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  1. St Petersburg University master’s student Nina Lobyreva took third place at the 2ndAll-Russian Arabic Language Competition, which was held in Moscow. She became one of the five finalists who won the coveted prize – a scholarship to study at Qatar University for a year.

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    According to Nina Lobyreva, this was a reward for her deep appreciation of the Arabic language, culture and history. She developed her interest in the East when she enrolled on a bachelor’s degree programme at the University. There she met her teachers and classmates and became immersed in studying Arabic philology. In the interview, Nina told us how the Arabic language might help in teaching oriental dances, and why an independent self-organised trip to Egypt proved to be better than any internship programme.

    From actress to Arabist

    After finishing secondary school in Odessa, I dreamed of going to St Petersburg to study acting. However, my father did not approve of it, for he considered such a profession to be too frivolous. He is an Oriental man – an Armenian. He is a translator and all his professional life has been connected with the Arabic language. Eventually, I gave up and decided to follow in my father’s footsteps. Arabic studies appeared extraordinary and fascinating to me.

    At St Petersburg University, there is a unique academic programme called ‘Compatriots.’ It provides an opportunity for talented youth from the CIS countries, including Ukraine, to apply for state-funded places. The competition was high; however, in addition to the high grades in my school certificate, I acquired other skills that worked to my advantage. By that time, I had already completed a year of study at the Faculty of Philology in Odessa, I had a good command of English, and I spoke Armenian and studied German. Moreover, I finished a music school where I studied piano and guitar. All this raised additional points under the ‘Compatriots’ programme and enabled me to enter the Faculty of Asian and African Studies at St Petersburg University.

    2020 nina lobyreva arabist21

    Loving the East

    When I started a bachelor’s degree programme at the University, I knew very little about Arab countries – how many there are and where exactly they are located, or what is the difference between Iraq and Iran. My notions of the East were limited to general concepts about its culture and Islam. But after I entered the University, everything changed. We were immediately told that in order to cope with the heavy course load we would have no other option but to work hard. We had some serious competition inside the group. Not only did everyone try to complete all the tasks, but also all of us aspired to be among the best. Such a situation, indeed, motivated us to study to the best of our abilities.

    After the first exam session, I realised that I had been enjoying my studies immensely. I was particularly affected by the general introductory course – ‘Introduction to Asian Studies’. It was then that I understood what the East meant. It is the land where life began, the cradle of ancient civilisations and world religions. Indeed, learning the language and culture of the people, we learn to see the world through others’ eyes. It was simply impossible not to fall in love with it all.

    Besides in-depth studies of Arabic grammar, history and religion, our academic programme at the University includes immersion in the culture of the Arab world. For instance, every year, St Petersburg University holds ‘An Evening of the Arabic Language’ (أمسية اللغة العربية). When I was a first-year bachelor’s student, I was invited to participate in this evening by its initiator – Associate Professor of St Petersburg University Hana Yafia Yusif Jamil. I accepted her invitation and throughout my University years I was actively involved in organising these events, and I often staged musical and dance performances for them. When I was a third-year student, I gave a master class in Arabic folk dancing. All the participants learned to dance the dabke (دبكة) – a folk dance popular in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. I do believe that folk arts of the peoples of the East are closely intertwined with their languages. It is impossible to learn the Arabic language unless you like the culture of this people.

    Visiting my Arab ‘mother’

