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.

There was a question from a postgraduate student of political science (who was enrolled in 2011–2014). According to the applicant, he completed his studies unsuccessfully due to the fact that the syllabus of the candidate’s examination in philosophy had not been issued by that time. As a result of this appeal, the documents of those years are being checked and on completion the applicant will be sent a response.

Another question was from the mother of a student who was transferred to St Petersburg University from the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA). The decision of the University Transfer and Reinstatement Committee was made on 31 August. After that, the student was to submit to the University a document of his leaving the RANEPA. Yet, he was thinking hard and did not immediately request a certificate of leaving. Therefore, the resolution of the issue was delayed, and the enrolment order was not issued until 5 November. It was only then that the student officially began his studies at St Petersburg University. Like other students transferred to or reinstated at St Petersburg University, he has an individual timetable. The student had been admitted to classes even before the order was issued (since there was a decision of the University Transfer and Reinstatement Committee), but legally, the student’s transfer has been formalised only now.

There was a question about vacation days from students of journalism. It was explained at the meeting that vacation time was formalised by orders on academic calendars for each programme, usually issued between 30 December and 10 February. Yet the particular vacation time depends on the schedule of the interim examination period (on the day when the last examination will take place). This timetable is set before the start of the examination period, no later than two weeks before the first exam. This timetable is still in progress. Therefore, for the time being, students have been given a general answer.

All directors and deans continue regular meetings with the teaching staff and with the student councils of the academic subdivisions. Most directors and deans report weekly on their problems with the organisation of the teaching and learning process. They also report information received during their meetings with student councils. Most of the heads of academic subdivisions have already submitted their proposals on the format of conducting all examinations and tests during the interim examination period (so far, as of the date of the discussion, proposals have not been submitted by the Director of the Institute of Chemistry, Director of the Institute of Earth Sciences, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Mathematics and Control Processes, Dean of the Faculty of Biology, and Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science). It was recommended at the meeting that, if any failures occur during classes or exams / tests of the additional examination period conducted using e-learning technologies, they should be immediately reported to the University’s technical support service. Otherwise, it will be impossible to do the troubleshooting in a timely manner.

2. On checking the quality of students’ research articles

There was a detailed discussion of the complaint of a master’s student who wanted to participate in an academic exchange programme implemented within the framework of inter-university agreements of St Petersburg University. One of the selection criteria is the number of research articles submitted by students who participate in the competition. The said master’s student raised the question of checking the quality of such articles, because many scientific journals publish articles for money. According to her, this casts doubt on the level of such paid publications taken into account when ranking participants in the exchange competition.

Vice-Rector for Research Sergey Mikushev explained that the fee paid by scientists to have their papers published in the Q1 and Q2 journals was not a payment for the fact of publication, but a compensation for the prepress costs incurred by the publisher. Even top-rated journals ask for large sums to publish illustrations, for example. The University partially compensates for these costs to the researchers within the framework of Activity 9 (if their articles affiliated with the University were accepted by a Q1 or Q2 journal). For instance, last year the University spent 1.4 million roubles on that.

The participants of the meeting explained that it was impossible to publish an article in a top-ranking journal simply by paying a certain amount of money (even a very large sum). There is a strict procedure of independent peer reviewing of submitted articles involving leading experts in each field of knowledge (double-blind peer review). The editorial boards value the ranking of their journals and will not publish any weak articles. Only after the article has been accepted, the issue of payment arises (sometimes). This fee is related to the policy of the founder (publisher): some of them believe that journals should be self-sufficient, while others take money for illustrations, fine typographic quality, etc.

At the same time, there are so-called predatory journals today. They charge fees from the authors without providing the level of expertise and editing required by the scientific community. Such unscrupulous journals and publishers are regularly excluded from peer-reviewed databases. Special scientific boards will consider this issue and develop general criteria for verifying the absence of signs of placement of a scientific publication (for example, submitted to a competition under an academic exchange programme) in such journals. Criteria for the level and status of the journal in which the article is published will be introduced.

