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.
The meeting participants noted that there is still a certain risk of both diseases (influenza and COVID-19) spreading in the city. Considering that the vaccine mitigates Influenza symptoms, vaccination shall alleviate the risk of high combined infection incidence – influenza in combination with COVID-19 (A St Petersburg University scientist explains how influenza vaccination can help sustain COVID-19).
2. Organisation (cancellation) of public events
Under the Decree by the Chief Sanitary Doctor of Russia No 20 ‘Prevention of influenza and acute respiratory viral infections, including the new coronavirus infection (COVID-19) in 2020–2021’, dated 13 July 2020, public cultural and sport events should be cancelled. For this reason, all extracurricular public events organised by the University are either cancelled until 1 January 2021 or postponed until a later time. The University can hold academic events, provided that all protective measures are in place (30 maximum participants). Large-scale academic events shall be either postponed or held online or in a hybrid format. This means that an event is held offline, unless the number of participants is over 30. Otherwise, events shall be held online.
For example, such a hybrid format was used to organise celebrations on 31 August 2020. There were less than 30 delegates participating offline and over 12,000 audience joining the celebration online (The matriculation ceremony for first-year students of St Petersburg University – 2020).
3. Academic process
Over the last week the Virtual reception received 62 enquiries from students and teachers. In addition, 44 enquiries addressed to the Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Activities and Teaching Methods were submitted by e-mail, including 20 related to academic issues.
Most of the enquiries concerned the timetable, class format, or classes for international students. Most questions arrived from students of the Faculty of Philology. Quite often there were contradictory enquiries. One student group asked to return to traditional offline format, while the other favoured online format only (Sports for MA students; Academic timetables; Timetables; Remote learning for international students; Inclusive education). The meeting delegates noted that the choice between offline and online learning format is a complicated issue. Decision making shall consider every particular academic programme and student group in a comprehensive manner.
4. Weekly Rector’s meetings with institute directors and faculty deans
On 11 September 2020, Marina Lavrikova, Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Activities and Teaching Methods, held a regular meeting with heads of institutes and faculties on how to organise the academic process. Earlier the Rector instructed directors and deans to meet with the student council leaders of a concerned faculty (offline or online) on a weekly basis. In addition, directors and deans shall receive daily updates from heads of departments or academic and teaching staff regarding the academic challenges they are facing.
At the meeting with the Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Activities and Teaching Methods deans and directors noted that over the past week a few issues were reported and ‘all of them were promptly resolved in due manner’. For example, sociology students reported a few discrepancies in the faculty timetable. A teacher of psychology did not timely receive a student list for classes at the Faculty of Biology. 1st year students of the Faculty of Economics reported that their online mathematics class was disrupted due to the teacher’s broken mic. The freshers, however, failed to inform the teacher during class. Therefore, the teacher had to repeat the class on a different day.
It was therefore highlighted that fast feedback from students and responses from teachers, institute directors, faculty deans, and administration is essential.
Marina Lavrikova noted that some directors and deans failed to submit weekly reports on academic process and cooperation with student councils. Regrettably, Petr Iablonskii, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, and Aleksandr Kurochkin, Dean of the Faculty of Political Science, failed to submit reports.
5. Health class
A health class was organised for University students to mainstream efforts to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ivan Pchelin, Assistant Professor at the Department of Academic Internal Medicine, interviewed Ms Mazurenko, a 3rd year specialty student specialising in General Medicine, and Ms Kuzmishina, a 4th year bachelor’s student specialising in Journalism, to explain necessary prevention measures in simple language. Today such recommendations by a medical expert are highly relevant. This project has the format of an on-line interview. It was implemented by the University Centre of E-learning Development. Recorded videos are available on the Centre (Health class at the University) and the University websites (COVID-19).
6. Academic process for international students
There are over 4,500 international students at the University. Amid measures to prevent the COVID-19 spread implemented in different countries, most international students were unable to come to Russia. The University has organised distant learning across all academic programmes that enrol international students.
This week international students submitted four enquiries to the Virtual reception. They are concerned that they cannot come to Russia and wanted to find out what could be done in this respect (Distant learning for international students; Accommodating international students in halls of residence; Offline classes in rooms are allowed; Medical certificates on COVID-19 testing results required for accommodation in halls of residence; Quarantine rules). This year the University has enrolled over 2,500 international students. Many of them say that they need face-to-face communication and that ‘they’d better make a phone call’.
