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
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.