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.  

The Rector’s meeting conducted an analysis of information provided by: the heads of the academic and research departments; student councils; and student council members during their meetings including the meetings with the heads of the academic and research departments.  

For example, Egor Baranovskii, Chair of the University Student Council of the Institute of Chemistry, reported that the students working on their graduation projects are apprehensive about the possible denial of access to research equipment in the resource centres of St Petersburg University.  It was explained at the meeting that no decisions have been taken on suspending the students from using the equipment of the Research Park. On the contrary, all necessary arrangements will be made for the students to conduct research, and to work on their graduation projects in compliance with the requirements of Rospotrebnadzor. It was also noted that this semester St Petersburg University is aiming to hold all the curriculum classes that have to be conducted in the classroom (business games, laboratory-based work, rehearsals, equipment-based activity of the Research Park, etc.). There is no plan to transfer such classes to the next semester.

There was an enquiry from students of economics on the examination format during the current supplementary examination period. In the summer, the examination on the academic discipline was held in the online format, whereas the teacher scheduled the examination re-sitting in person in the classroom. The students addressed the Virtual Reception with a request to hold the examination re-sitting in the online format, similar to the way other students did it in the summer. Marina Lavrikova confirmed that the examination re-sitting should be held in the online format and instructed the staff in charge of the supplementary examination period accordingly.  

All directors and deans continue their collaboration with the student councils of the academic and research departments on a regular basis. They send weekly reports on the academic process and work with the students and student councils. The Dean of the Faculty of Biology reported that the students of the faculty are worried about the test on Life Safety. They study this discipline in an online course and for the first time they will take a test with the use of proctoring technology.  The students feel insecure about the new procedure and expect issues. The participants of the meeting noted that other students had also expressed similar concerns during the previous examination period. Experience has shown that such concerns are far-fetched, while the proctoring procedure has been tested and all issues can be rapidly resolved in real-time mode (Monumental team work: Associate Professor Viktor Titov on academic and research activity in ‘the age of the pandemic’Online courses of St Petersburg University gain popularity during the pandemic). The directors and deans were instructed to talk to the representatives of the student councils giving explanations about the online courses and the format of examinations and tests with the use of proctoring.  

2. Organisation of catering

A student sent an enquiry to the Virtual Reception on the organisation of catering in the Smolny campus buildings. The enquiry of the student was examined and the described facts were proved to be false. 

At the meeting it was explained that all catering services work at the University are in full compliance with the agreements. The agreements define the menu and the terms of operation for the dining halls and cafeterias. These terms and conditions are defined and approved by the University and the people who work and study in the relevant buildings via the trade union committee and the student councils of the departments.

Moreover, in contrast with the majority of universities and organisations in Russia, for many years members of the general public (trade union committee of the workers, trade union committee of undergraduate and postgraduate students, the student councils) have played an active role in controlling the implementation of agreements, works and services conducted on behalf of St Petersburg University (Comments and proposals as feedback toolsTrade union committee of St Petersburg University in charge of public monitoring at the University). This includes the work of catering services (Dietary regime cannot be violated). In 2019, for example, representatives of trade unions and student councils took part in the acceptance of works in 70 agreements and contracts for the general amount of 136,075,652.9 roubles on 63 occasions or in 90% of cases. This year the acceptance of works in 44 agreements and contracts with the due date in 2020-2022 for the general amount of 1,460,587,404 roubles coincided with the pandemic and the representatives of trade unions and student councils were able to take part in the acceptance of works and services only 21 times or in 48% of cases.  Furthermore, it should be noted that a large number of the agreements have not yet been completed.

3. Sharing a room with a medical resident and the issue of resettlement

A student’s mother shared her concern with the Virtual Reception that her daughter shares a room in the hall of residence with a medical resident, who visits hospitals and interacts with COVID patients. Worried that her daughter can contract the disease, the mother requests to resettle the medical resident. 