3. University experts are part of the working group implementing the ‘regulatory guillotine’ mechanism in education

For the second year in a row, a full-scale reform of supervision activities, titled the ‘regulatory guillotine’, has been taking place in Russia. An analysis and cancellation of Soviet laws as well as some other changes are designed to help get rid of excessive regulatory mechanisms in various areas. At the request of the Russian Government, University experts, such as lawyers, political scientists, sociologists, and economists, analyse the regulatory acts proposed either for cancelation or for amendment. During this period, the scientists have analysed more than 20,000 regulatory documents issued between 1917 and 1991 (To leave or to cancel: St Petersburg University experts on the ‘regulatory guillotine’). The results of this expert work were subsequently used in the preparation of expert opinions on the draft education laws.

There are working groups in 43 sectors of the economy. The St Petersburg University Rector takes part in the activities of the working group for the study of education laws. The following University academic workers are involved as experts: S.A. Belov; E.A. Dmitrikova; N.I. Diveeva; S.M. Olennikov; and others. More than 90 laws and regulations were submitted to the working group this year. For 35 of them (including the Federal Law ‘On Education in the Russian Federation’, the regulation of educational activities without a state accreditation procedure, etc.) the University experts prepared opinions, later considered by the Government of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Justice during the final verification of the acts (Minutes of the Rector’s meeting dated 02 December 2019 and 03 February 2020). An important result of the work was the identification in the draft documents of some provisions that: impede the enforcement of the right to education; do not comply with the provisions of the applicable laws; refer to the provisions of inactive laws and regulations; and limit the autonomy of educational organisations.

In 2019, at the initiative of the Rector, the University created an Interdisciplinary Centre for Research on Supervision Activities which brought together experts in different fields (lawyers, psychologists, economists, managers, sociologists, etc.). By the decision of the Rector, in order to protect the copyright of scientists and the position of the University, which is reflected in each opinion prepared by the University experts, the opinions of our scientists are first published in the public domain in the University Repository, and then are sent to the committee. Publication in the repository also ensures the availability of the texts of expert opinions. The work on the collection of expert opinions by the University experts is almost finished.

4. The ’SPbU Start-up’ contest and consideration of students’ entrepreneurial achievements

For six years now, our University, supported by the St Petersburg University Endowment Fund, has been holding a contest of students’ interdisciplinary business projects titled ’SPbU Start-up’. The qualifying rounds demonstrate that University students are ready to engage in research work, and generate and implement incredible ideas and interdisciplinary projects. In 2018, the University decided (much earlier than other universities) that the results of the winners of the start-up contest would be credited as graduation projects during the state final assessment of graduates. Since 2019, the successful works of not only the winners but also the finalists have been credited as graduation projects. This year, the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education began to consider the issue of taking into account the results of start-up contest winners as their graduation projects.

Now, St Petersburg University is launching the sixth ‘SPbU Start-up 2021’ contest for innovative business projects. Applications will be accepted from 10 November until 10 December 2020. The main prizes are grants of 1,000,000 and 700,000 roubles provided by the St Petersburg University Endowment Fund. These grants will allow the winners to open their own small innovative enterprises in cooperation with the University. This year the total prize fund will be 2.6 million roubles (St Petersburg University announces the start of the ‘SPbU Start-up 2021’ contest which offers a prize of 2.6 million roubles). The directors and the deans were instructed to submit proposals for the development of the start-up contest and crediting of the entrepreneurial achievements of students.

5. The University’s proposals for improving the sponsored education procedure

On 9 November 2020, there was a session of the working group of the State Duma of Russia on increasing the efficiency of implementing sponsored education and sponsored admissions. Rector Nikolay Kropachev and Vice-Rector for Student Affairs and Admissions Aleksandr Babich took part in that session. They supported the proposals of Irina Yarovaya, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma of Russia, aimed at introducing amendments to the legal regulation of sponsored admissions in order to ensure open and competitive sponsored admissions, and encourage responsibility on the part of sponsored admission customers and universities.

