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.
In the near future, it is planned to open new representative offices in Germany and Afghanistan, as well as a second office in the Republic of Korea.
2. The victory of the University projects in the international competition 'Russia and Germany: Scientific and Educational Bridges'
On 15 September, the closing ceremony of the Russian–German Year of Scientific and Educational Partnerships took place. The ceremony honoured the winners of the open international competition 'Russia and Germany: Scientific and Educational Bridges', organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany. During the competition, several dozen projects were selected. A total of 28 Russian and German universities took part in it. St Petersburg University was awarded three prizes: three joint projects implemented by the University were distinguished, which is the best result among all the participating universities. The Ural Federal University was awarded two prizes, while the rest of the Russian participants received one award each. On the German part, only three universities received two awards each, and all of the others – only one. The winners are: the Centre for German and European Studies (CGES), a joint project of St Petersburg University and Bielefeld University; the German–Russian Interdisciplinary Science Centre G-RISC, a joint project of St Petersburg University and the Free University of Berlin; and the project ‘International Collaborative Research Centre TRR160: Coherent manipulation of interacting spin excitations in tailored semiconductors’ implemented by St Petersburg University jointly with the Ioffe Institute of Physics and Technology and the Technical University of Dortmund.
3. Answers to questions in the Virtual Reception about the organisation of the teaching and learning process
Over the past week, the Virtual Reception received 98 applications from students and teachers. 43 of them were related to various teaching and learning issues. These include questions from international students, who are told how to get involved in the learning process in each field of study.
When answering the questions of the meeting participants, Sergey Andryushin, Deputy Rector for International Affairs, explained that various types of feedback were provided to international students who still could not come to St Petersburg University to study. A University Telegram channel and a chat bot have been launched for international students, so they could ask their questions, get answers and discuss any current issues related to the teaching and learning process organisation. The staff of the academic offices and the Office for International Academic Cooperation are monitoring the chatrooms and answer questions. The most frequent ones are about the possibility of online connection to classes in a particular subject. In most cases (more than 90%), the issue is resolved or alternative ways of getting students 'involved' are found (to provide them with an audio recording of the class, for example).
One of the enquiries in the Virtual Reception contained a question about the possibility for University students to attend other students' online classes. The meeting participants were reminded that such status as a non-degree student existed at the University, so any student of our University, if they wish, may attend any class in any academic programme and at any building of the University, if there was an organisational and technical opportunity for that (for example, a sufficient number of seats in a particular classroom). There really is such a practice. Therefore, a positive answer was given to the above-mentioned question about the attendance of online classes as a non-degree student. To be provided such opportunity, the student should apply to the head of the relevant academic office with an appropriate statement, and they will be given such an opportunity if technologies allow.
There were also questions about online training. Sergei Belov, Dean of the Faculty of Law, spoke about the questions asked by the students of the 'Fundamentals of Constitutional Law' course. There is an online course that is recommended for them at the Russian National Open edX Platform. The University teaching and learning process actively uses online courses, including those implemented within the framework of the Coursera for Campus project. This project continues, and University students have free access to online courses on the Coursera platform. As a partner of this programme, the University has an unlimited number of licences. All students must register by 31 October 2020 and complete their studies by the end of the calendar year. The University also provided students of other higher education institutions with free access to the University online courses hosted on this platform.
As decided in the spring of 2020, in order to organise free access to online courses on the Russian National Open edX Platform and Coursera for the University students, the director of the institute or the dean of the faculty must agree to include the recommended online course into the appropriate list of online courses, whose learning outcomes may be credited within the framework of the student's academic programme. The issued certificate can be used for credit transfer either of the whole discipline or of a part thereof. As happened in the last academic semester, the receipt of the above information from the director or the dean by the Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Activities and Teaching Methods is the basis for preparing documents for the educational platform. After that, students have the opportunity not only to study free of charge but also to be issued a certificate.
Some of the questions in the Virtual Reception were related to changing the mode of the classes. Remarkably, there even were opposing requests among such appeals: some students wanted to preserve classroom-based training while others wanted the classes to be transferred online. Students of one of the master's programmes in sociology appealed to the Virtual Reception with a proposal to switch to the distance mode completely, and, after a comprehensive study of their particular case, that idea was supported. What mattered was that it was a small second-year group and the courses planned in their curriculum for the autumn semester of that academic year could well be conducted online.