    First, it was the internship programmes that helped me to feel the oriental atmosphere and speak confidently in Arabic. I travelled to Morocco with the ‘Al-Hadara’ Centre for Arab Culture at Kazan Federal University, and to Lebanon with the Higher School of Economics. Then, in my fifth year, I realised that I would prefer to go to Egypt independently, without a group. So, I created a ‘customised’ trip for myself. I booked a room with a local resident and bought plane tickets. My landlady was a wonderful Egyptian woman, who immediately offered me the choice of speaking in English, literary Arabic or Egyptian dialect. I chose the latter, because in Russia such an opportunity is the rarest to be found, while dialects of Arabic, unlike literary Arabic, are almost impossible to master without a native speaker. Additionally, for five days a week, I studied at the Centre for Oriental Studies at Cairo University. That winter I spent three and a half weeks in Egypt. Throughout this time, I did not speak in Russian at all. I spoke only in Arabic: with the landlady – my Arab ‘mother,’ who cooked me breakfast in the mornings, and with local acquaintances. After returning to St Petersburg, I made a decision that I should go back to Cairo to study, but this time for three and a half months in summer. This must have been my greatest gamble that paid off handsomely, since the language learning trip proved to be more effective than any internship.

    2020 nina lobyreva arabist21

    Most complex qaṣīda of all

    Two years ago, I took second place at the All-Russian Student Olympiad in the Arabic language in Kazan. And a few months ago, I was named one of the three finalists of the 2nd All-Russian Arabic Language Competition in Moscow. I believe that it was the high appreciation of my oral recitation of the qaṣīda (قصيدة, a form of classical Arabic poetry, Ed.) in Arabic that gave me the edge over other contestants.

    Both in Kazan and Moscow, I recited a qaṣīda ‘Trill of a nightingale’ (صوت صفير البلبل) by Arab medieval poet and scholar Al-Aṣmaʿī (الاصمعي) who was celebrated at the court of the ʿAbbāsid caliph, Hārūn al-Rashīd. This poem is often considered the most complex qaṣīda of all. There are many phonetically complex onomatopoeic verbs that are also polysemantic. For example, there is a line that in English translation would be: ‘...and the drum went along with me “tab-tab tab-tab…”’ Indeed, each ‘tab-tab’ here is to imitate the rhythmic drumbeats. On the other hand, the Arabic verb ‘tabtaba’ (طبطب) also means ‘to caress, stroke’. Not only is it difficult for a modern Arab to fully understand the multiple layers of its meaning, but also to read this qaṣīda, let alone to recite it by heart. Hence, when it is beautifully recited by a non-native speaker, and a girl, it wins respect and admiration.

    The Student Olympiad in Kazan provided a good incentive for me to learn the qaṣīda. Associate Professor Hana Yafia Yusif Jamil helped me to vocalise the text correctly and explained all its subtleties. Unfortunately, I left the task of memorising the text to the very last moment. That was clearly a mistake. During my recitation at the Olympiad, I had to pause at the end. I hoped to disguise it as ‘justified silence,’ while, in fact, I tried to recall the last four lines of the poem. That must have been the reason why I did not take the first place. Nonetheless, I received high scores for my recitation of the qaṣīda. Later, I often surprised my Arabic-speaking acquaintances by this poetic number, so I was able to learn it by heart properly. A few months ago, I recited this qaṣīda at the All-Russian Arabic Language Competition in Moscow.

    In Moscow, I took third place and became the only representative of St Petersburg, as well as the only girl of the five finalists who won a scholarship to study at Qatar University for a year. We are to start our studies in September this year. I hope everything will be all right: I will graduate from St Petersburg University and then will go to study in Doha.

    Fitness Centre for women in Morocco

    This year I am graduating from a master’s degree programme in ‘Asian and African Economies and International Economic Relations (with Asian/African language tuition)’. At present, I am focused on my thesis on business development in Morocco. I believe that Morocco offers very good opportunities for foreign direct investment. So, I want to develop a business plan in support of opening fitness centres for women. In Morocco, there are a few fitness clubs for women, but most often they are located in tourist destinations. Indeed, there are gyms for men; however, women are allowed to use them only during certain hours, on certain days. Obviously, it is necessary to analyse the situation, the demand for fitness clubs for women as a business enterprise, to calculate the costs, et cetera.

    Upon graduation, I would like to work in a company engaged in business development in the Middle East. It would be great if in the future I could put my knowledge of the Arabic language into practice.

