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 The orders will not be published until 30 August 2020.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).

Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting

A brief report of the Rector’s Meeting dated 15 March

1. Current issues related to organisation of the teaching and learning process

Last week, the Virtual Reception received 21 enquiries from students and teachers addressed to the Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Activities and Teaching Methods. These included 7 enquires on teaching and methodology. 11 enquiries were sent to the email of the Vice-Rector. They exclude the enquiries on the University reorganisation (see paragraph 2 below). The most urgent issues were addressed in detail. They will be published in the full report of the Rector’s Meeting.

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A brief report of the Rector’s Meeting dated 10 March 2021

The participants of the meeting observed a moment of silence in memory of the University Professor Emeritus Evgeny Veremey.

1. Current issues related to organisation of the teaching and learning process

Last week, the Virtual Reception received 45 enquiries from students and teachers addressed to the Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Activities and Teaching Methods. Nine enquiries were sent to the e-mail of the Vice-Rector. The most urgent issues were addressed in detail. They will be published in the full report of the Rector’s Meeting.

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A brief report of the Rector’s Meeting dated 20 February 2021

1. The format of training sessions from 1 March 2021

The Rector’s meeting addressed the proposals of the heads of academic and research departments on the format of training sessions from 1 March 2021. The following decisions were made taking into account the experience of organising the teaching and learning process with the use of information and communication technologies and the need to comply with the Recommendations for the prevention of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in educational institutions of higher education, approved by the Chief State Sanitary Doctor of the Russian Federation on 29 July 2020.

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A brief report of the Rector’s Meeting dated 22 January 2021

1. Current issues with organising the academic process

Last week, the Virtual Reception received 35 enquiries from students and teachers including 23 enquiries on academic issues addressed to the Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Activities and Teaching Methods. Seven enquiries were sent to the e-mail of the Vice-Rector. The most urgent issues were addressed in detail. They will be published in the full report of the Rector’s Meeting (The quality of the heating system in hall of residence No 18;St Petersburg University branch in Tashkent;Competition for funding to cover participation in student olympiads, intellectual contests, conferences and other scientific events in 2021;  Imposing disciplinary liability).

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Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting dated 14 December 2020

1. St Petersburg University is a co-founder and the sole Russian representative in the Global Alliance of Massive Open Online Courses

The Global MOOC Alliance is a non-commercial partnership of higher educational institutions, online educational platforms and international non-profit organisations initiated by the UNESCO Institute for Information Technology in Education (UNESCO IITE) and Tsinghua University (PRC). Its creation was officially announced in Beijing at the global online conference ‘Learning Revolution and Higher Education Transformation’, which took place on 9-11 December 2020. St Petersburg University’s participation in the founding of the Global MOOC Alliance is a great honour and gives us worldwide recognition in the field of online education.

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Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting dated 7 December 2020

As proposed by the Rector, the meeting began with a moment of silence in memory of Professor Igor Froyanov.

1. About a meeting with Dmitry Chernyshenko, Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation

On 2 December, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko met with the heads of the following organisations, all of which fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government: Moscow State University, St Petersburg University, Kurchatov Institute, the Higher School of Economics, the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, and the University of Economics. St Petersburg University Rector Nikolay Kropachev and Vice-Rector for Research Sergey Mikushev participated in the meeting, during which the work of the Situation Centre of the Government of the Russian Federation and new approaches to contemporary digital management were demonstrated. Two lines of development were highlighted in the work of the Centre: teams of professionals, ad hoc groups of experts and government officials, who are engaged in dealing with particular tasks, and an approach to work predicated on the principle of co-working.

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Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting dated 30 November 2020

1. The Second International Congress of the Russian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science

On 27-29 November, the Second International Congress of the Russian Society for History and Philosophy of Science was held at St Petersburg University. The main areas of history and the philosophy of science that are presented in Russia were considered, as were new, emerging areas of research that are just beginning to develop in our country. Emphasis was placed on a discussion of issues involving the interplay between philosophical, academic and technological research and society from both contemporary and historical perspectives. These included the relationship between the goals of academic activity and significant public objectives, the place of scholarly expertise in relevant public discussions and the ability of scholarship to meet the fundamental challenges of our time. More than 400 Russian and over 50 foreign scholars (from such countries as the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France and Germany) took part in 14 panel discussions and 9 roundtables.