Students of one of the master's programmes in law, 'Legal Protection of Economic Competition', were worried that they believed they were enrolled in an academic programme that was implemented at the Department of Competition Protection. Yet, a short time ago, the department was reorganised as the FAS Institute. The students asked what would be written in their diplomas and what the transformation of their department into an institute meant for them. The students were told that the structural changes had nothing to do with changing the essence of the academic programme. The academic staff involved in the implementation of academic programmes at St Petersburg University are either employed by or have civil law relations with St Petersburg University as a legal entity, not with a particular faculty, which is its subdivision. Thus, neither the creation nor reorganisation of University subdivisions changes the operation of academic programmes. The students were enrolled in the programme (not the academic department) and they will be trained in this programme. The students study at the University, not at the faculty or at the academic department (Why there are no 'classes at the faculty'?). Their educational credentials will specify: they have completed their studies at St Petersburg University; level of education – master's degree; qualification – master; main field of study – Law; and the name of the academic programme – 'Legal Protection of Economic Competition'.
Attention was also drawn to the fact that not all the directors and the deans had sent their weekly reports on academic work and work with student councils (there were no reports from the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, the Director of the Medical College, and the Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science).
The heads of several academic subdivisions have analysed the information provided to them by student council members during their regular meetings.
The conversation between Dean Sergei Belov and the Student Council of the Faculty of Law contained questions about classroom-based and online learning: how will they study further? The Dean explained they all had to follow the class schedule. If the epidemiological situation changes, the format of the classes may change and the schedule will also be changed. It is impossible to predict in advance any changes in the epidemiological situation in Russia and in St Petersburg.
Irina Novikova, Dean of the School of International Relations said that during the first week of September there were dozens of appeals devoted to how the learning process would be organised. Remarkably, during the second week there were no questions. International students are well informed about the learning process at St Petersburg University. Positive feedback is received from them: being abroad at the moment, they feel like a part of the University student community. Irina Novikova noted that the main difficulties were associated with a sharp increase in the enrolment of international students this year: about 300 students were enrolled in the bachelor's programmes and about the same number – in the master's and postgraduate programmes. The issues related to the creation of additional training groups are resolved daily in close cooperation of the Dean and with the core members of the faculty student council. The meeting participants noted that the growth in the number of students at the School of International Relations was the largest at the University, even more than that at the Faculty of Philology. And the number of teachers is much smaller.
The second set of issues is related to foreign language teaching. Initially, it was decided to conduct many classes online. But then, at the suggestion of the student council, it was decided to make the teaching of some languages (Turkish and Chinese) partially classroom-based, so that the students of the School of International Relations would acquire the necessary skills. There is not a total transition to the classroom-based mode, only partial.
Vladimir Kazakov, Dean of the Faculty of Philology, noted that some teachers were stressed by the fact that on one day they had both online and on-campus classes. They found it difficult to switch over from one mode to the other. Yet, in the schedule, these two formats of classes are most often planned for different days. He also said that international students, who spoke Russian or studied it, either joined online classes or watched a broadcast organised for them from the classroom. There were no complaints from the faculty student council. Yet, students are paying attention to the increase in the number of coronavirus infections and to the fact that the classes of some groups are being transferred to the online mode.
When answering the questions of the directors and the deans, Senior Vice-Rector Elena Chernova highlighted that the University administration was informed of the equipment required for classrooms. The necessary applications were formed and submitted, and funds were raised. Such applications are sent to a single addressee, the head of the University Information Technology Service. Moreover, the available funds have already been used to retrofit a number of classrooms located at 11 Universitetskaya Embankment. The economic feasibility of retrofitting all classrooms is highly questionable. These problems are resolved through scheduling. Optimal solutions for the equipment of each building where the teaching and learning process is organised have been made. The purchase will be made before the end of the calendar year.
