1. SPbU Olympiad for School Students and Doors Open Days
Despite negative attitudes expressed by the majority of directors and deans at the Rector’s meeting on March 13 regarding the in-presence format of the SPbU Olympiad for School Students (Materials of the Rector’s meeting dated March 16, 2020), the University hosted the in-presence finals of the SPbU Olympiad for School Students on March 14 and 15 in six subject fields (The finals of the SPbU Olympiad for School Students are over).
The ten Doors Open Days in on-line format hosted by SPbU March 16 to 22 brought together over 2200 applicants and their parents – significantly more than when hosted in-presence. Likewise, more questions than usually were received in the chat during live broadcasting. All of them were traditionally about the application procedure and specific aspects of main academic programs at SPbU. Applicants received answers to over 100 questions.
Overall, over 60 Doors Open Days and career guidance events scheduled for March to April 2020 were transferred to on-line format. On top, the University is sustaining the tradition of on-line presentations on specific academic programs of all levels. March 16 to 28 witnessed 17 such presentations generating over 1000 views in total. Altogether, Russian and foreign applicants will be able to participate in over 200 on-line events until the end of the academic year.
The University has long-standing experience of hosting such events. For instance, on-line lectures and consultations on SPbU School Students Olympiad were launched some years ago. School students from any part of the world can benefit from this format and prepare to compete intellectually in remote setting.
Pursuant to the Order of the Russian Federation President no. 206 dated March 25, 2020 ‘On days off in the Russian Federation’, on-line Doors Open Days and presentations devoted to academic programs and earlier scheduled for March 28 to April 5, are postponed until later (Doors Open Days postponed until later).
2. Pandemic and set-up of volunteer activities
Amid the unfavorable pandemic setting and the concerned shift to remote learning, the University has intensified efforts to set up a volunteer movement. This includes digital volunteering and on-line assistance to university members of senior age. Volunteers are ready to buy food or medications to ensure that senior citizens have fewer reasons to leave their homes and put their lives at risk (SPbU volunteers help veterans on lockdown buy food and medications. Directors and deans are tasked to provide information about colleagues in need of volunteer assistance and care.
Since March 27 a call-center organized by the SPbU Student Council has started operation. University students provide assistance to everyone enquiring how to pay household bills, order home-delivered food from supermarket or resolve other daily issues on-line, without leaving their homes. On day one of operation the call center received several enquiries regarding how to order home-delivered food from supermarket and set up a desktop computer (SPbU Student Council sets up a call-center to help University members). The call-center shall operate Monday to Friday, 10:00 to 18:00, until the epidemiological situation is back to normal.
3. Competitions to provide financial grants to establish and develop research centers of global scale
The Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation announced a competition providing federal subsidies to establish and develop research centers of global scale (over 3 bln Rubles allocated until 2021). In 2019 Russia established three genome research centers of global scale and four international maths centers (the application submitted by SPbU in consortium with St. Petersburg Department of V.A. Steklov Institute of Mathematics of the Russian Academy of Sciences). In 2020 it is anticipated that grants would be provided as subsidies to establish three research centers of global scale to perform R&D in priority areas of advanced science and technology (stage 2). Furthers plans are to establish another six research centers of global scale performing R&D in priority areas of advanced science and technology (Competition is announced to establish and develop research centers of global scale).
S.V. Mikushev, Vice-Rector for Research, requested directors and deans, as well as heads of SPbU research groups to submit proposals to promote participation of academic staff teams in the competition. The deadline to submit applications is April 20. At the meeting it was suggested to present draft applications by April 1.
4. Regulations on SPbU Monetary Awards ‘For Research Works’
SPbU approved of new Regulations on SPbU Monetary Awards for Research Works. Following the proposal by Professor I.N. Novikova, Chair of the Commission for Science at the SPbU Academic Council and Dean of the Faculty of International Relations, the number of awards was changed. As of now there shall be five awards in each nomination, i.e. ‘For Achievements in Base Research’ and ‘For Contributing to Young Scientist Research’. Earlier the competition was announced for six awards in the former nomination and three awards in the latter nomination.