Already in spring, a special hall of residence was arranged for the medical residents of St Petersburg University, who worked in the ‘red zone’ of the city hospitals. All medical residents were informed through the student councils of the Faculty of Medicine, Faculty of Dental Medicine and Medical Technologies that they can resettle to that hall of residence. However, only one person stated their willingness to relocate. According to the legislation of the Russian Federation, the agreement for residence in the hall of residence is concluded with the students for the whole period of learning and can be modified only upon consent of the student.

4. Continuous control of compliance with the safety measures

To prevent the spread of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), 20 inspection commissions continue monitoring compliance of the University staff and students with the PPE regulation on the University premises (Minutes of the Rector's meeting dated 19 October 2020)  Over the past week the commissions conducted over 140 inspections to control compliance with the PPE regime and safety measures.  The number of violations is decreasing. No repeated violations have been recorded. The reports of the commission on violations of the PPE regulation and safety measures are forwarded to the Department for Youth Affairs. This information was discussed at the meetings of the University student councils. The student council members unanimously supported the proposed disciplinary measures. Nine orders on imposing disciplinary measures on students have been created.

At the meeting it was also reported that some teachers complain that the inspections monitoring compliance with the PPE regulation are performed during classes, which allegedly distracts the students and the teacher. However, Rospotrebnadzor recommendations of 27 July 2020 clearly state that the inspections monitoring compliance with the PPE regulation must be conducted in the classrooms during classes. Upon the recommendation of the chairpersons of the boards, disciplinary measures are applied for violation of the face mask regime as well as for non-compliance with the security measures. Six orders on the punishment of teachers and employees were issued. Three orders are waiting for approval. Two employees were requested to provide explanations. 

5. Experience of organising the educational process in the online format at the universities in St Petersburg and Leningrad region 

In May–June 2020, the University Centre for Sociology and Internet Research conducted a survey among the members of academic and teaching staff of the universities in St Petersburg and Leningrad region on organising the educational process in the online format amid measures to prevent COVID-19 spread.  

Answering the question about the difficulties of adapting to the process of teaching online, the majority of respondents (53.2%) indicated that it was work with the students remotely without direct physical contact. Other difficulties were also pointed out: organising online classes for practical tasks (28%); developing and using an evaluation system for academic activity (24.8%); and organising interaction between the students during online classes (24.8%). Resolving technical issues during online classes (23.4%) and providing for a comfortable work space at home (23.2%) were slightly less important.  

The next question concerned the involvement of students. On the one hand, many respondents replied that the students rarely showed initiative in organising online classes (41%). On the other hand, respondents report an increased interest of the students in studying the course (28.3%). The participants of the meeting underscored the activity and initiative among St Petersburg University students in particular recalling the way student volunteers helped the teachers in organising remote teaching process (Since the beginning of the pandemic, over a hundred University seniors receive assistance from the University volunteers). The respondents noted that the students were rarely late (49.6%) or unprepared (51.3%), and rarely missed classes without prior notice (43.9%).

Answering the question on the organisation of classes in the online format, the majority of respondents (67.3%) indicated special university platforms (Blackboard platform at St Petersburg University). There were other responses as well including live video of lectures with an option of taking part in the discussion (Skype, etc.) (56.6%), sending the lecture materials and tasks to students via email (45.4%), and even providing a list of recommended readings and tasks for independent study (26.7%). The participants of the meeting emphasised that passive forms of organising classes and independent work for students were used at the University at the very beginning of the remote format. Already by May, almost all academic programmes at the University transferred to active forms of organising live classes for students in the online format using Zoom, MS Teams and other platforms. 

The sociologists examined the responses to the question about the characteristics of remote teaching. Few respondents agree with the statement that ‘with online learning I have more time to prepare for classes’: fully agree - 6.8%, somewhat agree - 16.1%, completely disagree - 47.3%. ‘I get less tired from work’: agree - 11.2%, completely disagree - 58.7%, somewhat disagree - 27.6%. ‘It is easier to communicate with the students’: agree - 16.8%, completely disagree - 48.8%, somewhat disagree - 30.8%.   ‘I spend more time preparing for classes’: fully agree - 48.3%, somewhat agree - 29.3%, disagree - 19.5%.  ‘I spend more time interacting with the students’: fully agree - 37.1%, somewhat agree - 33.5%, disagree - 26%.  According to the evaluation, many teachers were able to provide a personal approach to every student (43.1%).

