle of the ‘rich’ and the ‘poor’. Above all, the sociologists, political scientists and international relations specialists (both students and staff) saw the advantages of a shared existence: now they could all use all of the educational facilities, equipment, refectories and cafes, etc.
Similar repair works were carried out in the building at 5 Mendeleevskaya Line, thanks to the efforts of the Vice-Rector for History, Psychology and Philosophy, Larisa Tsvetkova. The roof and sill flashing, interfloor overlapping, stairwells, more than 100 classrooms and other rooms, corridors and toilets were all repaired. Before the stairs were repaired, the grid-iron fences that for many years had separated the historians and the philosophers were torn down. But, as it turned out, invisible "fences" remained in people’s heads. Ms Tsvetkova remembers how she came on 01 September 2012 to welcome everybody back and wish them a successful academic year. She was having a chat with one of the deans, who took her to the first floor and stopped ... right in the middle of the entrance hall. ‘I will not go any further,’ he said. ‘It's not our turf.’
There were no more fences and no more walls, but, at that time, the internal barriers and the old habits persisted.
The inefficient use of the facilities can be illustrated by this true story: one time, right in the middle of the day, the Vice-Rector for the Areas of Study Vladimir Eremeev stopped in at 1 Ulyanovskaya Street, and in the ten rooms that housed the Department of Nuclear Physics, there was not one member of the research and teaching staff to be found... It was only with difficulty that he was able to locate the person responsible for ‘looking after’ the rooms ... As a result, it was decided to clear the premises, to scrap the obsolete equipment that had long since been unused, to get rid of the clutter, and then, to remodel the rooms and give them up to common use.
At that time, the fragmentation was evident not only between faculties, but also within them. For example, in the Faculty of Geography and Geo-Ecology there were ‘departmental’ classrooms, laboratories and computer offices that were used only by the students and staff of that department, and ‘outsiders’ from other departments were not authorised to use them. The contrast brought about by separating everything into ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’ could be vividly seen when you compared the beautifully renovated and smartly furnished offices of the deans, deputy deans, directors of the institutes, accounting offices and personnel offices with the classrooms and the teachers’ rooms, where the ceilings were crumbling and the walls were leaking. The Vice-Rector for the Areas of Study Aleksey Zavarzin had to cope with this when, after assuming his post and taking stock of the conditions in the buildings at 33-35 10th Line and 17 Botanicheskaya Street, he was compelled to direct funds to repair the roofs, gutter systems, toilets and classrooms.
At the same time, despite obvious problems, there were cases when there was no pooling of resources and they were not used effectively. For example, using one building (11 Universitetskaya Embankment), philologists and orientalists continued to rely exclusively on ‘their own’ resources, which were broken down not only into those reserved for the faculty, but even further into those set aside for individual departments.
Up until recently, departmental libraries and departmental classrooms, accessible only to members of the respective departments, continued to exist. Vice-Rector for the Areas of Study Sergey Bogdanov did not organise any joint management of financial resources, nor did he employ a general approach to repair work or a single, uniform approach to the fair calculation and payment of salaries to the academic and administrative staff(see Presentation by Vladimir Kazakov).
In order to draw up a timetable of all classes, it was necessary to gather information about all the rooms available in all the buildings of the University. While doing so, the Vice-Rector for Medicine, Medical Technology, Dentistry and Law Marina Lavrikova relied on the Electronic Schedule Management System, which had already been established at the Faculty of Law (as decided by the Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs Ekaterina Babelyuk, this system later became the basis for the single electronic timetable that has been used by all students and teachers at the University for several years now). Information about the availability of classrooms for medical students and dental students was soon added to the system, taking into account those in the buildings at 7 22nd Line and 71 Bolshoi Prospect. As a result, they began to hold student and academic conferences in medicine and to carry out testing in English for first-year students in these buildings. In the medical branch of the library, an electronic record of the books was gradually built up, as had been done in the middle of the 1990s in the branch of the library at the Faculty of Law. And the reading room in the building at 7 22nd Line became accessible to all students and teachers at the University.