  2. The right to award its own academic degrees has made it possible: for the University to achieve a high quality of research papers; and for the academic community to have great confidence in the scientific publications of applicants. Under the terms of St Petersburg University, an individual dissertation council is formed for each defence. Its members are top scholars in their field and include foreign experts. We have asked opponents to share their impressions of taking part in PhD Viva Voce.

    Masayuki Hirukawa, PhD in Economics, Professor at Ryukoku University was an opponent at PhD Viva Voce of Anton Skrobotov for the degree of Candidate of Economics. The title of his thesis is ‘Robust testing for trending data in economics and finance: theoretical and empirical perspectives’.

    What attracted you to be an opponent at PhD Viva Voce at St Petersburg University?

    Artem Prokhorov, who is a faculty member of St Petersburg University and my coauthor, invited me. My area of expertise is time-series econometrics, and he thought that I could read and understand the thesis.

    What can you tell us about the quality of the thesis that you had to review?

    The quality of thesis was much better than I expected. It contained detailed technical analyses and extensive simulation studies. The reason why the author could write up the one with such a high quality was that he had a few publications at that time.

    Could you please sum up your impressions of taking part in PhD Viva Voce? Are you satisfied with this experience?

    All in all, I had a good experience. I participated via video conferencing and had no difficulty in communicating with other committee members.

    What positive aspects in the procedure for thesis defences at the University can you mention?

    Compared with my own experience in the U.S. (where I earned my PhD degree in economics), I felt that the whole process of the defense was strict. The reasons why I thought of the defence as more strict are that each committee member was expected to read the entire thesis and write a review on it in advance, and that s/he was should express his/her opinion equally during the defence.

  3. Since 2019, the University has been implementing unique master’s degree programmes in the philosophy, history and literature of France. Students enrolled in these programmes can not only study at two universities – at St Petersburg University and Sorbonne University (Paris) – but they can also obtain two diplomas.

    france students

    Students in the academic programmes with the French component shared with us their professional aspirations and impressions about their studies at St Petersburg University.

    Please tell us why you chose this particular master’s degree programme at St Petersburg University?

    Master’s student in the programme ‘La Russie et la France dans l’espace de l’histoire et de la culture’ (‘Russia and France in Historical and Cultural Context’) Marina Tokareva:

    When I graduated from a bachelor’s degree programme in Moscow I wanted to enrol in a joint, internationally oriented master’s programme in the fields of philology and history. However, I failed to find such a programme in the capital. Then I started looking for options in St Petersburg, and I was fortunate to learn about the programme ‘La Russie et la France dans l’espace de l’histoire et de la culture’ at St Petersburg University. The prospects of the programme are promising: second-year students are offered an opportunity to continue their studies in Paris and to obtain a second diploma in the Sorbonne. Moreover, we have two supervisors, one here in Russia and one in France.

    Master’s student in the programme ‘Littératures Russe et Français: Regards Croisés’ (‘The Literature of Russia and France: An Alternate Glance’) Daniil Stognii:

    While studying in the bachelor’s degree programme in Stavropol, southwestern Russia, I became interested in Franco-Russian literary connections and wanted to continue my studies in them. I chose St Petersburg University because it was the only university that offered such a wide selection of interesting master’s programmes in fields related to philology and humanities. I applied for three programmes: ‘Russian Language and Russian Culture in the Aspect of Teaching Russian as a Foreign Language’, ‘Foreign Literatures and Cultures’ and ‘Littératures Russe et Français: Regards Croisés’ (‘The Literature of Russia and France: An Alternate Glance’). To be honest, the latter interested me the most. So, I was excited when after much anxious waiting I learnt that I had been admitted for a state-funded place!

    Master’s student in the programme ‘Dialogue philosophique entre Russie et France(‘Philosophical Dialogue Between Russia and France’) Nadezhda Osipova:

    For many years, my main interests have been the French language and culture. When St Petersburg University website published information about a new joint master’s programme initiated under the cooperation agreement concluded with Sorbonne University, I realised that this was a unique chance. This is the right programme for me because it offers an opportunity to study at two universities. Moreover, in my bachelor’s thesis I analysed the concept of cultural dialogue between different nations. Hence it propelled my keen interest in this master’s programme.