It was noted at the Rector’s Meeting that St Petersburg University was more and more frequently the organiser or co-organiser of international scholarly events, and this helps to promote the University’s image.

2. The All-Russian Academic Conference — Theology in the Field of Education and Scholarship: Challenges and Solutions

On 25-26 November, the All-Russian Academic Conference — Theology in the Field of Education and Scholarship: Challenges and Solutions was held at St Petersburg University. It included three roundtables, which took place on 25 November. The conference was organised with the support of the Association of Leading Universities (ALU).

On 26 November, a plenary session was held by videoconference, and it was opened by Nikolay Kropachev, the Rector of St Petersburg University, Chairman of the ALU and a Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, the Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations, President of the Scientific-Education Theological Association and Rector of the Theological Institute of Postgraduate Studies of the Russian Orthodox Church, also delivered a welcoming address. The following representatives of different faiths participated in a discussion of complex theological issues: Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar; Chairman of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of St Petersburg and the North-West Region of Russia and Mufti of the Cathedral Mosque of St Petersburg Ravil Khazrat Pancheev; Rector of the St Petersburg Theological Academy Bishop Siluan of Peterhof, Chairman of the Council on Islamic Education, and Rector of the Russian Islamic Institute Rafik Mukhametshin — along with their secular colleagues, theologians and scholars. The materials of the conference will be published in the journal Issues of Theology, which is published by St Petersburg University and the Theological Institute of Postgraduate Studies.

3. Organisation of the teaching and learning process

In the past week, the Virtual Reception has received 29 appeals from teachers and from students and their parents (of which 11 were about academic issues), and the Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Activities and Teaching Methods has received another 22 through her email. These included questions about transfers and reinstatements, the time period and the timetable for resitting exams, the awarding of scholarships, and also about requests for certificates and duplicate documents.

There was a question in the Virtual Reception from a student who wanted to know about advance notice for the resitting of exams. Students are informed about the schedule for resitting exams two weeks before the first pass/fail or graded exam. These exams are held throughout the entire semester, especially for those students who have been given their own schedule for classwork. The student was asking why they had been notified only four days before a pass/fail German exam. It was explained at the meeting that, according to University regulations, a student must be informed about the date and time of a resitting (as part of an additional period of exams) three calendar days prior to their first pass/fail exam and one week prior to a graded exam. So, in this case, the rules had been observed.

All of the directors and deans continue to be in regular contact with the teachers and the student councils of the academic and research departments. To wit, the Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science, Sergei Ivanov, passed along a question that he had been asked during a meeting with the faculty’s student council about the proctoring system that is used for exams in online courses. The same question was recently raised by biology students (‘Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting dated 2 November 2020’). It was reported at the meeting that the Director of the Centre of E-Learning Development at St Petersburg University, Vladimir Starostenko, is prepared to hold separate meetings with students from different academic programmes in order to explain everything, to answer questions and to remove all of the students’ apprehensions about what is for them a new procedure. The heads of the academic and research departments are requested to organise such meetings (as needed).

There were a number of complaints about the operation of technical equipment and software, the first one being that when working in MS Teams, there are problems with the sound and with the screen sharing function (students do not see what the teacher is demonstrating on the screen). It was explained that problems with the sound can arise from the use of cloud-based distant learning platforms, a poor Internet connection and equipment specifications (from both teachers and students, who may be connecting up from different devices and from different corners of the earth). Should problems arise, it is recommended to use the audio-conference mode, which is less demanding when it comes to the Internet connection and the features of the computers being used. The screen sharing system is standard for such platforms as MS Teams and Zoom, and problems may come about because the teacher has been poorly trained to work with the system.

Just as a reminder, an ever-expanding collection of instructions and methodological materials is being published on the St Petersburg University portal. Recordings will soon be published there of educational webinars, in which many of the University’s teachers participated.

There was another complaint about the use of MS Teams. For forty minutes, one teacher kept getting the same response from the programme: ‘An error has occurred. Try again in a few minutes.’ They were forced to set up a conference in Zoom on the spot. A number of teachers have noted that the MS Teams programme does not run on the departmental computers and does not have the capacity of home laptops and desktop computers. There are also problems with managing students’ work in seminars, and the interface is not user-friendly.