Two years ago, some changes were introduced to the sponsored admission rules, but there were no fundamental shifts in the whole procedure. As before, the customers organise the selection of applicants in accordance with their own, usually non-public, rules. They do it behind the scenes, in the quiet of their management offices. And Russian universities (including St Petersburg University) are obliged to enrol such applicants without any competition, to places within the admissions quota (the average of 20% for bachelor’s / specialist’s programmes), and educate them not at the expense of these enterprises and institutions, but on the government-funded basis. It should be highlighted that, as a result of it, the number of places that are put up for a general and open competition is naturally reduced by 20%. How do these rules work in practice? For example, this year an applicant, sent by the administration of a regional children’s health camp, was enrolled within such a quota in the ’International Relations’ academic programme.

Within the framework of Irina Yarovaya’s draft law it is suggested that an open competitive procedure for sponsored admissions be introduced, as well as a general competition for the allocated sponsored places. Each organisation willing to conduct a sponsored admission campaign, for example, for the programme ’International Relations’ at St Petersburg University, must submit an open competition application, for instance, on the Russian Portal of Government Services. Any applicant will be able to apply for participation in this competition. The selection procedure will be open and conducted according to the USE scores of the applicants. At the meeting of the working group, our colleagues from the Higher School of Economics (HSE) representing the Association of Global Universities did not support that project and made a number of comments, including, for example, their uncertainty that the smartest applicants would apply for the allocated sponsored places within the framework of the proposed open procedure. The representatives of St Petersburg University supported Irina Yarovaya’s draft law and expressed the University’s eagerness to participate in the pilot testing of the new sponsored admissions procedure next year. For example, using the ’Apply to a University Online’ service on the Portal of Government Services.

In addition, the representatives of the University proposed to establish a special procedure for law enforcement agencies’ sponsored admissions. If they place an order for training at civilian higher education institutions, such a competition should not be open, given the secrecy regime of these agencies.

The participants of the Rector’s meeting supported Irina Yarovaya’s draft law. In their reports, they emphasised that the sponsored admissions procedure proposed by her would make University admissions an open process, not a backstage one. It will become accessible to all applicants, and customer organisations will eventually get competent specialists.

6. The requirement to immediately report COVID-19 cases

At the suggestion of Rector Nikolay Kropachev, the participants of the meeting held a moment of silence for members of the University staff who died from the novel coronavirus disease. These are Vladimir Mastryukov, Deputy Head of the Main Department for Material Assets Management, and Luis Abraham Ugarte Toro, Assistant Professor at the Department of Foreign Languages in Management.

Vladimir Eremeev, Vice Rector for Human Resources, reminded that in May all employees of the University were sent an appeal about the need to immediately inform their direct supervisor and personnel service staff about COVID-19 cases or contacts with such patients within 14 days. It is extremely important for the University to provide assistance to sick employees, prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease, and preserve the health of University students, staff and their families. It is also crucial for understanding the real situation at the University, as well as for timely reporting the number of cases to the Rospotrebnadzor authorities, the Committee on Science and Higher Education of the Government of St Petersburg, the Ministry of Education and Science, and the Office of the Russian Federation Government.

It was reported at the meeting that the number of subjects taught using e-learning technologies was increasing at the University. The total number of academic disciplines in all programmes is 101,541. At the suggestion of the directors and the deans, e-learning technologies are used in 91,557 disciplines, which is 90.17%. Classes in 8,835 disciplines (8.7%) are conducted on-campus, and a hybrid form is used for 1,149 courses (1.13%). Most of the contact hours are preserved for students of arts (43.7%), psychology (36.4%), earth sciences (29.9%), chemistry (27%), medicine (23.9%), and physics (16%). According to the statistics, where there are more on-campus practical and laboratory classes, there is a greater proportion of infected students and teachers.

Unfortunately, despite all the preventive measures taken, the number of cases is constantly growing. In the first half of November alone, the number of infected students and staff was greater than that for the entire October. At the same time, new COVID-19 cases and contacts are sometimes reported with a long delay, which makes anti-epidemic work ineffective. In order to take the necessary preventive measures in a timely manner, it was decided to issue an order to immediately report to the direct supervisor and personnel service staff about COVID-19 cases or contacts with such patients within 14 days.

