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).
A 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.