The Phoenix Сentre in the building at 33-35 10th Line, equipped using funding provided by government grants and previously open only to a small group of students of the so-called Baltic University, was opened up to all students, and the technological capabilities of the centre are now used for classes with students in various academic programmes, and also for seminars and conferences.
Large classrooms in the buildings at 1-3 Smolny Street are now used by sociology, political science and international relations students, who can attend lectures at the ‘neighbouring’ faculties. A spacious lecture hall with 450 seats in the building at 21-25 Tavricheskaya Street is often used to hold university-wide events, for example meetings of the St Petersburg University Academic Council or conferences, as are auditoriums in University buildings at 16 Dekabristov Alley, 5 Mendeleyevskaya Line and 7 22nd Line or on the Mikhailovskaya Dacha campus.
Joint meetings of academic councils of the Faculties of Law and Medicine began to be held to discuss interdisciplinary issues. As a result, a master's programme in medical law was developed and opened, with the classes being taught by members of both faculties.
The POMOR (Polar and Marine Sciences) master's programme, developed by St Petersburg University in partnership with the University of Hamburg, was previously almost completely ‘usurped’ by a small group of ‘founding fathers’. In the beginning, three renovated and equipped rooms in the building at 33-35 10th Line were used for classes, and they were kept ‘under lock and key’ (since, for each lecture under this programme, teachers received an additional payment covered by a grant from the German partners). On the initiative of Vice-Rector for the Areas of Study Aleksey Zavarzin, biologists, geographers and geologists with a wealth of practical experience in the Arctic and the Northern Seas were brought in to develop this master's programme. And for the students in the programme, the resources of new joint computer classrooms, laboratories and regular classrooms became available, in addition to the three rooms that had originally been ‘assigned’ to them. Such an approach led to the development of a new complementary master's programme, CORELIS (Cold Region Environmental Landscapes Integrated Science), which since 2016 has been included in the list of academic programmes of St Petersburg University, having been launched in partnership with German universities.
In the last three years alone, the University has introduced almost forty new interdisciplinary academic programmes:
- Geophysics and Geochemistry
- Global Communication and International Journalism
- Public Administration
- Engineering-Oriented Physics
- Information and Nuclear Technology
- Islamic Studies
- Classical Sinology and Chinese Traditional Culture
- Cold Region Environmental Landscapes Integrated Science (CORELIS)
- Media Culture
- International Journalism
- International Sociology
- International Management (with Advanced Study of Chinese, Korean and Japanese)
- Tourist Destination Management
- Hydrological Hazards: From Monitoring to Decision-Making (GOI)
- Organisation of Tourist Activities (with Advanced Study of the Chinese Language)
- Political Conflictology
- Legal Support of Competition
- Applied Information Technology, Information Expert Systems
- Applied, Computer and Computational Linguistics (English)
- Applied Mathematics and Computer Science
- Applied Mathematics and Computer Science in Problems of Medical Diagnosis
- Applied Mathematics and Computer Science in Problems of Digital Control
- Professional Speech Activity in Mass Media
- Russian Region Studies
- Russian Studies
- Russia and China in Contemporary World Politics
- Contemporary China: Economics, Politics, Society
- Physical Oceanography and Bioproductivity of the Oceans and Seas (PHOBOS)
- Chemistry, Physics and Material Mechanics
- Economics (with Advanced Study of the Economy of China and the Chinese Language)
- Economic and Mathematical Methods
- Ethnopolitical Processes in Contemporary Russia and the World
- Laws (with Advanced Study of the Chinese Language and the Law of the PRC)
- Lawyer in the Field of the Financial Market (Financial Lawyer)
One of the main priorities of the vice-rectors for the areas of study was to find competent people to work in the University administration. Up until this time, each faculty had had its own personnel department, accounting department, academic registry, purchasing department, technical support, etc., all of which were answerable to the dean. In the middle of 2010, when Elena Chernova was appointed Vice-Rector for International Relations, Political Science, Sociology and Economics, there were 459 people working in the administrative services of the four faculties. By the end of 2013, the number of employees had decreased by 15 percent. This came about as a result of reorganisation: for example, instead of four accounting offices (each with its own head!), there was now only one – the centralised accounting office of St Petersburg University. The same thing happened in other administrative units. During this transition period, a system of dual subordination was established for the staff members. On the one hand: those who worked in the accounting office were answerable to the University’s chief accountant, those who worked in the HR office, to the head of the University’s HR division, etc. On the other hand, all of them were answerable to the vice-rector for the areas of study (in whichever area they were responsible for). Job descriptions were either written or updated for all members of the University administration.