The University explores various channels to mainstream information on learning options. Materials are routinely sent to students by corporate mail (Information letter). International students were updated on the learning process and University internal regulations. Dedicated staff and volunteers explain international students what to do once they arrive to Russia (where to do the COVID-19 test, what is a quarantine rule, what insurances they need, etc). In addition, international students received further explanations on distant learning and communication with teachers and supervisors. Contact details of academic offices and volunteers were provided, including the Office for International Academic Cooperation.
E-mails of responsible officials are available on the University website. Freshers are regrettably not used to such advanced and efficient communication method. Most of them would rather opt for making phone calls for whatever reason. If students fail to find a responsible official’s e-mail, they can submit their enquiry to the Virtual Reception where they will receive the links to respective webpages (University academic departments, etc.). Responsible University officials regularly publish their responses to students’ questions on the Virtual Reception webpage (COVID-19).
On 8 September 2020 Sergey Andryushin, Deputy Rector for International Affairs, held a meeting with Chair of the University Student Council and Chair of the International Students’ Club. They discussed academic challenges faced by international students, as well as measures to help them (for example, by engaging University students from Russia). A set of webinars was organised to engage teachers who run online classes participated in by international students. The University launched a Telegram channel and chat-bot to ensure foreign students can ask questions, receive fast replies, and discuss routine academic and learning issues. Academic offices and the Office for International Academic Cooperation are waiting for new questions so that they can respond immediately.
Participants of the Rector’s meeting noted that the University explores a variety of channels to reach out to international students. Fast feedback is essential in this respect. It is crucial to set up and sustain communication in a friendly manner. Teachers will swiftly communicate the challenges international students are facing to University officials, unless the academic staff can resolve these issues themselves.
7. Safety measures at the University and compliance among staff and students
Order No 7270/1 ‘COVID-19 prevention measures’ dated 15 August 2020 and Order No 7517/1 ‘Measures to prevent the COVID-19 spread among students and staff’ dated 28 August 2020 prescribes safety measures to be observed by students and staff (Rector’s meeting dated 17 August 2020). Last week at least a dozen enquiries were submitted to the Virtual Reception regarding the interpretation and implementation of these orders, as well as reported violations. Some of the submitted questions were as follows. Should those who have recovered from COVID-19 and have serum antibodies wear masks (University introduced mandatory masks for individuals with acquired COVID-19 immunity). Should the laboratory staff wear masks during laboratory trials (PPE is mandatory at practical classes). All these questions have one and same answer: wearing PPE (masks) is mandatory on the University premises without exception, including University guests of all ranks (Wearing PPE on the University premises).
To prevent the spread of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the University approved the composition of inspection commissions to monitor compliance with the PPE regulation on the University premises. These commissions bring together student leaders and University staff trade unions. On workdays commissions are engaged in prevention efforts and ensure compliance with the PPE regulation and safety measures. Reports on violations are drafted for further consideration by responsible officials to impose disciplinary punishment. Overall, University students and staff show compliance.
Nevertheless, various sources (including commission reports) note that some University students and staff are still unaware of the PPE regulation. If a student takes the mask off at class and refuses to put it on, teachers shall require that such student leaves the classroom. In the event that the student refuses to comply with this lawful requirement, the class must end. Safety measures must be followed outside classrooms in the University halls and lounges. For example, on 11 September 2020 the commission was inspecting a building on 3 Ulyanovskaya street and spotted a group of physics students. Three of them were not wearing masks. They were told to put on masks. The students complied. Later, however, these students showed up unmasked on the same place, their faces uncovered again. A report on masks regime violation was issued.
The meeting participants noted that integral public oversight is paramount, as well as disciplinary measures. Utmost responsibility is delegated to heads of structural subdivisions, academic and research team leaders as they shall mainstream benchmark behaviours among members of their teams. In this respect, it is an action of blatant negligence, that Konstantin Krotov, Head of the Graduate School of Management, was spotted by the commission in University halls without wearing a mask in public. A disciplinary case has been started for Konstantin Krotov to answer and disciplinary punishment to be imposed.
Directors and deans shall raise awareness among heads of departments and laboratories that senior officials of all levels must ensure, that staff and students of their subdivisions wear masks on the University premises, as well as comply with the PPE Regulation themselves.