5. Organization of remote defense procedure for dissertations submitted in conformity with requirements for Candidate of Science and Doctor of Science Degree
The defense procedure for dissertations submitted in conformity with requirements for the Candidate and Doctor of Science Degree underwent important changes. These changes concern using information and communication technologies to organize and host dissertation defenses. They allow to run the dissertation defense in remote and interactive format providing audiovisual contact with meeting participants or, as is the trend to formulate it, providing remote access (Order no.2304/1 dated March 23, 2020 ‘On Changing the Procedure to Award the Candidate of Science Degree and the Doctor of Science Degree at SPbU’).
It is common knowledge that the first academic degree defenses under the independently adopted rules by SPbU took place as early as in 2013 and were acknowledged worldwide, excluding the Russian Federation (SPbU Own Academic Degrees: the Past and the Presence).The first defenses according to the University new rules acknowledged in Russia were hosted by SPbU in early 2017. Since January 2017 until now SPbU academic councils have seen 202 academic degree defenses (including 28 Doctoral defenses) under the University own rules. Amid unfavorable epidemiologic situation, SPbU made the next step to upgrade and simplify administration and organization of dissertation defense procedures. The new order implies that documents are submitted in digital format, while the dissertation defense board meets in remote format allowing the defendant’s remote participation in the meeting.
The first dissertation defenses under the new format took place on March 27 at SPbU (Awarding academic degrees under SPbU own rules: now in distance format).
6. Outcomes of negotiations with Ambassador of Iran to Russia
Pursuant to the transition to distance format, SPbU introduced changes in running the international affairs. For instance, on March 19 S.V. Andryushin, Deputy Rector for International Affairs, held negotiations with Kazem Jalali, Ambassador of Iran to Russia, in the format of a video conference (Materials of Rector’s meeting dated March 4). The main issue of discussion was implementation of ongoing partnership projects with universities of Iran. Those are:
preparation and publishing a Persian translation of the contemporary Russian poetry collection and, likewise, the collection of Persian poetry translated into Russian;
opening a memorial to D.I. Mendeleev in the University of Tehran and a memorial to an outstanding Iranian scholar in SPbU;
competitions for grants to support younger researchers;
development of joint academic programs supported by Iran-based companies;
development of joint on-line courses;
publishing the collection of Iranian manuscripts in the SPbU Library stock.
7. Preparation of St. Petersburg development framework
On March 20 SPbU representatives participated at the meeting hosted by V.N. Knyaginin, Vice Governor of St.Petersburg. Nine work groups shall be set up to draft the St. Petersburg development framework. Three groups (in the fields of science and maths, research and innovation infrastructure, as well as agricultural sciences) are led by University staff. The other six groups are led by the HSE St. Petersburg staff (the group in social sciences and humanities), St. Petersburg Electrotechnical University ‘LETI’ (the group in digital technologies), the Mining University (the group on Earth sciences), the Polytechnical University (the group on technical sciences), the ITMO University (the group on HR for science), the V.A. Almazov Medical Research Center (the group on life sciences). Thus, no more than one work group is led by representatives of other higher education institutions. Directors and deans were tasked to propose candidates among SPbU experts to be included in the work groups.
8. Agreement between SPbU and Russian Museum of Ethnography
SPbU Rector N.M. Kropachev and Yu.A. Kupina, Director of the Russian Museum of Ethnography (until recently Advisor to SPbU Rector on Museum Affairs: University Museums: a leap of success from past to future. Part 1; University Museums: a leap of success from past to future. Part 2; How are we shaping the University history today? or Historic memory of generations), entered a partnership agreement between SPbU and REM. Directors and deans were tasked to submit proposals on how to expand the scope of the agreement and benefit from REM resources to boost the University potential in education and science.
9. On preventive measures
Since the launch of preventive measures to counter the spread of the new coronavirus infection until March 16, the SPbU Clinic of High Medical Technologies after N.I. examined 2148 students (including 994 foreigners). Thus, 322 students arriving from countries with reported incidence of coronavirus infection were placed under observation (with 14 of those remaining on observation by March 24). By March 15, eight students were admitted to the S.P. Botkin Clinical Hospital for Infectious Diseases; seven of them were discharged as no evidence of infection was found. The student who stayed in the hospital was tested negative for coronavirus infection.
To ensure a favorable sanitary and epidemiologic environment for students and staff, SPbU purchased thermometers for distance measuring that are used to measure body temperature of all individuals entering the University buildings. Two disinfection devices were purchased too and are used in dormitories. Entrances to University buildings and dormitories are equipped with hand sanitizer dispensers.