This work was carried out in close cooperation with the vice-rectors for lines of activities, who came up with common rules and approaches to management and to whom all the authority to manage the administrative departments was gradually transferred.
The staffing structure for the housekeeping and maintenance services was brought into line with the estate management standards for the whole University. Previously, for example, some cleaning staff had tended to only 200 square metres (the office of the dean and another couple of offices nearby), while others had been responsible for 1500 square metres. After order was established, the staff was optimised, some of the work was outsourced to cleaning companies, and the number of full-time employees was reduced. Uniform requirements were introduced for employees at halls of residence. All of this work was coordinated by Gennady Vasiliev, Vice-Rector for Material Assets Operation and Development.
The vice-rectors for the areas of study pursued a policy of removing duplication of labour contracts (sometimes referred to as intra-university moonlighting), in one respect (see Minutes of the Rector's Meeting held on 10 October 2015, clause 3 and Minutes of the Meeting with Public held on 07 October 2014, clause 2), and of developing individual labour contracts, in another respect. ‘We put in a lot of effort to ensure that the management of personnel records would be properly done, starting with the gathering of personal files and ending with the organisation of job competition procedures,’ noted Vladimir Eremeev, Head of the General Human Resources Division. ‘Vacancy announcements went from being mere formalities (job descriptions and salaries) to being a tool for selecting the best research and teaching staff. Each of them now contained the minimum requirements to qualify for a position, including a candidate’s research track record, work experience, academic degree, and so on. The introduction of a fresh approach to the organisation of job competition procedures required a great deal from the vice-rectors for the areas of study: a significant amount of preparatory and explanatory work, and also development of uniform rules for establishing job specifications and reformatting the principles of screening candidates.’
Along with this, customised labour contracts with research and teaching staff began to be actively introduced. Each of them listed the duties of a specific position in academic, academic-methodological, research, expert and other work and recorded qualitative and quantitative indicators of how effectively a researcher or teacher was doing their job. For this purpose, both the employee's prior achievements and their potential were preliminarily analysed. It is important to stress that the scope of the obligations assumed by the employee determined not only the duration of the contract, but also the salary.
Salaries and bonuses
Approaches to bonuses also used to vary, with each dean having their own. The criteria were often not explicit, nor were they clear to the staff; sometimes they were given out simply because someone was a ‘good worker’. For example, at the Faculty of Political Science, bonuses from governmental and non-governmental sources were distributed by the dean; at the Faculty of Sociology, it was done at a meeting of the heads of the departments; the economists had a general salary fund, which was first divided among the departments according to the number of employees, and the head of each department meted out bonuses according to their own criteria; at the School of International Relations, there was a system of extra payments (for research, for merit, for work with tuition fee-paying students); the geographers had a system of monthly allowances that worked according to a person’s academic ‘rank’ (there were different amounts for junior and senior teachers). These ‘bonus systems’ were non-transparent and incomprehensible to most of the staff. And the extra payments for the heads of departments differed several times over: at one faculty 4,000 roubles a month was paid out, and at another, as much as 20,000. There were also instances when monthly bonuses were given to a select group of ‘managers’ (the dean, their deputies, the chief accountant of the faculty) using funds received from the payment of students' tuition, and they were substantially higher than the bonuses taken from the same funds that were given to the teachers who taught these students.
The vice-rectors for the areas of study, on their part, introduced uniform rules for awarding bonuses at the University according to evaluation criteria that were the same for all research and teaching staff. These criteria were discussed among staff members, who proposed changes. Priority was given to those criteria that made it possible to assess an employee's contribution to the achievement of common goals and their performance in keeping with the objectives of the St Petersburg University Strategic Plan (and, accordingly, would motivate them to achieve these results).
The proportion of research and teaching staff at the University with an academic degree was to be no less than 75 percent.