    What are your experiences of studying at the University in the chosen programme?

    Master’s student in the programme ‘La Russie et la France dans l’espace de l’histoire et de la culture’ Marina Tokareva:

    The language requirements in this programme are a real challenge, but such an intensive learning experience will certainly not be in vain. Native-speaking lecturers speak very fast, but within the space of two months you begin to understand French much better and do not hesitate to speak. I think that at St Petersburg University students enjoy considerable freedom in the choice of classes to attend. At the beginning of the semester, we were offered a choice of general elective courses on both ancient history and the history of the Middle Ages and the New Age. Also, we are not limited with regard to topics for term papers (or la mémoire). For instance, I am writing about the French avant-garde in Russian Art. It is about the intersection of art history and national history.

    Master’s student in the programme ‘Littératures Russe et Français: Regards Croisés’ Daniil Stognii:

    I enjoy studying in the programme very much because I am doing what I am passionate about: analysis of literary texts and comparative studies (comparative literary criticism). I feel inspired by the way the University lecturers work with students. Studying here is not a process of information bombardment, but primarily a dialogue. Also, the contribution of our French lecturers to the programme cannot be overstated. Their lectures offer excellent preparation for our future studies in the Sorbonne.

    Master’s student in the programme ‘Dialogue philosophique entre Russie et France’ Nadezhda Osipova:

    Studying at the University exceeded all my expectations. My student experience is so rich and exciting that I even failed to notice how in a short period of time I made tremendous progress in French. Additionally, every week we have French philosophy classes with a native speaker, which, undoubtedly, contributes to immersion in the French language and philosophical culture of France. Also, I would like to commend the academic staff of the Institute of Philosophy at St Petersburg University. They do take us seriously.

    According to the SciVal information and analytical database, from 2013 to 2018, St Petersburg University research and academic staff participated in the preparation of 786 unique publications in collaboration with their colleagues from 139 research centres and universities in France. Do you combine studying with your scholarly research? What are your research interests?

    Master’s student in the programme ‘La Russie et la France dans l’espace de l’histoire et de la culture’ Marina Tokareva:

    St Petersburg University organises many scholarship and competitive projects, conferences and seminars, where participation implies research work. I have never been a proponent of research for ‘the pure sake of knowing’. Even writing la mémoire following the French guidelines has been a new experience for me. I will definitely develop further the necessary skills, as my motivation is airtight and the teachers are always willing to help. My main interests are in the history of European literature and art from the late 19th to the middle of the 20th century. I think a cross-cultural approach is of the utmost importance here. I will be comparing the development of cultural phenomena in different countries. This is what the double degree programme involves.

    Master’s student in the programme ‘Littératures Russe et Français: Regards Croisés’ Daniil Stognii:

    I am currently doing research for my master’s thesis. My bachelor’s thesis explored literary connections of the Belgian writer, poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck with the Russian Symbolists Andrei Bely and Alexander  Blok.

    Master’s student in the programme ‘Dialogue philosophique entre Russie et France’ Nadezhda Osipova:

    By the end of the first year, we are to submit a part of a research paper in French. In my paper I am going to explore the views of the French intellectuals of the Soviet Union. There is a wealth of material to study, and I think that it will be of interest to scholars from both countries.

    During the 8th St Petersburg International Cultural Forum, the Philippe Habert Library was turned over to St Petersburg University by the French Embassy. At present, this collection of 10 thousand publications in French, many of which are interdisciplinary in nature, are accessible to all students of the University. How do you plan to use these resources?

    Master’s student in the programme ‘La Russie et la France dans l’espace de l’histoire et de la culture’ Marina Tokareva:

    For my research paper, it is crucial that I have access to sources both in Russian and French. Therefore, the Philippe Habert Library is bound to become a valuable resource for me.

