1. Preparation for the new academic year
This year the academic timetable is the most crucial challenge of all the preparation efforts, considering that it must comply with all the COVID-19 spread prevention measures and requirements. Currently, the timetable for the 2020/2021 academic year is 70% ready and reflects the proposals submitted by deans and directors.
Since last week, the Virtual Reception is receiving enquiries from international students about the organisation of the learning process. To clarify some general issues, a newsletter has been drafted to explain the learning format in the new academic year. This letter will be forwarded to all students. In addition, students are going to be provided with extra information for each academic programme. For example, earlier directors and deans put forward proposals to organise distant learning options for postgraduate students. Remote learning was also suggested for many master’s programmes in humanities.
A shift in the Unified State Exam timeframe resulted in a delayed issue of admission orders to 1st year students in bachelor’s and specialist’s programmes. The orders will not be published until 30 August 2020. It was therefore decided that during week 1 of the coming academic year 1st year students will be informed on housekeeping issues. This time shall be enough for students from other regions of Russia to arrive in St Petersburg, occupy their dormitory accommodation, and receive their University login and password. The login and password grant access to all basic digital resources of the University. 1st year students start classes on 7 September 2020.
As earlier, common disciplines (for example, Philosophy, History of Russia, and Life Safety) will be delivered to 1st year students in online format. Svetlana Rubtsova, Dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages, suggested that English can be delivered online as well. The same format can be successfully applied to the enrollment test to split students in groups according to their command of the foreign language. Those 1st year students who are unable to join the test online can take it offline at the University.
Many international students address the Virtual Reception asking whether they will be able to continue their studies in distant format, because they would rather postpone their journey to St Petersburg. Marina Lavrikova, Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Activities and Teaching Methods, clarified that they should fill-in an application form, as they did last semester, for the University to consider shifting them to a distant learning format. After that the University management is going to analyse every individual application and make their decision with regard to the academic programme and technical capacities. In case of any difficulties, students can apply for an individual learning schedule or academic leave.
This year the University has admitted twice more international students compared with last year (1,380 students in 2019 and 2,500 students in 2020). Overall, there are over 4,000 bachelor’s, specialist’s, master’s and postgraduate international students studying at the University.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, only a few international students can arrive in St Petersburg to resume their studies at the University. Currently, less that 50 1st year international students of the total of over 2,500 can arrive in St. Petersburg from abroad. The rest will keep on arriving in the northern capital during the semester, depending on the COVID-19 pandemic scenario. Academic and international affairs offices are closely monitoring the situation. So far, the academic process is organised in distant format. Upon arrival in Russia, all international students must observe a 14-day’s quarantine and pass a PCR test for COVID-19 antibodies on day 12. Only then will they be able to join the academic process.
All students will receive extra information on the stringent mask regime on the University premises and the PPE regulation, which prohibits attending classes without wearing a mask or if a student presents symptoms of illness.
2. Academic mobility in the autumn of the 2020/2021 academic year
Some 200 University students have won a competition to study abroad with partner universities. After the Ministry of Science and Higher Education and the Government of the Russian Federation provided some clarifications, the University decided to allow winners to study with a partner university provided that students sign an informed consent. Thus, students accept all the risks they may face in case of new imposed constraints, or shut-down of borders, or airlines cancelling flights, etc. The University is reaching out to partner universities to find out more details about scholarship terms and the academic requirements.
3. Organisation of competitions
On 17 August 2020, the nomination commission held a meeting. The commission will have to select the most promising applications submitted by operating organisations engaged in research and development. These organisations will then compete for grants and subsidies for facility upgrading within the framework of ‘Advanced Infrastructure for R & D in the Russian Federation’ project delivered within a large-scale project ‘The Science’. Sergey Mikushev, Vice Rector for Research, was among the members of the commission and reported the following information (Minutes of the commission meeting AM/9-pr, dated 17 August 2020).
This week, the competition for grants will be announced. It should be noted that as an operating organisation, the University is allowed to participate in the competition. Judging by the results, financial support for year 2020 will be allocated.
The delegates approved the scores to be earned by an organisation in order to become eligible for the grant:
- share of upgraded facilities – 4 % and over;
- facility daily load – 80 % and over;
- share of external facility users in the total number of users – 20 % and over;
- share of research projects led by younger scientists, aged under 39, in the total number of projects – 15 % and over.