In those faculties where the proportion was below this figure, the amount of money available in the incentive fund was decreased. As the objectives of the Strategic Plan were achieved, the payment criteria were changed. For example, in the very beginning, in 2011 and 2012, employees were awarded bonuses for any publications, but later, only for articles indexed in the Web of Science Core Collection and Scopus databases.
An inquiry system was also introduced, with questionnaires. One example: members of the Faculties of Political Science, Sociology, and Economics and the School of International Relations began to fill in questionnaires every three months and answer questions about their academic, research and other activities. This information was reviewed by a special committee, which included two advisers to the vice-rector for the areas of study and two members of the Academic Department. At first, this review was across the board, and then it became selective. Another example: chemists, physicists, mathematicians and applied mathematicians presented information about their research, about the work of the doctoral students whom they advised and about their academic partners, using one and the same information system.
The new bonus system increased the differentiation within the departments. Some people did not receive a bonus, and this caused some discontent. Most of the vice-rectors for the areas of study held meetings with the academic and research staff and explained the principles behind the new bonus system. By 2012, a new, university-wide policy of incentive payments was already being used. The payroll budget increased (drawing, in part, on external funding), as did the amount of incentive funding, which was given out on the recommendations of the deans. The transparency of the incentive payments made the new system clearer to all and did not allow the heads of the departments to use the money for their own purposes.
The rules are the same for one and all
Those members of the academic staff chosen to be at the helm (the deans and the heads of departments) were gradually relieved of administrative powers that were not befitting a scholar (see ‘Freeing up time for development’). These functions were taken up by the administrative departments as components of the overall University administration: the Academic Division, the Curriculum Division, the Research Division, the Financial Planning Division, the Financial Control and Accounting Division and the Human Resources Division. They all functioned according to the same University-wide rules.
The task of assessing the teachers, who were supposed to participate in carrying out the academic programmes, was decided based on surveys of students, who evaluated the quality of their teaching. This information was taken into account when the teaching load was distributed and the timetable was drawn up (see Minutes of the Rector's Meeting held on 17 October 2016, clause 1 and ‘Students influence the quality of education at St Petersburg University’). Academic and methodological committees were formed, composed of volunteers from the research and teaching staff, and they began working in earnest. They understood what was at the heart of the educational process and wanted to change and improve the existing academic programmes (see Minutes of the Rector's Meeting held on 23 September 2013, clause 5). Their efforts were met with staunch resistance from some division heads, who were opposed to any changes. But there was a gradual shift from the principle of "one department – one programme" (or two or three), and at first interdepartmental (as they were called at that time), and then interdisciplinary programmes were set up. The staff of the Directorate of Academic Programmes proposed that new people be put in charge of the academic programmes.
In 2010, after the St Petersburg University Strategic Plan was approved, active development of the Research Park, which operates according to common regulations, began (see ‘Research Park: On the road to the future’). Resource centres were organised for the benefit and use of the entire University community. The most active researchers and teachers engaged in discussions to establish what state-of-the-art scientific equipment was needed and for which research. Decisions to purchase new apparatus followed heated discussions (see Minutes of the Rector's Meetings held on 30 May 2011, clause 3, and on 03 May 2011, clause 4). There were also public discussions of the criteria for awarding incentive payments to researchers who published their findings (see Minutes of the Rector's Meetings held on 17 October 2011, clause 4, and on 24 October 2011, clause 7). In both cases, the University community saw that the rules were the same for everyone, and the requirements were no longer ‘departmental’ but university-wide. Participation in a common cause and in discussions about common interests helped everybody to see common goals and common ways of achieving them.
Starting in 2010, research funding at the University began to be distributed strictly on a competitive basis, on the results of an expertise (and not in the quiet of University administrators’ offices, as before – see Minutes of the Rector's Meeting held on 21 April 2014, clause 6). Since then, every year the funds have been divided up among the so-called ‘events’, depending on the objectives of the specific type of research. Now applications are submitted directly by research teams and study groups. No one needs the sanction of the head of their department or their dean. Selection of applications for research grants is carried out centrally, on a competitive basis, depending on the results of an independent review of the applications. At the same time, the principles of professional integrity, impartiality, transparency of the procedure and openness of the competition results are observed. Back then, most of the vice-rectors for the areas of study put a lot of effort into explaining what was behind the new rules during meetings with research and teaching staff, trying to prove how effective they were. And, sure enough, the number of applications for research grants began to grow, and interdisciplinary research projects also began to develop.