There are such problems on a number of computers in different buildings that did not use to be used to conduct classes with multimedia software and equipment and may not meet MS Teams requirements in a number of ways. In response to requests from the directors and deans, and also from the heads of departments, the equipment is being selectively upgraded, taking into account the reserves of equipment on hand and what can be assembled from different places. In addition, comprehensive upgrading and re-equipping are being carried out: 75 PCs have been purchased to refresh the computer fleet (on average, 3 computers per faculty) and 120 laptops for the academic staff (on average, 5 laptops for each faculty). Consideration is being given to meting out an additional 260 laptops for this purpose (11 per institute or faculty).

A third complaint had to do with the choice of platforms: despite the 40-minute time limit for free accounts, some teachers feel that Zoom is more convenient than MS Teams. It was explained that the MS Teams and Zoom programmes serve different purposes. MS Teams is integrated into the St Petersburg University corporate environment (with user accounts, user groups, which are formed according to the year of study, and course teams), with the possibility of automatic recording and storage of meetings, file allocation, etc. Zoom is a platform for audio-visual meetings, which is easier to use because it does not offer the possibility of creating student groups. It also does not provide automatic storage of recordings (once finished, they have to be manually transferred to special resources).

In a fourth complaint, students reported that in a St Petersburg University hall of residence in the Nevsky District (at 27/1 Solidarnosti Prospect) access to the Internet is often cut off. The students asked for measures to be taken. In response, it was explained to them that, according to the monitoring system, the port load at this particular hall of residence was 20 percent. The last transmission interruption at this hall of residence was on 25 September at 15.21 and it lasted for 28 minutes (during a power outage).

The main problems and complaints of Internet users are related to the functioning of personal equipment. A considerable number of students use their own Wi-Fi routers, to which users are connected that are not registered with the IT Division. As a result, personal equipment may malfunction and load speed may decrease. An analysis of students’ appeals to the Virtual Reception shows that, as a rule, it is students that are not registered as subscribers who complain about a poor Internet connection and, as it turns out, those who have paid for the Internet have no complaints at all.

And there was a fifth complaint: ‘Unfortunately, there were also some rather unfruitful contacts with the IT Division.’ The head of a department reported that in one session with MS Teams, it turned out that he was not able to enter a programme, which ‘gave’ him the following explanation: ‘You have not been granted access either because your organisation has not set up an account or your password is invalid.’ He tried to deal with it on his own, but to no avail, so he tried to call, using the specified phone number, but couldn’t get through. In the end, he wrote to the support service.

As it turned out, he himself had changed the password on 28-29 September (there is an entry in the logs of the authorisation system). It should be noted that login passwords for all systems (one single account is used) are the same. Having recalled the right password, he was able to get into MS Teams. His appeal had been recorded by the technical support helpline (the written request had not been recorded). The technical support desk, however, has no information about user passwords and is unable (without proof of a user’s identity) to quickly and remotely reset a password. Since the problem had been resolved by the user himself and there had been no further appeals, the request for a new password was dropped because the deadline had already passed. In response to the request, a face-to-face meeting was held with him, for the purpose of consultation and for adjustment of the equipment. A decision was made to update the computer, which was in one of the classrooms of the Mendeleev Centre, so that the staff in this department could work more effectively in MS Teams.

4. Misconduct and disciplinary action

Information about violations of internal labour regulations comes from different sources, both from an analysis of the records of visits by officials, deans and directors with representatives of student councils and trade unions and from appeals received through the Virtual Reception, by e-mail, or by other means.

For example, on 12 November, a first-year student appealed to the Senior ViceRector for Academic Activities and Teaching Methods in reference to several instances when classes taught by Valentin Starikov, an assistant lecturer in the Department of the Theory and History of Sociology, got late starts (later than they were supposed to according to the timetable). These facts were confirmed by an investigation. In an explanatory letter, the teacher admitted to these late starts, attributing them to ‘technical constraints and problems with Internet (online) access’, and committed himself to conducting additional classes (seminars) in the course, The History of Sociology, at dates and times agreed to by the students. When considering disciplinary action against an employee of the University, the following factors are weighed: the presence or absence of malicious intent, the degree of guilt, the proportionality of the punishment to the gravity of the offence, the circumstances in which it was committed and the person’s work ethic. Taking into account that there had been no previous complaints about Assistant Lecturer Starikov’s observance of the labour regulations, and that he enjoyed a generally favourable reputation, the decision was made to limit his punishment to a warning that henceforth such offenses would be impermissible.