These indicators will be used to establish a system of equipment monitoring in the University overall, as well as in the Research Park. In total, the University owns 6,427 units of equipment for research (The Research Park: on the road to to the future).
Directors and deans were tasked to check the equipment of institutes and faculties to assess, whether those comply with the declared requirements.
Sergey Mikushev also announced the maximum amount of grants approved by the commission.
The top position wins the National Research Centre ‘Kurchatov Institute’ (391.87 million roubles), followed by Moscow State University (129.49 million roubles). The University is among the top three (in terms of the allocated financial support), winning a 121.06 million rouble grant.
The next five positions after the University are represented by other operating organisations, located in St Petersburg:
- St Petersburg Mining University (44.61 million roubles)
- Institute of Applied Astronomy of the Russian Academy of Sciences (43.13 million roubles)
- Henry Turner National Medical Research Center for Сhildren's Orthopedics and Trauma Surgery (40.62 million roubles)
- Ioffe Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (38.01 million roubles)
- Almazov National Medical Research Centre (28.12 million roubles).
4. International affairs at the University
At the Rector’s meeting, Sergey Andryushin, Deputy Rector for International Affairs, presented the 2019 monitoring outcomes for international agreements and their implementation versus the results over the past years.
The analysis of two-way mobility of students and teaching staff, empowered by the University agreements with partner universities from 2006 through 2019, demonstrated a sustainable increase in total mobility since 2015. This trend is supported by a growing number of agreements and enhanced financial support (How the University changed the way it runs its international affairs). During the last few years the University is intensively focused on entering into new agreements within the Erasmus + framework. As a result, the University has significantly increased the external financial support of student, academic and teaching staff mobility. In 2016 the University academic and teaching staff received 5,120 Euro grants under the Erasmus+ programme versus over 30,000 Euro in 2017, to compare with over 60,000 Euro in 2018, and, eventually, 131,840 Euro in 2019. The University plans to increase the number of agreements within this programme.
Increased financial support within the Erasmus+ programme allowed the University to draw more participants. Thus, in 2016 (when the University joined the Erasmus+ programme) 15 members of the University academic and teaching staff participated in this initiative, whereas in 2019 their number was 54 (increasing by roughly 3.5 times).
In 2019, the University’s academic and teaching staff who travelled to partner universities within the Erasmus+ scholarship increased by 8.5 times versus 2016 when the programme was first implemented. The University was able to diversify the academic mobility portfolio significantly, offering a broad spectrum of opportunities to the academic and teaching staff and showing healthy dynamics.
The University also welcomed many international experts within academic exchange programmes. In 2019 the following fields of knowledge were most attractive for international scholars: philology (55 scholars), philosophy (22 scholars), Earth sciences (11 scholars), Asian and African studies (9 scholars), political studies (9 scholars), history (8 scholars). The University also welcomed 13 international representatives of administrative staff.
By comparison, in 2018 the University welcomed 62 visiting philology scholars, 20 Earth scientists, 17 historians, 15 philosophers, 15 economists, and 10 physicists.
As for the outcoming mobility underpinned by University agreements with partner universities, in 2019 most active academic and teaching staff belonged to the following fields of expertise: 49 visits by philology scholars, 18 visits by physicists, 16 visits by Earth scientists, 12 visits by historians, 10 visits by philosophers, 9 visits by scholars of Asian and African studies, and 8 visits by chemists. In 2018 most intensive outcoming mobility was observed in the following areas: 48 visits by philology scholars, 20 visits by philosophers, 17 visits by physicists, 14 visits by historians, and 10 visits by Earth scientists. In addition, 22 members of the University administration visited international partner universities of the Erasmus+ programme. The Rector ordered that a competition be organised for administrative staff willing to participate in such programmes in the same manner, as students and teachers compete for financial support of visits and scholarships with international partner universities.
By the end of 2019 the Universty was party to a total of 319 acting international exchange agreements with partner universities (15 more than in 2018). Most partner universities engaged in academic mobility agreements are located in Europe (78%), followed by Asian universities (17%). The number of agreements with Latin American partners increased insignificantly (from 2 in 2018 to 4 in 2019). The number of agreements with universities in Australia, the Pacific region, North America, and East Africa remained unchanged compared with 2018.
