St Petersburg University is constantly making an effort to upgrade its own educational standard, and, over the last decade, it has become a uniquely innovative force in Russian higher education. 

The University gained the right to develop its own educational standards in 2008. The President of the Russian Federation signed the bill ‘On Lomonosov Moscow State University and St Petersburg State University’ and it became a federal law. 

‘For us, this is a unique opportunity, and a very important one,’ Marina Lavrikova, Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Activities and Teaching Methods at the University, pointed out.  ‘At the very core of any educational activity, there need to be strong requirements that will guarantee the quality of that education.  This ability to work out our own standards allows us to realise our uniqueness as a university, to stay ahead of the curve and to address the latest challenges in the education that we offer.’

At St Petersburg University, the educational standard extends to all of the academic programmes of higher learning, while the federal educational standard applies to programmes on the primary and secondary levels of education at the Academic Gymnasium, and also to those used in the secondary vocational education at the College of Physical Training and Sports, Economics and Technology and at the Medical College.

Those who are developing new educational standards at the University say that the response to social, technological and cultural changes has been slower nationwide, on a federal level, than at any given university. 

So, even though we are a huge corporation, we can come to a consensus and introduce new requirements into our standard much more quickly and easily than it happens on a nationwide scale.

Marina Lavrikova, Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Activities and Teaching Methods

Beginning with the year 2008, which is when St Petersburg University was awarded its special status, students enrolled in one of its programmes have been studying according to the University’s own standards of higher education.

A second generation of standards came along in 2011.  Unlike the previous ones, they were level-sensitive, applying to bachelor’s, specialist’s and master’s programmes.  Later, in 2014, two more levels were added:  doctoral and clinical residency programmes.  Each standard for the corresponding level had the same basic component, forming common cultural competencies, and separate applications (except for doctoral programmes) for each field of study.

In 2018, reform of the system of federal educational standards was still ongoing, and at St Petersburg University yet another new educational standard emerged, one that was contemporary in all senses.  This standard was no longer broken down according to fields of study but was comprehensive for all levels of higher education and all fields of study offered by St Petersburg University, a single, unified educational standard.  What was innovative about this standard, aside from its form, was that the University went beyond the universally applicable competencies contained in FSES (the Federal State Educational Standard) to establish its own comprehensive competencies.

According to Marina Lavrikova, while developing this standard, the latest federal educational standard (FSES 3++) was taken into account.  Experts from the University had taken an active part in developing both comprehensive and professional competencies for the entire country.  ‘Then much of what had been devised by our pedagogical experts turned out to be too innovative to be used for the federal standards and was not accepted, but we were able to use these formulations within St Petersburg University,’ noted Ms Lavrikova.

In the spring of this year, changes in the wording of the communicative competencies were introduced into the St Petersburg University educational standard, and it is now mandatory that a graduate of the University be able to describe their professional activities in terms that would be understood by a layperson and to interact with representatives of different cultures, including in spheres where the use of the state language of the Russian Federation is compulsory.   

According to Sergei Belov, Director of the Research Institute for the State Language and Dean of the Faculty of Law at St Petersburg University, it is more important to teach a student not to conform to a particular linguistic style but to achieve mutual understanding when communicating with others.  The purpose of these changes is to reform the standard so that a student is capable of carrying on a dialogue in different communicative situations with people of different professions and different levels of education.

It is a major problem when a professional cannot explain the results of their work to a layperson in plain language.  Lawyers often say that if you talk about something in non-legal terms, it loses its legal sense, but this is the wrong way of looking at it.

Sergei Belov, Dean of the Faculty of Law at St Petersburg University

As he sees it, the findings of an academic or an expert, especially when they are in the public interest, should be accessible to anybody, and the intelligibility and accessibility of information are ensured by Russian law.

Today, clinical training at the University also helps students to acquire communicative competencies since, as part of their work at the Sociological, Legal, Psychological and other clinics at St Petersburg University, they deal with real clients.  During this practical training, students go out into the world and interact with the public, developing the ability to communicate with and convey information to people who do not possess a knowledge of their field.  Under the watchful eyes of experienced teachers, such a ‘rehearsal’ for independent work not only develops their professional expertise but also their language skills, both spoken and written. 

The experts who developed the educational standard also say that it is far easier to develop many skills at St Petersburg University than at specialised universities or colleges because of its multidisciplinarity – the intellectual potential of diverse fields of knowledge is concentrated here. 

This year, the curricula of all academic programmes include an online course in effective communication:  in the bachelor’s programmes, it is called The Language of Effective Communication; in the specialist’s and master’s programmes, The Language of Effective Communication in the Digital Society; and in the clinical residency and doctoral programmes, The Language of Effective Communication in the Professional Environment. These courses also aim to shape other important competencies, including ones that are needed in the Internet environment, which today accounts for a large percentage of all professional contacts.

There are even more competencies on the list of those that a St Petersburg University graduate should possess:  the ability to carry out business-related, professionally oriented communication in a foreign language; to use the basic methods of acquiring and processing data, taking into account the current technologies of the digital economy and IT security; to make decisions based on current legal norms, available resources and constraints, including financial ones; and many others.

The experts note that the University has a unique array of competencies that are not yet reflected as requirements in the federal standards.  ‘Our most recent standard is on the cutting edge.  This is the advantage that we have,’ pointed out Ms Lavrikova.

Developing and refining educational standards is methodologically complex work.  The comprehensive and professional competencies that a St Petersburg student will have when they graduate and therefore how successful they will be after they finish their studies is determined not only by all of the courses they have taken.  The University’s Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Activities and Teaching Methods was emphatic: ‘The objectively significant challenge is to provide students with new perspectives, and these new approaches are woven into an educational process brimming with all sorts of possibilities.’