It was pointed out at the meeting that over the past three months, 27 violations have been reported, for each of which an investigation has been conducted and disciplinary measures have been taken (as a comparison, during the same period in 2019, there were 12 violations). This year, the most frequent infraction was nonobservance of the mask requirement (ten reprimands), followed by smoking in undesignated areas (three associate professors in the Faculty of Philology — Olga Blinova, Anastasiia Ryko and Suren Takhtadzian), and also disorderly conduct and security violations. To be more precise, research engineer Boichenko gave her pass to another person so that they could enter the University, IT Division engineer Siukalov broke the rules by taking equipment out of a University building, and Professor Sergei Maksimov of the Institute of Earth Sciences, while driving into the courtyard of 33 10th Line, completely demolished one wing of the gate and, in so doing, caused damage to the University.

5. The Personal Digital Certificates Project becomes a reality

In 2018, as part of the National Technological Initiative of Russia, the Distributed Ledger Technologies Centre was established at St Petersburg University (‘Results of the Meeting of the Academic Council of St Petersburg University dated 24 June 2019’). The Centre is engaged in research and applied engineering design, and also in teaching and learning. Accordingly, in two years, six non-degree programmes, five online courses and three master’s programmes (in Physics and Mathematics, Economics and Political Science) have been created.

Recently, the latest in a series of events was held on the Autonomous Nonprofit Organisation platform, the University of National Technology Initiative 2035. The information posted there about the St Petersburg University academic programmes, designed by expert teachers at the Distributed Ledger Technologies Centre, was sought after. The government pays for the instruction given in these courses in the form of personal digital certificates, the purpose being to create competencies in the digital economy among Russians. Seventeen students received such certificates, and ten of them went through the training. In this way, St Petersburg University became a participant in the Personal Digital Certificates Project (which is part of another project: Personnel for the Digital Economy). These opportunities will expand.

6. St Petersburg University students are among the winners of the Samsung IT Academy Inter-University Student Project Contest 2020

Two years ago, St Petersburg University signed an agreement of strategic partnership with Samsung Electronics. The two parties subsequently signed another agreement to launch the Samsung IT Academy project at the University (‘The Rector of St Petersburg University and the President of Samsung Headquarters have signed a cooperation agreement’). Our students have since become participants in Samsung projects.

Recently, the work of St Petersburg University students from three academic programmes in applied mathematics, ‘A System for the Monitoring of Crowding Levels in Suburban Trains’, reached the finals of the Samsung IT Academy InterUniversity Student Project Contest 2020 and was one of the top three projects in the Internet of Things section. The finals were held on 11 November, 2020, and the St Petersburg University team (Aleksandra Gavrilova, Nikita Antonov and Aleksandr Timofeev) took second place. There is a system that monitors for vacant seats that is already operational in London’s suburban trains, and such a system is soon to be set up for the first time in our country. It will have a convenient interface based on a mobile communications system.

7. St Petersburg University’s agreement with the VTB Bank

A charitable donation agreement has been concluded between St Petersburg University and the VTB Bank. Construction works will be carried out to install a fence on the University’s Mikhailovskaya Dacha campus along SanktPetersburgskoe Shosse and also to improve travel on the road. The grounds (including nine halls of residence and academic buildings) will be re-landscaped so that by the beginning of the next academic year we will have a well-protected campus. The meeting noted the role that Olga Dergunova, Director of the St Petersburg University Graduate School of Management, had played in concluding the contract with the VTB Bank.

8. University experts participate in formulating a conception for the scientific and technological development of St Petersburg

During the course of the year 2020, leading experts from St Petersburg University were invited to take part in efforts to come up with a draft Conception for the Scientific and Technological Development of St Petersburg up until 2030 (CSTD), which is under the direction of Vice-Governor of St Petersburg Vladimir Kniaginin. Among them are Professor Sergei Tunik, Dean of the Faculty of Biology Academician Igor Tikhonovich, and Director of the Institute of Pedagogy Elena Kazakova. In their reports, it is noted that a great deal was done in the Natural Sciences and Mathematics and Research and Innovation Infrastructure working groups to come up with proposals for sections of the future CSTD. Even so, almost none of the proposals were included in the final version.