In 2019, University scholars demonstrated a 10% growth in joint publications with international fellow scholars versus 2017 and a 4% growth versus 2018 respectively. Driven by expanding academic mobility among other factors, since 2009 the number of joint publications with international fellow scholars has increased almost three-fold.
Since 2009 student mobility demonstrates sustainable growth. For example, in 2009 the University delegated some 500 students to study abroad at international parner universities and welcomed 266 foreign students. By comparison, in 2019 the number of foreign students at the University and University students studying at partner universities abroad increased to 1,239 and 986 respectively. Such positive dynamics is driven by more intensive external financial suppport among other factors. Thus, since 2016 the financial support within the Erasmus+ programme has increased by 364% (the total financial support increased from 100,000 to 500,000 Euro annually). It is important to note, that more European universities are willing to enter Еrasmus+ partnership agreements. There is strong evidence that the University academic profile allows international partners to win a very stringent competition with the European Commission and receive financial support. In total, some 1 million US dollars annually is brought in by the incoming mobility of foreign students. The University invests these resources to boost mobility of its own students.
Delegates of the Rector’s meeting also shared the results of individual internship support programmes. For example, among other efforts, JTI, a Japan-based company, grants internships to younger scholars at universities and Research Centres of Japan (St Petersburg University and Shinshu University have signed a framework cooperation agreement; St Petersburg University and Shinshu University have signed a framework cooperation agreement; St Petersburg University opens the first in Russia Japanese cabinet; Kindai University invites St Petersburg University students and professors to Japan; St Petersburg University and Kindai University intend to expand cooperation; St Petersburg University told why doing business in Japan can be special).
The financial resources, donated under the Memorandum of Cooperation Between St Petersburg University and JTI, to promote Japanese language and culture increased from 5 million roubles in 2015 to 10 million roubles in 2019.
In 2019, the University opened another two representaive offices abroad: in Spain (Barcelona) and in the US (New-York). In addition, 14 new examination centres of Russian as a foreign language were opened in China, Italy, Singapore, Brazil, Hungary, Kazakhstan, UK, Thailand, and other countries (‘Those who decide to learn Russian are amazing people’: about the work of the Language Testing Centre; ‘We are not afraid to be the first’ – Language Testing Centre of St Petersburg University promotes the Russian language throughout the world).
In total, there are some 90 examination centres in 40 countries around the world. A joint Russian research institute was establish in Tsinghua University. ‘St Petersburg University online schools’ were established in Estonia, Spain, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan (St Petersburg University has opened online courses in Russian and history for schoolchildren in Latvia, Estonia, Spain and Kazakhstan). In addition, in 2019, supported by the Huawei company, the University launched a joint laboratory to attract some 2 million US dollars investment. The University is also organising 19 International Olympiads for school students (compared with 6 in 2009).
5. Welfare support initiative for University staff
Under the workforce social support programmme, the University enforced ‘The Welfare support regulation for University staff’, approved in amended version by Decree No 3425/1, dated 22 April 2020. The Regulation allows to provide adequate and comprehensive welfare support to University workers who join this initiative for a variety of causes.
To expand social support measures for University workers, the amended Regulation now incorporates new provisions of social significance to support workers with serious disabilities, among other categories. In addition, the Regulation declares that in most challenging circumstances, caused by serious illnesses or a dire financial situation, the decision is made by a responsible commission. Composition and duties of the commission are stipulated in the Regulation. Moreover, under Decree No 7366/1, dated 21 August 2020, an amendment was incorporated, that, jointly with the University Tradeunion Organisation, the commission is entitled to provide low-cost package tours to the Universitetskiy Health Resort for individual categories of most vulnerable workers, including those with serious disabilities.
In 2019, 596 workers applied for extra welfare support. The University allocated little less that 12 million roubles for this initiative.
Over the first 8 months of 2020 welfare support has been provided to 345 University workers in the total amount of some 6 million roubles.
The University manages its social policy in sustainable partnership with the University Tradeunion Organisation. One of the joint initiatives is a voluntary corporate healthcare insurance programme for University workers and their families. Annually, the University administration allocates extra finances to compensate workers on the cost the insurance in part.
In 2019, 787 workers received partial compensation of corporate healthcare insurance costs. In total, such compensations amounted to 2,361,000 roubles. In 2020, 384 workers have applied for the compensation, the total amount standing at 1,152,000 roubles so far.