The meeting also discussed potential law enforcement measures regarding citizens who violate the regulation provisions sustaining sanitary and epidemiologic welfare of population (administrative to criminal) (‘Do not leave your room’: lockdown violation incurs liability).
10. Computers installed in dormitories
Within stage 1 of the initiative (dormitories no. 20, 21, 22, 14, 12, 17), 4 to 8 computers were installed in student self-study rooms or adjacent areas.
11. Set-up of educational process with a key focus on distance learning technologies
As of March 19, over 90 % of SPbU students were shifted to distance learning format with a key focus on dedicated educational technologies (Materials of Rector’s meeting dated March 16, 2020). From March 17 to 20, directors and deans submitted specific proposals on how to transfer respective academic programs to distance format. Relying on these proposals, M.Yu. Lavrikova, Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs and Methodological Support, prepared a draft order to be considered at the meeting. Following a discussion, the order on distance learning transfer as of March 24 was signed (Order no.2349/1 dated March 23, 2020 ‘On temporary transfer of academic programs to the format with exceptional use of distance learning technologies in response to extraordinary circumstances’).
Directors and deans were tasked to submit a list of disciplines that shall be transferred with a delay due to lack of distance learning options in these areas, as well as propose amendments and additions to the existing timetable.
12. How to set up distance learning?
As of lately SPbU has spearheaded Russian on-line education and is ranked top in the number of courses available on the ‘Open Education’ national Platform. Today ‘Open Education’ platform includes 86 SPbU on-line courses, while 80 SPbU courses are hosted at Coursera international platform. Moreover, SPbU was among the first Russian universities to sign an agreement with XuetangX platform, a largest educational platform in China.
In early 2018 our on-line courses were visited by as few as 100,000 viewers; in contrast, today the number of viewers has expanded up to 1,300,000 individuals. In the past three years over 500 members of SPbU academic staff took part in developing on-line courses.
Other higher education institutions used to intensively rely on SPbU on-line courses in their academic process, which is demonstrated by a growing number of networking agreements and students graduating these courses. Today, however, our on-line resources have underpinned all Russian and foreign higher education institutions, provided that SPbU has granted open access to its courses making them available to all Russian Federation institutions of higher education and participated in Coursera for Campus program.
The meeting participants noted that many SPbU faculty members were ready to distance learning transition. Both the faculty and learners already had access to necessary resources; today, however, they will have to address these resources more often and in a more efficient way. Those who are making their first steps down thus pathway can benefit from comprehensive guidance and technical support at SPbU.
V.A. Starostenko, Director for Development of Digital Educational Resources, spoke about a collection of educational videos and extra webinars explaining how to set up distance learning process in academic environment. This initiative introduces all concerned learners to options how to integrate on-line courses in the learning process, what are the tools for more exciting learning experience, as well as how to boost student engagement and ensure healthy transition to distance learning without undermining quality. Please, follow the link to find out more about educational materials.
V.A. Starostenko also urged his colleagues to be more proactive in developing fundamental courses in various fields to help colleagues from other higher education institutions fill gaps in their curricular. Directors and deans were tasked to propose measures to advance existing educational videos and suggest new topics to cover.
13. Learners are temporary moving out of SPbU dormitories
By March 16 over 50% of residents moved out their accommodation in SPbU dormitories. They nevertheless retain the right for occupancy for their beds and rooms until their return. Students who decided to move out are fully exempt from payment for accommodation until their return.
14. Monetary incentives for SPbU staff
Despite the challenges and requirements to channel extra resources to countering the spread of coronavirus infection and mitigating its consequences, as well as the partial transition to distance format, the Rector decided to allocate financial resources to pay monetary incentives in full to SPbU administration for March and to academic staff for their performance over the first three months. Payroll and incentives will be duly paid. Directors and deans shall send all requests for incentives to the Vice-Rector for Human Resources by e-mail and in digital format.
15. SPbU virtual reception replies to all questions
Amid unfavorable epidemiological situation conducive of the transition to distance learning and working format, the SPbU Virtual Reception established as early as 2011 as a most efficient tool to gain feedback, has demonstrated its efficiency for yet another instant.
The Virtual Reception is receiving on-going questions regarding measures to counter the spread of coronavirus infection as well as other issues, to analyze them effectively and publish responses. Thanks to these efforts, lately the number of COVID-19 related enquiries is stable, while staff and learners can find information of concern in responses to earlier addressed questions, available in a dedicated section of the Virtual Reception page.