On 26 November, at a meeting of the Governor of St Petersburg’s Science and Technology Council, the draft Conception for the Scientific and Technological Development of St Petersburg up until 2030 was presented. All the members of the Council, who had been included in the list of speakers, endorsed the proposed version. After that, first Nikolay Kropachev, Rector of St Petersburg University and Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and then Vladimir Litvinenko, Rector of the Saint Petersburg Mining University, took the floor. Mr Kropachev drew the attention of the Governor and the members of the Council to several important areas of scientific and technological development in St Petersburg, as they are described in the current version of the CSTD. He pointed out that although the authors of the conception believe that these will be the driving force behind the further development of the city and deserve support, they do not take into account the substantial contributions of the team from St Petersburg University. He cited, as an example, that when it comes to research and development in the social sciences and the humanities, mention should be made of the role played by the St Petersburg University institutes in these fields, as they have traditionally been a key source in our region for the grooming of brainpower — for the institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences as well — and the generation of research in this field. He also drew attention to the valuable contributions of the social sciences and the humanities to the city’s development and to the necessity of involving the socio-humanities divisions of St Petersburg University in the CSTD project as among the pivotal organisational structures that would form its backbone.

In a similar vein, for the life sciences, he noted the role of the St Petersburg University Institute of Translational Biomedicine, whose director, Raul Gainetdinov, is one of the most highly cited researchers in the world. The Rector proposed that the Institute, one of the leaders in its field, should be a key player in the CSTD project, as, along with the Pirogov Clinic of High Medical Technologies, it would have a profound effect on scientific and technological achievements in the region, elevating them to a global level. The Rector of the Mining University said that he supported Mr Kropachev’s proposals and noted other shortcomings in the conception.

The chairman of the Council, Governor of St Petersburg Alexander Beglov, requested that the criticism be taken into account. He pointed out that there is a similar conception of scientific and technological development being prepared in the Leningrad Region. A working group, representing the governments of the two regions, will attempt to revise and harmonise the two documents, taking into account that they are one big megalopolis, and with due consideration to the recommendations made by St Petersburg University.

It was noted at the Rector’s Meeting that, while preparing the conception for the scientific and technological development of St Petersburg, the University experts and the members of the working groups had not reacted promptly enough to the results of the group discussions. And it was stressed that when they serve on such committees, St Petersburg University experts should not only champion their own positions on the issues under discussion but also defend the interests of the University.

9. Publication of information about teachers on the St Petersburg University portal

A question came in to the Virtual Reception from a person who is not employed by the University concerning the publication of information on the St Petersburg University portal about teachers at the Faddeev Academic Gymnasium, which provides a comprehensive secondary education. He did not find information about some teachers (their level of education, qualifications and work experience), but found, he said, information about teachers who apparently are no longer employed there. It was reported at the meeting that Rosobrnadzor (the Federal Service for Supervision in Education and Science) had approved the requirements for the layout of the official website of this educational organisation and the format in which it presented information. These requirements will take effect on 1 January 2021. On the St Petersburg University portal, full information about teachers will be made known to the public in accordance with the requirements. The volume of information on the University portal is constantly growing, and the University requirements exceed those of Rosobrnadzor (for example, information about a teacher’s publication activity and their participation in obtaining grants is included). At the moment, there is no uniform standard, so this information is posted in different ways on the pages of the academic and research departments of the University, and monitoring of how it is posted and updated is carried out manually by the staff of the institutes and the faculties.

It was also noted that the list of full-time teachers at the University who have classes with the schoolchildren at the Academic Gymnasium, especially after the temporary move to Peterhof, has undergone some changes. In any case, the missing information was gathered, and the page on the site of the Academic Gymnasium was brought in line with the requirements of Rosobrnadzor, which was reported to the person who had appealed to the Virtual Reception.

10. Reporting on holding positions in the national or local civil service

When the University concludes a labour contract, or an independent contractor agreement, with an individual who holds or has held during the past two years a position in the national or local civil service that is included on a list of positions established by statutes and regulations of the Russian Federation, that individual is obliged to inform the personnel department. The staff of the personnel department, in turn, are obliged to request and obtain permission to document this individual’s relationship with the University according to the place of their national or local civil service, as provided for in article 12, paragraphs 2 and 4, of the Federal Act of 25 December 2008, 273-FZ, On Counteracting Corruption, and parts 2 and 3 of article 64.1 of the Labour Code of the Russian Federation.