4. COVID-19 enquiries in the Virtual Reception
Students ask questions about COVID-19 in the Virtual Reception. For example, 'for what reason my course mate was forced to self-isolate'. It was explained at the meeting that if a student or an employee showed any signs of coronavirus infection (or in case of a contact with infected persons), the University organised self-isolation of students accommodated at the University halls of residence. Together with them, those who lived with them must be self-isolated, too. This is done to ensure the safety of others. Then a University-organised test for COVID-19 is carried out. Self-isolation is maintained until the test results are received. In this case, the learning process is organised online.
If the test is negative, the self-isolation regime is removed and students are allowed to attend classes. Classes either continue to be organised online, or return to the on-campus mode. That will depend on the results of tests of the students who have been on self-isolation in places of residence outside the University halls of residence, as well as the results of tests of the teacher who lectured in this group. If the tests of students are positive, they are hospitalised for treatment in specialised hospitals of St Petersburg. The meeting participants noted that the information in the media about the self-isolated University students had been distorted. When the isolated students were to be tested for coronavirus, not all of them could be found at the self-isolation site. Yet, they were found later and the test was done. The test results have recently been received, and they are all negative. The self-isolation regime has been removed for these students.
It was also noted that the University has formed a team of volunteers (Since the beginning of the pandemic, over a hundred University seniors receive assistance from the University volunteers). Self-isolated students can also turn to them for help (The University volunteers are ready to help students). They are helped and supported by the employees of the University halls of residence.
5. Once again about influenza vaccination
It has already been reported that St Petersburg University approved a schedule of influenza vaccination in the premises of the University in 16/18 7th Line of Vasilyevsky Island and 20 Korablestroitelei Street. The schedule was negotiated with Polyclinic No 3, so that the employees and students could use this opportunity to get vaccinated near their place of residence, study and work (Minutes of the Rector's meeting dated 14 September 2020). The administration of Polyclinic No 3 allocated a vaccine limit for the University: 330 vaccinations at each point. Yet, only 33 University employees showed up there during the first week (instead of the expected 660). The polyclinic curtailed its activities, having considered it ineffective to spend the doctors' working time. The University staff were offered to be vaccinated either in their district polyclinics or in two polyclinics of the Vasileostrovsky District located in the 3rd Line of Vasilyevsky Island and 64 Zheleznovodskaya Street. The vaccination will take place with a general queue, since there are many people who want to be vaccinated.
During the meeting, Rector Nikolay Kropachev and Leonid Ivanov, Chairperson of the University Trade Union Committee, approved a proposal to introduce an additional clause in the collective agreement: the University grants one extra day to the annual vacation for an employee who will get vaccinated against influenza.
6. Organisation of classes in the online mode
There are inquiries in the Virtual Reception from teachers who encounter difficulties with connecting to the Internet and conducting classes in the online mode. It was explained that there was an option to connect to the Internet via a SIM card (at a reduced rate). Or the teacher can conduct online classes using a specially equipped room (PC room) in one of the University buildings closest to the teacher's place of residence. There is no need to invite students there. To do this, the teacher should fill out an application form and agree on the room for the classes.
7. On the inadmissibility of violating the procedure for organising on-campus events at the University
It has already been reported that all mass extracurricular events at the University have been either cancelled, or postponed until 1 January 2021, or rescheduled to later dates (Minutes of the Rector's meeting dated 14 September 2020). These include mass extracurricular events organised at the initiative of students if the number of participants exceeds 30.
A recent case was discussed, when on the night of 19–20 September, students held an unauthorised public event in the Peterhof campus, behind the building of the Palace of Culture and Science. There were over 500 participants. Due to prompt action taken by the employees of the University Security Department in cooperation with the Peterhof law enforcement forces, any potential adverse effects of that event were prevented. Information about the actions of the first- and second-year students was sent to Aleksandr Babich, Vice-Rector for Student Affairs and Admissions, for him to take appropriate measures of both an educational nature and disciplinary action.
It was noted that such events were definitely inadequate and unacceptable. They contradict the bylaws of St Petersburg University, in particular, those related to compliance with the requirements of Rospotrebnadzor (ban on holding public events, social distancing, face mask mandate, etc.).
8. On fake medical certificates
On 14 September, a letter was received from Yu.V. Lukin, Deputy Head of the Inquiry Department of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs in the Vasileostrovsky District of St Petersburg, about the need to organise additional work aimed at raising students' awareness of the legal consequences of submitting documents confirming the facts of their temporary disability that were not issued by medical organisations or were issued in violation of the established procedures.
