Strategic Academic Units as a Myth and a Reality

This time I want to talk about the topic of strategic academic units (StrAU). The StrAU concept was initially proposed by the leadership of the 5-100 Programme. It was based on the idea of integration of university education, research, and innovation, as well as on the idea of engaging Russian universities in global research networks and creating new research networks.  Research and education areas that are leading at each particular university in the Programme, are supposed to receive financial support from the government. On one hand, those areas represent the potential  of the universities, on the other, they are oriented towards the most promising directions of development, which are demanded by the national economy and certain state and public institutions. This is a new model of the education process that includes developing worldclass research and education programmes with an innovation and entrepreneurial aspect. They must have current background and a complex and transdisciplinary character. They help to create an image of a university on the Russian and international levels. This is what StrAUs are all about.

Each university was supposed to determine those interdisciplinary research and education areas that would help to compete with the other universities. It was very difficult to do that, regarding the wide choice of Master’s degree and PhD programmes future students already deal with. Our University had to find an explanation of why young people should come to study here. Moreover, we had to find strong arguments in favor of that to convince the Council.   We analyzed the potential of Tomsk State University and evaluated the most promising areas.

It became obvious that the prospects of development of TSU are connected with the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, mentioned by Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, in December 2015 in Davos.  

Клаус Шваб

The Fourth Industrial Revolution follows the Third one, which began in the middle of the 20th century and brought digital capabilities to billions of people. According to Professor Schwab, the Fourth Industrial Revolution “is characterized by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.” All changes occur so quickly and have a systemic character of influence on people, society, and nature. 

The context of these drastic changes brings out an issue of human identity because of the development of new bio- and neuro-objects of a new type. Our society is becoming ultimately digital and its ontology possesses a hybrid character, which does not allow dividing the world around us into reality and virtuality. Most social practices are somehow connected with digitalization and dealing with big data. Iceflows melt and change the world climate. Smart materials and the Internet  of things dramatically change the anthropogenic environment.  


Therefore, creating our StrAUs, we oriented ourselves towards the transformations that people, society, nature, and the anthropogenic environment are going through. We concentrated on those areas and chose the most competitive ones. And we came up with five strategic academic units: the TSSW: Siberian Institute of the Future (SIF); the Institute of Biomedicine (IB); the Institute of the Human of the Digital Era (IHDE); the Institute of Smart Materials and Technology (SMTI); and the School of Innovation, Economics and Management (SIEM). They focus on the environment, the human, society, the technological environment, and the ecosystem of innovation. The latter will be responsible for the transfer of technologies and innovations, which is important for a 3.0 university. This strategic unit will help all other units to develop competencies in innovation entrepreneurship, creating start-ups, and so on.

Исследовательский зал НБ ТГУ

I want to talk a little more about the TSSW: Siberian Institute of the Future. It will focus on studying the role of Siberia in climate formation, as well as on positioning our University, developing its identity, and increasing its competitiveness. The TSSW will make our University “visible” among other 30, 000 universities in the world. Each StrAU has strong research schools and serious technological developments. For example, researchers at the Institute of Biomedicine study the immune system and develop biotechnologies for some large Russian companies. And that is how all the StrAUs work.

How is that supposed to function on a university level? In fact, StrAUs are consortiums, which carry out research and conduct Master’s degree and PhD programmes. Neither of these programmes can be carried out by a faculty on its own. StrAUs represent a model of managing interdisciplinary programmes. Last year we launched two such programmes (Digital Technologies in social and Humanities Practices, and Intellectual Data Analysis and Bioinformatics) and there were many people who want to enroll.  

междисциплинарая магистратура

This proves that such education programmes are in demand. This is the main criterion to carry them out, because they must become self-financing in two years after launching. There must be people or organizations that are interested in them and ready to pay.  The question is how to set up such an experiment.

StrAUs represent a new type of management logic. A person who has all the resources to manage it heads each programme. They must be leading specialists in the spheres that are the pivotal areas of research and education programmes in each particular interdisciplinary programme. Programmes may be headed not only by the heads of the departments and laboratories, but by leading outside experts. The basic principle is to hire people in accordance with their real competencies, not their academic positions.  StrAUs do not need to be organized around departments, because they are consortiums. People from different departments and laboratories will work there. If there are no such people at the University, we will look for them outside, including other international universities.  


There will be an academic council at each programme with three members of the academic staff and three “consumers” (employers). The councils will determine the policy of the StrAUs. There will be no deans. There will be academic offices that will manage education processes. The heads of the programmes will be responsible for the development of their StrAUs. If in two or three years a programme does not become self-financing, it closes.

It is important to mention that not all the Master’s degree programmes go to the StrAUs. Monodisciplinary programmes that are involved in preparing specialists in certain areas (for example, physicists, biologists, chemists) will stay within faculties. The only exception is the School of Innovation, Economics and Management.

StrAUs are elite programmes, which deal with real science and the best education practices. It is a sign of acknowledgement to become a part of them. StrAUs provide new opportunities for work and for financial support for new projects. Faculties will get the money from state-funded places in Bachelor’s programmes and self-funded students. The rest of the funds will go to the five units. People who work at StrAUs will participate in the programmes of academic mobility on a first-priority basis. StrAUs are our priority today, something we are going to focus on in the near future. We invite everybody who are interested and can propose something for the University to participate.  Together we will work on making TSU a “3.0 university”, highly competitive on the Russian and international  levels!

университет 3.0