This time I would like to continue the conversation we started at the last transdisciplinary seminar. It was focused on the issue of how a campus should be organized at the ear of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, particularly, the campus of our University. The seminar was dedicated to the campus space in terms of the strategic goals of the University and the individual goals of those who work and study at it. This is the kind of logic that I believe is right.
There are several reasons why the topic of campus renovation is becoming so essential. First, this renovation helps universities to transform in accordance with new trends, such as globalization, netovization, etc. Second, it provides with the appropriate innovation image, which is important for positioning at education markets under the conditions of high competitiveness. Finally, it is a binding factor that helps to meet the needs of the university community.
Some time ago, it was generally believed that any campus renovation is a good deed. Especially, if it is about building a new object, such as study buildings, congress halls, and libraries. As a rule, these objects are large and have a lot of open spaces; they are made of glass, concrete, and metal; and they are designed to host many people simultaneously.
Today, it is becoming clear that chasing freshness and thinking about bigger spaces come at price. The comfort level for those who work and study in such buildings decreases. It can be well illustrated with the Skolkovo architectural ensemble. If you look at it from above, you can see the lines of the famous Supermatism by Kazimir Malevich.
On one hand, it is a very distinctive image move and the management of Skolkovo describes it as a “territory free of any historical roots”. It was important to find a proper reference for that statement among people who can be seen as innovators. Malevich was such an innovator in art. On the other hand, the current management of Skolkovo admits that there are many inconvenient spaces in the buildings. A lot of money was spend on things that were overestimated.
I believe that the most members of the University community would agree that any change on the campus gets different reactions from different groups of the community. It is nether good, nor bad. But it is something that needs to be considered, when any serious changes of the campus space are planned. Recently, there have been research dedicated to the issue and focused on the problem of differences in how students and professors prefer to see a campus space. The thing is not only age difference influences their preferences but their psychological characteristics do as well. It is obvious that any campus needs a VARIATY of spaces in terms of size, design, and functionality. One should not forget about people’s needs to drink, eat, relax, etc. In a way, a campus is “a city inside a city”, whose infrastructure needs to be maintained and developed all the time.
Over the last five years, a lot has been done on our campus in this regard. We have taken into use the Parus dormitory with a new cafeteria in it; we have done repair works in old dormitories; we have opened a new building for the Institute of Economics and Management; and we have redesigned several spaces at the Research Library and the Museum of Archeology and Ethnography in the Main Building.
But there are still many things to be done. Unfortunately, there are many obstacles that do not let us develop and change the campus the way we want and as fast as we want. Especially, when we talk about the campus food service. The most difficult here is to receive licenses for the right to rent out spaces from the Ministry. We need such licenses even to rent out one square meter to install a coffee machine. Normally, the process of getting such a license takes “only” 6 months! It is explained by the fact that the TSU Supervisory Board must consider the papers first and it meets once every 6 months. Then it is transferred to the relevant commissions at the Ministry of Education and Science. But the Ministry has been going through structural changes and the commission that must take care of rent issues has not been established yet. That is why all our applications have been piled and remained untouched.
It forces us to keep several cafes that are unprofitable in the first place. We cannot let the food service staff go on vacations for three summer months when the number of students and professors on campus decreases drastically. We are obliged to pay them when there are no customers. At the same time, the quality of food in our cafes leaves much to be desired as we, according to the state contract, must buy the cheapest ingredients, not the best ones. It brings us to the conclusion that the modern system of book keeping and financial discipline do not allow state organizations to compete and even work with business. The only solution is to rent our premises out but, as we already know, there is no commission at the Ministry to consider the papers. But we are working on it! We will try to apply directly to the Ministry, as there is no way we can tolerate it anymore.
Talking about the general concept of the campus development, first, we need to answer to the question “What for?” Why do we need to develop it? Our answer is, “We need to develop the campus so that we can strengthen the interdisciplinary and intercultural communications, as well as enter the digital era and compete on the global market.” It is very important for us because we see our University as a place oriented toward the development of the modern research competencies and attraction of talented people from all over the world.
Interdisciplinarity develops, first of all, in communications. Head of leading research teams realized it a long time ago and try to develop communications in all possible ways.
A few years ago, I visited the laboratory headed by a prominent American psychologist and geneticist Robert Plomin at the London Royal College. The College occupied the whole building and I noticed two things. The first, there were no offices occupied by researchers from the same disciplinary area. Psychologists, geneticists, sociologists, biologists, and mathematicians worked together. The second, the laboratory staff were not allowed to drink coffee in their offices. If they wanted to have a cup of anything, they needed to go to the break room where there were coffee machines and teapots. Perhaps, something has changed since then, but this is what I saw at that time. Such strict rules were aimed at developing interdisciplinary communications. This may be not appropriate for our University. It is wrong to force people to come for coffee to a certain place. That is why we need to concentrate on space solutions that can provide interdisciplinary synergy. I stick to the idea that spaces are supposed to be organized in such a way that they attract people and make them want to communicate with each other.
There is no a special secret of how they should be organized: there must be interesting design, comfortable spots to seat, convenient tables, and sockets to charge devices. Besides, people prefer to drink coffee or tea, while communicating. That is why there must be coffee and vending machines if the spaces are not cafes. There must be a combination of multifunctional spaces, big and small, flowing into each other. Our goal is to organize such spaces, as well as to develop routes that will bring people to communication spots.
There is another important factor to be considered. Today, a campus is not a place with its infrastructural objects. The modern 4.0 campus is a complex social and technological communication system; a system of human interaction and a system of interaction between people and technologies. This view of a campus is explained by the hybrid ontology of the digital society that is characterized by the lack of distinct boundaries between the reality and the virtuality, caused by the wireless communication and digital technologies.
Obviously, the wireless communication and the technologies require a lot of money. This is what restrains us from fast digitalization. But we realize that in this case the game is worth the candles. It will provide us with huge advantages and make us part of the global academic community, despite our size and isolated location, compared to the universities in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
For our experience of dealing with visiting professor, we concluded that, besides the basic needs, they have the need to be part of the intellectual environment and to have an opportunity to communicate with their international colleagues. The hybrid ontology of the 4.0 campus provides such an opportunity. Visiting professors will not feel excluded from their regular environment.
We cannot change our campus magically, over one night. Even several years might not be enough to change it so much that it will look as the campuses of the universities from the QS’s top 100. But I believe that we can do many things that will help us to attract the Russian and international students and professors. It is not necessary for a campus to be big and luxurious in order to be attractive. It may be small but interesting and comfortable. The main condition is to make it a part of the global research and educational communications. This is a very realistic goal to set.