The letter states that the University has developed an algorithm to suppress such crimes, which makes it possible to identify all false certificates of disability. However, it is stated in the letter, 'Unfortunately, the position of the University is not always judgemental in relation to persons who used forged documents. A number of students who have submitted forged documents are expelled from St Petersburg University immediately, without waiting for the initiation of a criminal case, while some students continue to study even after the initiation of a criminal case.' It is concluded that 'such an ambiguous position of the University administration, with its examples being immediately disseminated among the student body of the educational institution, gives students a reasonable hope that if they submit a forged document, the issue of possible expulsion will be decided in their favour'.
Deputy Rector for Security Elena Sharygina considers this requirement to be justified. She asked the Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Activities and Teaching Methods to continue expelling students in such cases, strictly and timely, informing not only her but also the students. She also considers it appropriate that Marina Lavrikova, in order to prevent such offences, should remind students of the consequences of their illegal actions before the beginning of each assessment period, for example, within the framework of Rector's meetings, as well as through student councils.
9. On the reported violations
At the meeting, particular appeals of citizens, including University students and staff, were considered. These appeals were related to violations committed by one or another University employee that could be classified as crimes or administrative offenses. The University redirects every such appeal to law enforcement authorities on the same or the next day. During 2019–2020, there were 15 appeals of that kind. In each case, inspections were carried out, and in 12 cases out of 15 the law enforcement authorities reported that the actions of the University employees did not show signs of any offense, so there were no grounds for initiating any proceedings. In three cases, the law enforcement authorities continue their investigation, as the University has filed complaints about the results and completeness of the previous inspections.
A recent appeal to the University from the editorial office of an online journal about alleged harassment of a former student by a University professor (Minutes of the Rector's meeting dated 14 September 2020) was also mentioned. According to the statement of St Petersburg University, the law enforcement authorities performed an investigation that showed that there was no evidence of violation. Aleksandr Babich, Vice-Rector for Student Affairs and Admissions, appealed to the University Ethics Committee with a request to investigate the actions of the University graduate disseminating information affecting the reputation of the teacher and the reputation of the University.
10. Results of an open tender for research and development within the framework of the capital construction project 'Design and Construction of Facilities in the Area of St Petersburg University Development'
The results of an open tender for research and development within the framework of the capital construction project 'Design and Construction of Facilities in the Area of St Petersburg University Development' have been summed up. Anyone could participate in the tender. Information about the tender was sent to the top management of companies that designed large educational facilities in the Russian Federation. The tender was won by the Studio 44 Architectural Bureau that designed, among other projects, Sirius Educational Centre in Sochi. Studio 44 was the only company that took part in the tender; there were no other applications. In early October, the University will sign a 430 million rouble contract with Studio 44.
The design stage will be completed by December 2021. The contractor needs to design the following facilities: educational buildings; educational and laboratory buildings; an observatory; an academic gymnasium building; the research unit of a scientific and technological medical complex; a library; a central refectory with a student club; and utility and administrative premises. Landscaping and public amenities, as well as the engineering infrastructure should also be designed. The working groups created at the University last autumn (Minutes of the Rector's meeting dated 23 September 2019) will be able to monitor the progress of the design work. The construction stage is planned for the period from 2022 to 2028.
It was noted at the meeting that the task for the project was formulated with respect to the proposals of the University students and staff. These include: construction of an observatory; staircases and passages as broad as possible; convenient elevators; passages between the buildings; etc. (Minutes of the Rector's meeting dated: 30 September 2019; 07 October 2019; 14 October 2019; and 21 October 2019). The Virtual Reception receives questions about 'huge' administrative areas, although in fact these areas are ten times smaller (only 5–6 thousand square metres). The rest of the premises in the administrative building will be occupied by the Scientific Library, the Archive Depository, catering premises, student leisure rooms, etc.
When answering the questions of the meeting participants, Mikhail Kudilinsky, Vice-Rector for Economic Development, reported that the University had established the maximum possible bank guarantee for the fulfilment of obligations under the contract – 30% of the project cost (not the usual 10–15%). That will protect the project from possible violations by the organisation that won the tender.