Funds were also allocated for R&D on a competitive basis, drawn from nongovernmental funding sources, which the vice-rectors for the areas of study administered. Competition committees were established for almost all the areas of study and they evaluated the applications that were submitted according to pre-established and clearly stated criteria. The members of such committees did not have the right to submit their own applications for research.
The competition committees ranked the applications, which were then financed from the top down, depending on how much funding was available for each area of study. There were times when some applications were taken off the ‘waiting list’ when they received financing from a centralised fund. This is how it was in the beginning, in 2010 and 2011. Later on a regulation was introduced, according to which those, and only those, who had participated in competition for government funding could apply for financing from nongovernmental sources. This regulation is still in force.
There were no textbooks in a number of specialised subjects (especially for master's programmes). Vice-Rector for the Areas of Study Elena Chernova set up a contest for the publishing of proprietary textbooks. Applications were accepted only in those subjects where the authors had already had previous publications. As a result, eleven textbooks were published in specialised subjects. After that, she held a second contest for the publishing of textbooks, this time in English. As a result, Lexington Books, an international publishing house, came out with Russia, Eurasia and Eastern European Politics, a textbook in English, the collective effort of a group of scholars from St Petersburg University, under the leadership of Natalia Tsvetkova.
The policy also changed with regard to the journal Vestnik of St Petersburg University. New editorial boards were formed, which attracted external scholars from other Russian and foreign academic organisations. This work has proved successful. In 2017, three series of Vestnik of St Petersburg University, ‘History’, ‘Art Criticism’ and ‘Applied Mathematics, Computer Science and Control Processes’, were included in the Scopus database. The History series has also been included in the database of the Web of Science Core Collection (see Minutes of the Rector's Meeting held on 7 August 2017, clause 4).
Our partners’ resources
Each academic programme has its own unique features. For example, in the past, medical students’ practical training was traditionally conducted at clinics (there used to be about 90 of them). This training, however, was based on principles that were not at all in keeping with the legal requirements. Therefore, Vice-Rector for the Areas of Study Marina Lavrikova first of all tackled the problem of what medical equipment was available at each clinic and what our students could learn there. Only then was the question of concluding an agreement between St Petersburg University and the individual clinics decided. A standard contract was devised for the University to use with clinics, on the basis of which agreements were concluded. There are now more than 70 such contracts (see Practical training for future doctors: Past and present).
The ‘external’ resources of the University's partners are also used. For example, St Petersburg University students in the Vocal Art programme have their classes and exams on the premises of the Mariinsky Theatre, as arranged by Valery Gergiev, Dean of the Faculty of Arts. And students of Asian and African studies who are in the Museology programmes take their classes at the Hermitage, as organised by Mikhail Piotrovsky, Dean of the Faculty of Asian and African Studies.
Order was also established at the University through the setting up of academic programmes. For example, in the 1990s and the 2000s, the administration of the University and Sergey Bogdanov, Dean of the Faculty of Philology, acting on behalf of the University, organised projects with sonorous names like the Smolny Institute, the French College and the Canadian College (see ‘What is the structure of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences of St Petersburg University?’, ‘What happened to the Smolny Institute?’, Minutes of the Rector's Meetings held on 10 October 2012, clause 3 and on 04 February 2014, clause 4, ‘Document on the termination of the joint academic programme of the Canadian Christian College and St Petersburg University’ and ‘No traces of the Canadian College are to be found at the University’). On the surface, these looked like programmes launched by the University jointly with foreign partners from France, the USA and Canada. In fact, however, they were the activities of foreign educational organisations in St Petersburg hiding under the cover of St Petersburg University and using University property.