8. Appeal to law enforcement bodies
On 30 June 2020 the University received an enquiry from an online journal to comment on a publication in a popular social network. The journal reports that ‘Daria Valeeva, a University graduate of the Faculty of Asian and African Studies, published in Facebook, that she had been sexually harassed by a University professor. She reported that the professor was touching her in an unpleasant manner at the beginning of every consultation. The student also had to undergo treatment in a psychiatric hospital. She reported that her health deteriorated due to her academic supervisor's behaviour.
Considering that such information allegedly suggests a violation of individual’s rights that presumably resulted in harm to health, on 30 July 2020 Elena Sharygina, Deputy Rector for Security, addressed law enforcement authorities. The next day the online journal published an article, how Daria Valeeva, a University graduate, was sexually harassed by a University professor when she was a student.
In response to the University appeal, the law enforcement authorities performed an investigation. No evidence of violation was found.
9. The University Priladozhskaya Teaching and Research Centre
Today the University owns 12 teaching and research centres. These centres include 136 buildings and structures. Most of them were built in 1940s to 1970s and require maintenance of capital repair. Until 2010 these teaching and research centres were managed by faculties and their deans. Without any oversight by central administration and the Rector’s office, deans maintained and developed these teaching centres on their own. After 2010 a dedicated office for teaching and research centre maintenance and development was established to ensure uniform and centralised management. This enabled the optimisation of some maintenance expenses and costs (payroll).
After many decades the University organised the first ever land and estate inventory. Most property was eventually registered as Russian Federation property and then officially handed over to the University for operational management. Some facilities are still undergoing registration (Why the University still fails to register tenancy of its estate?; Old buildings and old challenges). The University is granted the right to apply for public funding for capital repair and maintenance of its officially registered buildings and structures. Back in 1990s and early 2000s the University management was reproaching the Government and the Ministry of Education and Science for ‘failure to allocate funds for capital repair and maintenance of resource centres’ ‘despite all the reasons’. Therefore, they claimed, that the University management had to allegedly squander extrabudgetary resources earned by economists, lawyers, managers, psychologists to sustain resource centres for biologists, geographers, and geologists. In reality, it is the University management’s expectations to received public funding for maintenance and repair of buildings that were not anyhow registered with the University as their tenant. What stopped the University management from registering tenancy for land and buildings earlier in the 1990s, and to start receiving public funds from the Russian Federation budget to maintain these facilities and repair them?! Lack of resources to repair and maintain these resource centres has turned them in shambles. Today the University requires 1,263 million roubles for capital repair and maintenance. Requests have been submitted to the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, the Ministry of Finance, and the Government of the Russian Federation.
The Accounts Chamber audit report dated 2018 states that a new modular dormitory building housing 64 beds was built on the premises of the University Priladozhskaya Teaching and Research Centre. The University tenancy, however, was not registered by that time. The modular building was, therefore, not in operation, as the Accounts Chamber reports. The University management had to haphazardly repair an older building to organise classes there. Naturally, the results of such a ‘makeshift’ repair generated a lot of disapproval.
A number of meetings with student councils of ‘field’ institutes, faculties, and heads of concerned departments were held. Later older buildings underwent extensive repairs. In February 2020 practical class were organised there.
Meanwhile, the Offices of Vice-Rector for Economic Development Mikhail Kudilinsky and Deputy Rector for Legal Affairs Yury Penov were rigorously driving the tenancy registration for the land where the new modular building was located. In May 2020 the court ruled in favour of the University and acknowledged the property rights of the Russian Federation to this land. The 64-bed dormitory was commissioned. The University Priladozhskaya Teaching and Research Centre was ready to host students and staff in the coming academic year. The old and new building were available for practical classes. Due to the COVID-19, however, summer practical classes were postponed until later.
The meeting delegates noted that that this specific tenancy acknowledgement procedure was developed by the University lawyers and is efficiently implemented by other organisations in Russia.
10. The University Centre for Urban Studies and Land Development OOO is registered
In August the University registered another small innovative enterprise — the University Centre for Urban Studies and Land Development OOO. The initiative belongs Evgenij Bondarchuk, Minister of Architecture and Land Development of the Sakhalin region and former University graduate (The Department of Economic Geography). It is going to optimise land development paperwork, deal with urban planning, etc. This small innovative enterprise fits very well into the economic and organisational structure of the University. The University already operates the Department of Land Improvement and Cadastral Register and a multidisciplinary academic programme on Geourbanistics. The small innovative enterprise is going to engage University students and teachers into its projects.