To ensure that the University and the individual in question comply with this requirement, in the text of labour contracts and independent contractor agreements with natural persons for the performance of work or the rendering of services, a clause is included prescribing the filling in of the relevant document, in which the candidate notes whether they have or have not held a position in the national or local civil service over the past two years.

11. Competition for the 2021 awards of the Government of the Russian Federation in the field of education

The Inter-Departmental Council for the Government of the Russian Federation awards in education has announced a competition for the 2021 awards. Works that are compliant with the list of requirements are being accepted in person from the authors, or from their proxies, at the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation, and are also being posted by the authors on the Правпремии.рф website until 10 February 2021. Students are asked to send their works to the address of Marina Lavrikova, Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Activities and Teaching Methods, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. It is important to note that, in order to meet all procedural requirements, the deadline for applications is 18 December 2020. The announcement of the competition — along with the list, examples and requirements — is available on the site. Works that breach the requirements of the competition will not be accepted. Information about the possibility of applying for the competition will be sent to the students’ email addresses.

12. The first batch of University badges

After a discussion about the issuance of the University breast badges (Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting dated 5 October 2020), the directors of the institutes and the deans of the faculties were asked to give their opinions. In the end, a decision was taken to issue a first, trial batch of badges, after which a marketing study will be conducted to determine which of them catch the fancy of alumni and members of the University community.

Minutes of the Rector's meeting dated 23 November 2020

1. Events held in the memory of Lyudmila Verbitskaya

St Petersburg University held the International Philological Conference in Memory of Professor Lyudmila Verbitskaya from 26 to 24 November 2020 (St Petersburg University opened a free open access to a book Let’s talk correctly! by Lyudmila Verbitskaya). The conference brought together over 1,100 scholars and researchers. This is twice more than last year as the conference was held in a distance mode.

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Minutes of the Rector's Meeting dated 16 November 2020

1. Organisation of teaching and learning

Last week, 73 enquiries from teachers as well as students and their parents, including 31 enquiries on academic issues, were sent to the Virtual Reception. 21 enquiries were sent to the email of Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Activities and Teaching Methods, including 19 enquiries on academic issues. The enquiries included requests for certificates and document copies, and questions on student residence and information systems’ work.

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Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting dated 6 November 2020

1. The conference of the work groups on ‘Politics and International Relations’ and ‘Economics, Trade and Resources’ of the KRD Forum

On 5 November 2020, a strategic conference of the work groups on ‘Politics and International Relations’ and ‘Economics, Trade and Resources’ of the Korea–Russia Dialogue Forum took place at St Petersburg University. The conference was dedicated to the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and Russia. The event was held online.  

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Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting dated 2 November 2020

1. Organisation of the learning process

Last week, 35 enquiries from teachers as well as students and their parents including 7 enquiries on academic issues were sent to the Virtual Reception. 16 enquiries were sent to the e-mail of Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Activities and Teaching Methods including 13 enquiries on academic issues. The enquiries included requests for certificates and other documents, questions on the procedures of transfer and reinstatement, financial aid requests, etc.  

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Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting dated 26 October 2020

1. The commission for discussing the suggestions offered by Dr Yury Fedotov

Dr Yury Fedotov, Senior Vice-Rector for Medical Care and Director of the Pirogov Clinic of High Medical Technologies at St Petersburg University, applied to the University's Rector to open a department of postgraduate medical education and to set up an academic council of the Pirogov Clinic. The aim is to improve the quality and efficiency of education and research carried out in the Clinic. The Clinic has 16 Doctors of Sciences and 70 Candidates of Sciences (Medicine). These suggestions were discussed by the Academic Council of the Faculty of Medicine and the Academic Council of the Faculty of Dental Medicine and Medical Technologies.