    Master’s student in the programme ‘Littératures Russe et Français: Regards Croisés’ Daniil Stognii:

    I am very happy about it; and I will definitely be using the Philippe Habert Library because there are not many research resources on Maurice Maeterlinck in Russian.

    Master’s student in the programme ‘Dialogue philosophique entre Russie et France’ Nadezhda Osipova:

    I have borrowed books from the Philippe Habert Library a few times so far. It is very convenient, you know, because the publications in the library are both in Russian and French.

    Can you share with us your professional aspirations? Are you planning to enrol in a doctoral programme?

    Master’s student in the programme ‘La Russie et la France dans l’espace de l’histoire et de la culture’ Marina Tokareva:

    I do not like getting ahead of myself, but I would like to contribute to the promotion of the Russian culture in the world. For this end, I have identified three forms of work – research, teaching and cultural and educational journalism. Therefore, I plan to enrol in a doctoral programme, while a master’s programme is the springboard you need in order to join the academe.

    Master’s student in the programme ‘Littératures Russe et Français: Regards Croisés’ Daniil Stognii:

    I would like to work with francophones in Russia and with Russian expatriates in France.

    Master’s student in the programme ‘Dialogue philosophique entre Russie et France’ Nadezhda Osipova:

    I consider a doctoral programme as a promising opportunity for me. However, I think that by pursuing further studies in my master’s programme I will gain unique experience and expertise that might affect my plans for the future.

  4. A grand ceremony of awarding certificates of international and professional public accreditation has been held at St Petersburg University. Following the evaluations, four academic programmes in the field of chemistry were accredited by an independent commission.

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    The bachelor’s and master’s programmes in chemistry were recognised by Russian and foreign experts. These programmes are accredited until 2024. The bachelor’s programme ‘Chemistry, Physics and Mechanics of Materials’ and the doctoral programme ‘Chemistry’ are accredited until 2023.

    Erika Soboleva, Director-General of the Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education and Career Development (AKKORK), underlined that the joint accreditation of academic programmes by the European Chemistry Thematic Network Association (ECTN) and AKKORK has made it possible to pay attention to both general methodological criteria and professional competencies, which are developed in students of these programmes. In addition to certificates of international accreditation, academic programmes have obtained certificates that award the titles of ‘Chemistry Eurobachelor’, ‘Chemistry Euromaster’ and ‘Chemistry Doctor of Eurolabel’. Starting from 2020, when entering universities in other countries, chemistry students from St Petersburg University will be graded on a par with applicants from these countries, and the same requirements will be imposed on them. A list of universities participating in this programme can be found on the ECTN website. According to Erika Soboleva, this is not only recognition, but also a great responsibility: university students must prove that they have a high level of knowledge. The Director-General of AKKORK also said that the procedure sailed through. However, experts from the European Chemistry Thematic Network Association made some remarks and recommendations.

    2019 12 24 akkreditaciya ximiya min 6

    Marina Lavrikova, Senior Vice-Rector for Academic Activities and Teaching Methods at St Petersburg University, noted that it is difficult to teach modern technologies in Soviet-built buildings, especially in such a demanding field as chemistry. The construction of the new campus will help solve this problem. ‘For St Petersburg, the issue of building a university campus is socially significant,’ said Marina Lavrikova. ‘The academic buildings for chemists in Peterhof were built in the early 1980s. Despite this relatively young age, we understand that it is virtually impossible to create the necessary conditions in them that conform to international standards. To achieve this, they would have to be completely rebuilt. Our experts in a wide variety of fields of study jointly took part in the preparation of the technical design of specifications for the buildings of the future campus. It is not easy to formulate these requirements, and we will need benchmarks in the future. It seems to me that one of them may be the remarks made by the AKKORK and ECTN experts.’ She also added that the University appreciates the opinion of experts in the field of education quality. They give an external vision of our education, and the University takes their recommendations into account in its work.