The question related to the level of satisfaction with the classes was divided by the types of classes. According to the respondents, the teachers are most satisfied with their one-to-one consultations (71.4%) and the end-of-semester assessment (58.2%); they are less satisfied with the lectures (48.2%) and seminars (42.4%); and they are least satisfied with the practical tasks (18.6%).

There was a question about the specific problems of universities that had a most adverse effect on the quality of education. The respondents pointed out the following aspects: a lack of online learning skills among the students and their inability to study the material independently or perform the tasks remotely (50.1%); and a lack of technical skills of working with online platforms among the teachers (37.1%). The lack of teaching and methodological support (28.2%) and the lack of online courses (22.9%) were also noted. The participants of the meeting emphasised that the teaching and methodological support of online education was organised at St Petersburg University in due time (St Petersburg University will help the teachers organise the academic process in the online formatThe University researchers to hold webinars on online teaching for the teachers), and online-teaching was actively used (The input of St Petersburg University to online education in the country during the pandemic).

Answering the question about the forms of the online education process, the majority of respondents singled out synchronous classes in real-time mode: lectures (41.7%), seminars (50.9%), assessments and tests (35.5%). The respondents rated the effectiveness of asynchronous classes with recorded lectures and independent study of students much lower: lectures (11.8%), seminars (5.1%), assessments and tests (16.8%). They also supported combining different formats: lectures (29.4%), seminars (25.4%), assessments and tests (32.5%).

The survey also featured predictive questions. Question one: what would you like to continue using from the experience of online teaching that you have gained? The majority of positive responses were: a developed interactive modular course with multimedia attachments (31.2%); and teleconferences with the discussion of research activity and projects (25%). At the same time, some respondents gave negative feedback stating that they are not planning to use anything from the current experience in the future (18%).

Question two: what practices of distant learning would you refuse from? Here the highest rating was given to: the defence of term papers, research projects and graduation projects in the online format (45.1%); and the use of YouTube and social networks in order to post the materials for independent study (34.8%). The latter is probably related to the issue of intellectual property protection on the Internet.  The participants of the meeting were surprised by the response that stated a refusal from independent study of the materials on online-platforms (19.5%). On the contrary, St Petersburg University actively uses online courses on these platforms as a part of the educational process. (Online courses at St Petersburg University gain popularity during the pandemic).  

The responses to the question on reflecting the experience of online learning technologies in educational standards were: ‘reflect in the federal educational standards’ (15.2%); ‘reflect in the local regulatory documents of the university’ (24.9%); and ‘no need to reflect it in the standards, because the use of such technologies is up to the teacher’ (47.1%). 

Summing up the result of the survey conducted with the academic staff of the universities in St Petersburg and Leningrad region, Senior Vice-Rector Elena Chernova made several important conclusions. The majority of universities (91.3%) and teachers (75.1%) demonstrated readiness to transfer to distant learning. The overwhelming majority of universities (85.9%) issued regulatory documents governing the work in the online format. The new work format implies a certain social and psychological adjustment.  The teachers should be trained to work with the digital educational technologies as it is being done at St Petersburg University. The distant learning format opens new possibilities for the use of individual learning trajectories. The reaction of students to the new format was different, but many students reacted in a positive way. However, the students need time to acquire new skills for successful distant work.

Elena Chernova also pointed at the problems of distant learning that should be taken into account. Problem one: increased work load of the teachers (planning of teaching workload should be changed). Problem two: distant learning format is not suitable for such classes as practical activities, laboratory-based work, final assessment. Problem three: a lack of online courses and teaching and methodological support for distant learning (Presentation).

6. Implementation of student research projects in external organisations

The University students perform research activity not only within the curriculum of their major academic programme, but also on their own initiative in external organisations. With the aim of improving local regulatory documents of St Petersburg University, the new  Rules of receiving consent by St Petersburg University students for participation in a research internship or implementation of a research project in an external organisation  have been approved.