For several years now, the new administration of the University has been working to preserve the long-standing relations we have had with our French and American partners, at the same time explaining to them that these relations can develop only in strict adherence to the requirements of Russian legislation and the Charter of St Petersburg University. We no longer carry out the academic programmes of foreign institutions of higher learning or of other foreign organisations on the territory of St Petersburg University – only our own. The content of these academic programmes is determined by the Academic Council of St Petersburg University, and not by the Board of Trustees of the French College (see Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting held on 15 October 2012) or the Smolny Institute (see ‘What is the structure of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences of St Petersburg University?’ and ‘Is the University going to "defray the costs” of an education received by a “graduate of the Smolny Institute”?’ and Minutes of the Rector's Meeting held on 15 June 2015, clause 4).
Here is a quoted passage from a letter sent by a member of the administration of Bard College, dated 11 June 2010: "I would like to note that there is no mention of the Smolny Institute on the agenda. This is a departure from the previous practice and creates certain difficulties for us. The educational activity of Bard College is determined by a charter granted by the State of New York. Bard is one of the institutions of the educational system of the State of New York. This system recognizes the accredited degree that we give graduates of Smolny every year. In all the documents that we send to the government of the State of New York and the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, which give us the right to award our degree in St Petersburg, the Smolny Institute appears as the place where students receive an education. In the diplomas that Bard has already given to hundreds of Smolny graduates, it is said that they are given according to the liberal arts programme of Bard College at the Smolny Institute, St Petersburg, Russia. Since the agenda gives the legal wording of the Russian bachelor's degree, it is only natural that it should give the legal wording of the degree in the way it is accredited in the US. I would therefore like to propose that the wording of the first item on the agenda be amended to read: ‘Prospects for the strategic development of the international academic programme of St Petersburg University Arts and Humanities and the Liberal Arts programme of Bard College at the Smolny Institute in St Petersburg, Russia’. Letters from US government officials contain similar wording.
These programmes are now carried out according to our University regulations and in compliance with all the requirements of Russian legislation, the University Charter and local University acts. For example, instead of the French University College in St Petersburg (established by the Association of French Universities), which, although they paid no rent, for many years was located on the premises of St Petersburg University, the University now has an additional academic programme ‘The French University College’, which was launched in 2012 and consists of several modules (different aspects of law, history, literature, philosophy and sociology). Unlike earlier practices, which failed to meet the requirements of Russian legislation on education, the University now signs contracts with all of the foreign teachers who are invited to participate in this programme. Each of them is given a work visa, which ensures the proper level of their personal responsibility and the right conditions so that University officials can monitor the quality of their teaching. Just a few years ago, the French scholars who came to teach at the University answered only to representatives of the French Consulate, who also were responsible for selecting and inviting them to St Petersburg (see Minutes of the Rector's Meeting held on 15 October 2012, clause 3). On the part of the University, the following officials participated in intensive negotiations with members of the Bard College administration and representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France: Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Georgii Tolstoi; Professor Vadim Prokhorov; Professor Robert Evarestov; Vice-Rector for Legal Affairs Mikhail Kudilinsky; Head of the Legal Department Yury Penov; Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs and Research Igor Gorlinsky; and Vice-Rector for Research Nikolay Skvortsov.
No intermediaries now
The work of the vice-rectors for the areas of study was analysed and coordinated; weekly meetings were held, during which they specified what the tasks at hand were and how best to achieve them. A system was developed by which the vice-rectors could substitute for each other when any of them were unavailable due to vacations, business trips, or illness. This was done so that they could look at the objectives and the problems from the perspective of the University as a whole.
The temporary nature of the work assigned to the vice-rectors for the areas of study was known to them from the very beginning. Gradually, these posts were cut back, as the University organised the work (academic, research, maintenance, etc.) of officials in the administration who were directly subordinate to the vice-rectors for activities. In the course of these reforms, as new administrative arrangements were tested for the relationships between the deans and the vice-rectors for activities and the divisions subordinate to them, the mechanism of the intermediaries gradually disappeared (see Minutes of the Rector's Meeting held on 10 December 2012, clause 5).
The main result of the work done by the vice-rectors for the areas of study is as follows: the University has become less fragmented and more cohesive. It is functioning according to common rules and developing as a single entity. The diversity of a traditional university is being used for the greater good and for progress in a unified direction.