  5. Alexander Krylatov and Victor Zakharov, scientists from St Petersburg University, have come up with an idea for dealing with traffic jams using mathematical algorithms. Their studies show that a balanced change in infrastructure and a unified navigation system will help to improve the transport situation in a large city.

    Due to the fact that privately-owned vehicles all over the world are becoming more affordable, a problem often arises in large cities – vehicles cannot move freely. Scientists have been searching for a solution to this problem for a long time. Since the late 1950s, the theory of traffic flows has turned into a separate branch of applied mathematics. It is in recent decades that the relevance of such studies has grown several times.

    ‘In Russia, transport engineers historically take on the problem of traffic management,’ said Alexander Krylatov. ‘At the same time, they specialise more in solutions related to design changes of particular sections of the network. They do not have competencies in the field of system-related increases in traffic performance. With ever-increasing traffic flows, even if engineers manage to achieve local improvements, after a while the flows rearrange and the same traffic jams appear in other places.’

    With ever-increasing traffic flows, even if engineers manage to achieve local improvements, after a while the flows rearrange and the same traffic jams appear in other places.

    Alexander Krylatov, Professor at the Department of Mathematical Modelling of Energy Systems at St Petersburg University, Doctor of Physics and Mathematics

    Alexander Krylatov together with Victor Zakharov, Professor at the Department of Mathematical Modelling of Energy Systems at St Petersburg University and Doctor of Physics and Mathematics, have written a monograph. It presents new mathematical approaches to traffic optimisation, as well as possible ways to implement them. The mathematicians’ monograph was published by Springer, an international publishing house.

    The principles that the scientists recommend using as guidelines were formulated in 1952 by John Glen Wardrop, an English mathematician and transport analyst. The first of them – the principle of equilibrium – is a mathematical construct that makes it possible to simulate systems, in particular traffic, assuming that each driver pursues only their personal goals. That is why the models created with its help are based on the fact that behind any changes in traffic flows there should be the selfish behaviour of car owners.

    The second principle – the Wardrop system optimal – states that there is the possibility of directive management of all vehicles. However, the authors of the monograph give specific importance to the first principle. They believe that the drivers’ behaviour can be influenced indirectly – through a change in road infrastructure. Mathematical models make it possible to predict how this will change traffic on each local section of the network.

    The authors note that the drivers’ navigation systems have a great influence on traffic flow management. In their opinion, the most effective situation will emerge if all drivers use the same system and receive information on suitable routes from a single centre. Otherwise, if one of the major navigators announces without warning that it will redirect its users so that the traffic situation in the city improves and the other navigators do not support it, the changes will still remain at the local level – the system will readjust and the problem will not be solved.

    Traffic optimisation is also possible using roadway widening or narrowing, which is especially important in cities with an already existing network. In such cases, it is often impossible to extend the road from one intersection to another one. Moreover, the construction of road junctions is not always efficient.


    Where the road is difficult to physically widen, it is efficient to use other methods such as a ban on parking throughout the route. Additionally, science can help create dedicated lanes for electric transport if the city administration wants to motivate drivers to switch to green cars. It is possible to create separate special routes for them and it will be much easier to get around using them.

    ‘Every year, a considerable budget is allocated for improving roads. The mathematical theory of traffic assignment suggests a set of solutions for the efficient management of these funds,’ the scientist said. ‘The mathematical approach in this case is superior to the engineering and economic one. It makes it possible to analyse the entire transport network, with respect to the complex laws of the mutual influence of its individual elements on each other. We have done a lot of work in the field of simulating traffic flows and networks. Now we want to pass on to the stage of putting our ideas into practice.’  

    One of the ways to use mathematical models can be the development of digital twins of transport systems based on these models. These simulations, implemented in the form of software applications, will become an extremely useful thought tool in the hands of transport engineers.

    ‘By building digital twins of the transport system and using them to optimise flows, it will be possible to achieve a balance between the demand for using the system and the infrastructure capabilities. It is unlikely that this can be done without economic digitalisation,’ added Victor Zakharov.