In 2020, the University participated in nationwide events to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Victory in World War Two. To provide social support to World War Two veteran workers, including those with disabilities acquired during the war,and those equivalent to them, the University Rector decided to allocate extra-budgetary funds in the total amount of 375,000 roubles.
The University is also drawing extra-budgetary funds to implement social projects, including voluntary corporate healthcare insurance for University emeritus professors.
For reference, the total budgetary funds allocated for social payments amounted to:
- over 13 million (13,225,625) roubles in 2019
- over 6 million (6,009,900) roubles in 2020.
The total allocated extra-budgetary funds amounted to:
- over 14 million (14,176,500) roubles in 2019
- over 10 million (10,573,456) roubles in 2020.
Due to a complicated epidemiological setting, the University has changed the procedure to review welfare support applications. Although the University decided to accept online applications, the process runs without disruption (What has been done in dire need). In addition, to support most vulnerable workers amid the ongoing pandemic, the University decided to provide extra welfare payments to workers with serious disabilities.
6. Organising the University admissions
Admission to University bachelor’s and specialist’s programmes is in progress. On 22 August 2020, the University admitted applicants entitled to priority admission. This year the University admitted 449 prize holders and winners of school olympiads without admission exams. In total, prize holders and winners of school olympiads submitted less than 1,000 applications to all universities of St Petersburg and the Leningrad region (including the University).
The top most popular programmes among prize holders and winners of school olympiads are (expressed in percentage of admission benchmark values) ‘Mathematics, Algorithms and Data Analysis’ (90%), ‘Modern Programming’ (90%), ‘Mathematics and Computer Science’ (80%), ‘Mathematics’ (76%), ‘Russian Philology’ (64%), ‘Chemistry’ (52%), ‘Law’ (33%), ‘International Relations’ (21%), and ‘Applied Mathematics, Fundamental Informatics and Programming’ (10%).
Thus, some academic programmes show stringent competition for the few remaining budgetary positions. It is important to note that for a more adequate evalution of the level of competition, one should rather look at the minimal admission score at which the programme is shutdown, instead of the number of submitted applications. During the first wave of admission, programmes with the highest level of competition were ‘Mathematics, Algorithms and Data Analysis’ (302 scores), ‘Law’ (297); ‘Cross-Linguistic Communication and Translation: German’ (296), ‘Journalism’, ‘International Journalism’, ‘Liberal Arts and Sciences’ (295 scores each); ‘Advertising and Public Relaions’ (294), ‘International Relations’ (291).
Considering that the first admission wave is a stressful experience for applicants and their parents, the University is intensively focused on fast and accurate mainstreaming of updates on its website. For this purpose, earlier in 2009 the University implemented ‘The Admission’ IT system to display realtime competition and monitor applicants’ ranking lists. In addition, last names of applicats who pass in the real-time competition setting are shown in dynamic highlights, unless they failed to submit their admission consent. The University also produces general lists of all applicants to increase visibility. Such transparent procedure (unlike other universities of St Petersburg) allows unbiased evaluation of individual admission perspectives, which is pivotal for applicants and their parents. This attracts stronger applicants with high scores (How Nikolay Kropachev, Dean of the Faculty of Law, was fired for fighting corruption at St Petersburg University; Admission is transparent).
As the second wave of admission is in progress, on 25 August 2020 ranking lists of applicants for the remaining 20% of budgetary positions will be renewed. Admission decrees will be published on 26 August 2020.
Applications to paid positions at bachelor’s and specialist’s programmes are accepted until 26 August 2020.
7. Establishing the Institute for Competition Development and Antimonopoly Regulation at the University
On 18 August 2020 the Rector signed Decree No 7309/1 ‘Establishing the University Institute for Competition Development and Antimonopoly Regulation’. The proposal to establish another University subdivision was first addressed to the Rector by Aleftina Timoshenko, Head of Antimonopoly Regulation Department. The idea was supported by Sergei Belov, Dean of the Faculty of Law, and Igor Artemyev, Head of the Federal Antimonopoly Service. The proposal was considered by different University teams and the Academic Council. Aleftina Timoshenko is now appointed the Institute Director.
8. The University Academic Council meeting
On 31 August 2020, the University Academic Council is going to hold an online meeting. The agenda includes the University Development Programme 2021-2030 (Minutes of the Rector’s meeting dated 3 August 2020) and plans to establish the Institute for Cognitive Studies(Minutes of the Rector’s meeting dated 10 August 2020).