Rector of St Petersburg University: "Access to university equipment should be subject to federal regulations"
A meeting of the Council for Science and Education, chaired by President Vladimir Putin, has focused on the implementation of strategic initiatives in science and technology.
In his address to the meeting, Professor Nikolay Kropachev put forward a proposal to draft a regulatory act that would regulate the powers and functions of research supervisors of the major innovative projects of national significance. St Petersburg University will be able to provide support in its creation. Having over 1,600 cooperation agreements with business partners, it is, indeed, equal to the task.
Particular attention was given to the subject of expert assessment. St Petersburg University conducts over 2,000 expert evaluations per year. Expert reports are prepared by experts in particular areas and issued on behalf of St Petersburg University. However, according to Professor Kropachev, there is no normative definition of this procedure, nor is there common understanding on the legal requirements for its implementation. This could sometimes create difficulties. Currently, there are many types of expert activity that are regulated at the legislative level. A general analysis of the regulatory framework in the relevant area does not allow for an unambiguous conclusion about what logic and principles the legislator is guided by when choosing one or another approach in determining the circle and status of subjects conducting expert evaluations and producing expert reports. The Rector of St Petersburg University drew a conclusion that the identified issue requires in-depth research, the results of which may substantiate the need for a systematic review of the relevant legislation.
Nikolay Kropachev added that a high-quality external expert review is also essential to improving the performance of higher education and research institutions.
I believe that the current situation where organisations subordinate to the Government of the Russian Federation are not under the methodological control of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) is wrong. At present, the Higher School of Economics, St Petersburg University, Moscow State University and other institutions have the right not to send their reports and research plans to the RAS.
Professor Nikolay Kropachev, Rector of St Petersburg University
‘We had been sending our reports to the RAS before the relevant orders were issued. We will continue to send our reports to the RAS regardless of whether this rule is abolished or not. We believe that getting an external expert evaluation, especially conducted by the experts from the national Academy of Sciences, we are doing the right thing. In my opinion, this exemption should be abolished for the organisations subordinate to the Government,’ stressed Professor Kropachev.
In his address, the Rector of St Petersburg University recalled that at one of the previous Council meetings he raised a question about the inadmissibility of restricting organisations’ access to departmental resources. Since then, the situation has changed considerably. At present, no government agency in the Russian Federation has set departmental restrictions for participants in grant competitions. Nonetheless, Professor Kropachev noted, the level of fairness of these procedures needs to be improved.
Nikolay Kropachev also underlined that public funding is allocated to universities for research, in particular, for the implementation of research programmes in accordance with the national strategy for the development of science, technology and innovation. The allocated funds, however, are often expended without any competitive procedures and — as a rule, only internally. According to Professor Kropachev, the decision on expenditure of the allocated funds should be made on the basis of competitive tendering open to external participants.
For over a decade, St Petersburg University has been holding only open competitions, in which researchers from Moscow State University and other organisations take part. Almost a billion roubles were awarded to the winners in these competitions for the development of the University and the implementation of its Strategic Plan — not only to the University researchers, but also to researchers from other universities and research organisations in Russia. The results of their work enable St Petersburg University to meet and surpass the University’s Strategic Plan indicators.
Professor Nikolay Kropachev, Rector of St Petersburg University
‘I think that when allocating funds to any organisation in the country, it should be stipulated that the funds should not be expended only internally, but should be awarded through competitions open to employees of other organisations,’ said Nikolay Kropachev.
It is equally important to simplify the procedure for providing access to the infrastructure of public organisations. The Rector of St Petersburg University said that the current procedure for the use of public property is rather ineffective. Hence, it is necessary that the appropriate rules be created.
‘If St Petersburg University has been allocated some equipment, it has not become the University’s property. This equipment is public property. Access to it should be regulated not by my order, but by the relevant federal regulations,’ Professor Kropachev explained. ‘At present, on the basis of the Rector’s order, all public organisations of the Russian Federation and their employees may use this equipment at St Petersburg University. I believe that access to infrastructure in other public organisations in the country should be regulated in a similar manner; of course, with security ensured’.
The St Petersburg University Research Park is a free access centre. Since its foundation in 2014, it has been operating according to the principle of equal access. The facilities and equipment of the resource centres are accessible to all researchers, regardless of whether they are affiliated with the University or not. Thus, researchers from across the country are able to conduct advanced research that requires complex and expensive research equipment.
Another example of St Petersburg University’s commitment to the policy of openness in education is the provision of free access to online courses authored by St Petersburg University to all educational organisations across Russia in spring 2020. As a result, over 13,000 students from 89 universities during the lockdown were able to take the required courses and transfer the awarded credits to their universities.
At the end of his presentation, Nikolay Kropachev congratulated the President of Russia — as an alumnus of St Petersburg University — on the 299th anniversary of his alma mater. He added that the Organising Committee, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Chernyshenko, was actively working on preparations for the 300th anniversary of St Petersburg University.
Vladimir Putin supported the idea of providing shared access to research equipment and holding open competitions for the use of funds allocated to universities. He noted that such a noble approach is to be welcomed. The President congratulated Nikolay Kropachev on his birthday, thanked him for his contribution and expressed confidence that the University’s 300th anniversary celebrations would be a success.
Later, at a Rector’s meeting at St Petersburg University, it was decided to set up an interdisciplinary research group on public property management to draw up proposals for the Government.