Destination Points. Part II: Chalmers
23.04.2019

In the middle of March, I participated in the Rectors’ School, organized by the Moscow School of Management Skolkovo. The idea to organize such an expedition was born three years ago, when Professor Andrey Volkov, who is also the Academic Director at the Skolkovo School, was visiting TSU. At the time, we realized how wonderful it would be to bring all the rectors of the Russian universities that are going through transformation to some international universities and to introduce them to their experience of changing.

Obviously, all the rectors visit various international universities but usually those are two or three-day long visits. They have very busy schedules, therefore, two or three hours that we usually have for seeing universities are never enough for understanding what is really going on there. All that one can see is the front gates. That is why I go on such trips only when I am absolutely obliged to go. The Skolkovo expedition was planned as a month-long trip, so that we could see the changing mechanisms on the inside. It took quite a while to prepare the trip due to many circumstances, but finally, we were ready to complete the mission. 

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The Skolkovo team worked on the schedule very precisely. The program of visiting each university consisted of three parts: 1) a short briefing on a system of education in a particular country and some specific characteristics of a university; 2) visiting a university: 3) and evaluating of everything heard and seen there. The results of that evaluation is something I would like to share with you.

Chalmers University of Technology is a Swedish university, founded in Gothenburg in 1829. It was the first place we visited. Chalmers is on the top-100 list of engineering universities in the world. It offers bachelor’s programs, as well as on and off campus masters’ programs. Chalmers is also on the top-100 list in the QS Employability Ranking. The teaching language is English, because the majority of students are international. The university was named after William Chalmers, a director of the Swedish East India Company, who donated for its establishment. The Kuggen building is a landmark of Chalmers. 

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Why did this particular university become one of our destination points? In the middle of May, TSU will host another Russian Rectors’ Symposium, dedicated to the4.png modern model of education in engineering. This is a very relevant topic for us, because we have very strong engineering school at our University. That is why all the rectors were eager to study the worlds’ best experience. In 2018, a benchmarking report from MIT ranked Chalmers top ten in the world of engineering education. 

Quarter of century ago, the Swedish government conducted an experience in allowing Chalmers University to become the only private institution of higher education in the country, supervised by the State Board. Burton Clark described this case in his book Creating Entrepreneurial Universities. Chalmers is very flexible in terms of relationships with its industrial partners and controls its own quality and standards   of education. All students have “Sustainable Development” and “Entrepreneurship” on their curriculum and have experience in business. Alumni are very proud of their place of study, their faculties, and majors.

Since 2010, Chalmers has been carrying out the science mega-project on graphene as a part of the EU initiative that includes a large number of participants. Chalmers University has undertaken a commitment to commercialize their fundamental development over a ten-year period. And here again, I verified my view on the key role of a person in such projects. Despite the fact that the Russian researchers Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, who earned the Nobel Prize for discovering graphene, work at MIT now, the Swedish University is carrying the mega-science project on graphene! There is a person who has put everything together and still manage a huge system and all communications in it. To be honest, I expected to see some systems patterns, and what I saw was a human factor.

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Naturally, there is a systems approach too. For example, the University has a company as a part of its structure that manages the buildings on the campus. They have their own Venture Foundation that is responsible for the finance, as well as for the communication between the University and the industry. Since 1997, the Foundation has helped to establish 83 companies, with a 74% start-up surviving rate! A sustainable ecosystem has been created; it includes three business parks, where 320 staff members work on bringing new partners into the system. Now, Chalmers work in collaboration with industrial partners from 16 countries.

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It is important to notice that the transfer of technologies at Chalmers, as well as in Sweden, is aimed not only at making profits. A new trend is to create value for the society. People here consider failure as a normal turn of events. It is a mistake to resuscitate zombie-projects, wasting time on supporting them. It is crucial to figure out what went wrong and to close in time, so that a team can go on and start something new. All that helps Chalmers to carry out many large projects, apart from the graphene one, which means that it has many partners. For example, it collaborates with Volvo. They have been working together for 25 years and it was very difficult in the beginning. They spoke different languages and could not find common grounds for a long time. TSU faced the same problems during the strategic sessions with Sibur and Gazpromneft. We love to apply fundamental approaches, while our partners prefer “fast knowledge”. We are way too conservative and slow for them. Chalmers and its partners have gone through the stage of adaptation to each other’s peculiarities and came out with a system that forced both parties communicate as business partners. Now, once a week professors go and work in companies to learn the processes on the inside, and the companies staff come to the University to work with the students.

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Chalmers has over 60 partners and the President of the University meets with the top-managers at least once a year to discuss problems and plans for the future. Chalmers’ motto is “We want to be the best in research and competent for our partners”. They constantly evaluate their curriculum and students’ performance in order to find out how relevant they are for their business partners and the country in general. The key values for Chalmers are quality, openness, respect, and diversity.

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They pay a lot of attention to developing the skills of teamwork, when students develop the competencies of tutors, researchers, and innovators. It is impossible to succeed career-wise for a person who is not a good team player and does not work well under the circumstances of uncertainty, projecting possible scenarios (the foresight education).

10 thousand students and one thousand post-graduates study at Chalmers. They all are members of unions that help to develop an active personal stand.

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The unions are supported not only by the students’ contribution, but also by the University and the government. The unions have various businesses: they have stores, gyms, spa-centers, and restaurants. It is believed that the experience students get from working there may lead to the politics. Students’ unions control the quality of education, for example, they conduct surveys at the end of every year. The results are presented to the University management and together they try to find better ways to change things, if necessary. On one hand, this case is very useful and interesting. On the other, the University management is concerned by the fact that the students turn into consumers, instead of being citizens.

Nevertheless, thank to its modern system of education, Sweden can be proud of its concentration of innovations and its knowledge economy index, which is the second after Denmark. The World Bank uses its methods to calculate it, considering four basic pillars, related to the knowledge economy - economic incentive and institutional regime, education and human resources, the innovation system and ICT. The Swedish people do not insist on their uniqueness, but want to be the best in the world.

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Next time I will share my impressions on what I saw in Denmark and Belgium and make some conclusions on the expedition in general. 

(to be continued)