7. Will there be a new division at the University?

As you know, 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. This appeal was considered at the meetings of the Academic Councils of the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Dental Medicine and Medical Technologies (Minutes of the Rector’s meeting dated 26 October 2020). Members of the Academic Councils noted that the department of postgraduate medical education already existed at St Petersburg University, so they were against the creation of one more department of that kind. Both Academic Councils admitted that there was no reason to create an academic council of the Clinic, since the Clinic was not an academic subdivision of the University. At that meetings, the staff of the Clinic was encouraged to integrate into the work of faculty teams and to enhance cooperation.

At the same time, a board was established to consider Dr Fedotov’s proposals. It included members of the University Academic Council and representatives of nine academic subdivisions, whose scientists are involved in the development of various aspects of the University’s academic activities related to medicine and human health. The board came to the conclusion that there was no reason to create a department duplicating the functions of the existing unit. They also saw no need to create a separate academic council of the Clinic, due to the fact that the Clinic did not have the functionality and status of an academic subdivision.

The work of the board was attended by Dmitry Shkarupa, Deputy Director for Medical Work at the Pirogov Clinic of High Medical Technologies. He addressed the members of the board with a written appeal dated 1 November 2020, in which he significantly expanded the proposals of Yury Fedotov. In particular, he proposed to change the status and the name of the Clinic to address the pressing issues. According to Dmitry Shkarupa, the Clinic should be renamed as the Clinic (Institute) of High Medical Technologies, so that academic positions could be introduced to the new staffing chart and the new institute could eventually be granted the status of a legal entity as part of the academic complex of St Petersburg University. He also suggested that a consolidated multidisciplinary subdivision be created at the University to coordinate all the University units related to solving medical and human health issues.

The participants of the Rector’s meeting noted that the issues raised by Yury Fedotov and Dmitry Shkarupa were related to the St Petersburg University Charter. The creation, reorganisation, liquidation of an institute, faculty or department suggest the observance of mandatory open democratic academic procedures and obligatory discussion at a meeting of the University Academic Council. Thus, it is necessary to discuss such issues at the standing committees of the Academic Council, and then at a meeting of the University Academic Council. Therefore, documents on these issues, in accordance with the requirements of the University Charter and the rules of procedure of the Academic Council, will be sent to the teaching methodology and scientific committees of the Academic Council, and then to its legal committee. Moreover, in accordance with the Charter and academic traditions, all University students and staff may take part in the discussion of these issues at any stage.

8. Events held in the memory of Lyudmila Verbitskaya

A reference dictionary by Lyudmila Verbitskaya was published on the website of the University Publishing House. It is titled ’Let Us Speak Correctly! The Difficulties of Modern Russian Pronunciation and Word Stress’ and is available for public access. The publication is associated with the 49th International Philological Conference held in the memory of Lyudmila Verbitskaya, President of St Petersburg University. The Conference is held on 16–24 November 2020 in the online mode (’Let Us Speak Correctly!’ by Lyudmila Verbitskaya is made available for public access).

scholarship named after Lyudmila Verbitskaya was established, and on 23 November it will be awarded for the first time to the winners of the competition. A portrait of Lyudmila Verbitskaya (Results of the meeting of the University Academic Council) is hung in Classroom 2013 of the Twelve Collegia building. The Department of General Linguistics of St Petersburg University was named after Lyudmila Verbitskaya (Minutes of the Rector’s meeting dated 02 March 2020). Historians have prepared and will publish the first volume of memoirs about Lyudmila Verbitskaya.

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.

Read more ...

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.

Read more ...

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.

Read more ...

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).

Read more ...

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.

Read more ...

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.

Read more ...

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.

Read more ...

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.

Read more ...

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.  

Read more ...

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.  

Read more ...

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.

Read more ...

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.

Read more ...

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).

Read more ...

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.

Read more ...

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.

Read more ...

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.

Read more ...

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.

Read more ...

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.

Read more ...

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.

Read more ...