Notification procedure: students should forward an application for the attention of the Head of the Department of Youth Affairs through their personal accounts. Upon the approval of the application with the research supervisor of the academic programme or the student’s research supervisor, a relevant order is issued. The results of intellectual activity and the rights of the student and the University are determined following this procedure.

7. The profiles of St Petersburg University researchers in Google Scholar

Scientometric analysis of papers being cited by University researchers shows that only 10% of the University academic staff are registered in the Google Scholar search engine. This is one of the most popular platforms for the majority of scientific peer-reviewed journals and non-serial editions. One of the main advantages of this platform is that the registered researchers have open access to the entire content of the platform.

At the meeting, Vice Rector for Research Sergey Mikushev shared the following data: during the last five years (2015–2019), from over 3,400 academic staff members of the University, only the four most cited researchers published 174 research articles, which is 1% of all articles by the University researchers. Once these researchers of St Petersburg University registered in Google Scholar, the rating of St Petersburg University on the global level went up by 3-4%. The amount researchers are cited is taken into account in all ratings including Webometrics. The rating creators recommend to list the corporate email of the author and register in the Google Scholar system. It was not that important before, because only the list of the first 20 authors was used in the rating calculations.  Now the list of top 210 authors is used. Since many University researchers are not registered in Google Scholar, their articles are not accounted for as the University characteristics in the global ratings (general number of articles and number of times cited).

Sergey Mikushev noted that he spent less than seven minutes registering in Google Scholar. One has to register on this platform only once and then the system will automatically add the author’s articles into the database. It was decided to send guidelines on registration in Google Scholar to academic staff via corporate e-mail. 

8. Complaint of a student against the actions of a teacher

The Prosecutor’s office of Vasileostrovsky district forwarded for consideration an enquiry of a student of St Petersburg University, who demanded that one of the University teachers should be dismissed from teaching activity. According to the student, the teacher has no documents confirming the qualification and cannot teach in English.

However, the teacher in question is a graduate of St Petersburg University (2002, qualified economist-mathematician) with the academic degree of Doctor of Economics (2005) and the academic rank of Associate Professor (2010). His term of research and teaching service is over 17 years. He has a certificate confirming the knowledge of English and a registered certificate of advanced training in the relevant academic disciplines. In other words, the teacher fully complies with all the requirements, which was reported to the claimer and the Prosecutor’s office of Vasileostrovsky district.

One of the meeting participants pointed out that this student made four or five similar claims within the current year. The participants gave an example of another student who complained even more. During several years, the student filed over 240 complaints with the University (On organising the system of cryptograms). Apart from that, he filed a number of complaints to the federal authorities of the Russian Federation including the law enforcement related to the activity of the University officials. These complaints had to be treated within the framework of current inspections and requests for information.  

9. Organisation of mass media filming on the University premises

Over the past week, the University registered seven cases when representatives of different mass media contacted University employees informing them of the ‘University press-service order’ to take part in the filming of various news stories. Teachers aged over 65 also received similar calls. At the same time, no such journalists contacted the representatives of the University press-service.

Given the circumstances, it was decided to deny access to the University premises to all film crews till the improvement of the epidemiological situation. Moreover, the universities included into risk groups have been recommended to take part in filming in the online format.

10. Additions to the University Code of Ethics

The working group on the preparation of proposals to supplement the University Code of Ethics with provisions governing corporate ethics continues its work (Minutes of the Rector's meeting dated 12 October 2020). The chairperson of the working group Professor Alla Shaboltas, Dean of the Faculty of Psychology, spoke about the results of the group activity. She expressed gratitude to everyone including the students who sent proposals on supplementing the University Code of Ethics. She noted that the working group is ready to provide the next version of the Code that includes relevant updates on the standards of behaviour for University staff and students. Alla Shaboltas also offered a different mode of further activity, namely, the development of a new and more detailed text of the University Code of Ethics including the values, principles, and ethical standards important for all University members. Such activity will require more effort and continuous work.

After discussion of this question at the meeting, the Rector asked the working group participants to further discuss these issues, define their position, and present their proposals. 

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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