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Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting dated 19 October 2020

1. The University has five winners of the RSF - DFG joint competition for grants

The results of the fifth joint competition for grants from the Russian Science Foundation and German Research Foundation (DFG) have been announced. The competition was held within the priority field of research 'Fundamental Research and Exploratory Research by International Research Collaboration Teams'. Among the competition winners are 18 projects, including 5 projects proposed by scientists and scholars from the University. Three scientists work in the natural sciences and two in the humanities: A. Timoshkin, M. Vinarski, A. Saraev, L. Moskovkin, A. Filyushkin. The amount of each grant is six million roubles to be allocated annually. The implementation period of the research project is within 2021–2023 (The Russian Science Foundation will support 18 joint Russian–German projects). Our University has the best results among all research and educational institutions across Russia. No other institution has won more than one grant.

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Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting dated 12 October 2020

1. New members of the University Academic Council elected

On 21 September 2020, at a conference of research and teaching staff, a new University Academic Council was elected for a five-year period along with representatives of other categories of workers and students (Conference on the election of a new Academic Council of St Petersburg University).

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Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting dated 5 October 2020

1. Measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19

Taking into account the revised version of the Resolution of the Government of St Petersburg No 121 'On Measures to Counteract the Spread of the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) in St Petersburg' dated 13 March 2020, additional measures the University should take to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were discussed at this Rector's meeting. All University employees working under civil law contracts and not participating in the technological processes necessary for the life of the University are transferred to the online mode of work. The same mode is maintained for academic staff aged 65+ and employees with chronic diseases.

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Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting dated 30 September 2020

1. A representative office of St Petersburg University at the University for Foreigners of Siena

A week ago, a representative office of St Petersburg University was opened in Siena, Italy. The office is housed at the University for Foreigners of Siena, a partner of St Petersburg University. This is the sixth foreign representative office of St Petersburg University and the second in Europe. The University uses its representative offices to organise various events, such as lectures, seminars, conferences, roundtable discussions, exhibitions of students' creative works, and joint competitions. The efficiency of the representative offices is reflected in the positions occupied by the University in the rankings, especially in such an indicator as internationalisation. Therefore, it is very important to organise the activities of the representative offices by filling their work with particular content. In this regard, Sergey Andryushin, Deputy Rector for International Affairs, asked the meeting participants to submit proposals on the activities that could be organised at the new representative office in Italy.

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Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting dated 14 September 2020

1. Influenza vaccination campaign

This year earlier than ever St Petersburg University has started the seasonal influenza mass vaccination. Influenza vaccination is the responsibility of territorial healthcare authorities. The University Rector addressed enquiries to concerned vice-governors to deploy mobile vaccination points on University campuses in Vasileostrovsky and Petrodvortsovy districts, so that students and staff could benefit from getting a vaccine near their homes, work or study place. The enquiry is still to be considered. Without further ado, the University approved the student vaccination schedule with Outpatient Clinic No 3 and its administration; vaccination points will be set up inside University buildings at 16/18 7th Line, Vasilyevsky Island. The vaccination schedule for another point at 35 Universitetsky prospect is pending approval with St Nikolas Hospital administration. Vaccination schedules will be tailored to the academic timetable and posted on the University website.

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Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting dated 7 September 2020

1. The results of the meeting of the Council for Governmental Support of the Creation and Development of World-Class Research Centres carrying out research and development in the priority areas of science and technology – the world-class research centre 'Agrotechnologies of the Future'

On 28 August, a meeting was held of the Council for Governmental Support of the Creation and Development of World-Class Research Centres carrying out research and development in the priority areas of science and technology. It was chaired by Tatyana Golikova, Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation. The meeting summed up the results of the competitive selection. Valery Falkov announced that 60 applications had been received in 2020 (St Petersburg University was presented in four applications). 11 out of 60 applications were selected for face-to-face consideration featuring presentation of charts.

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Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting dated 24 August 2020

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.

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Minutes of the Rector’s Meeting dated 17 August 2020

1. St Petersburg University in ARWU-2020 ranking

The ARWU-2020 university ranking, that reflects statistics for 2019, has been published. St Petersburg University is the only Russian organisation recognised for in the Highly Cited Researchers criterion (Researchers from St Petersburg University are listed as the most cited scientists in the world).

In this group the University is represented by three luminary scientists: Gennady Leonov, Nikolay Kuznetsov, and Raul Gainetdinov who are registered with St Petersburg University as their primary affiliation. The University was therefore awarded an extra 12 points, which raised its ranking by dozens of positions as the common graph  shows. The University Administration is committed to seeing more high citation researchers among the University academic staff, as well as to support already employed high citation researchers.

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