We Are Half Way There, Successfully!
07.11.2017

A meaningful event in the life of TSU took place a few weeks ago. We successfully defended the Roadmap, which is part of the 5-100 Programme. I mentioned it in my interviews and reports all the time recently. However, this news is so important that I want to communicate it to each and every faculty and management stuff, as well as to each and every student. How was this procedure that we went through on October 27-28 in Yekaterinburg different from what we’d done before?

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First of all, we presented a plan for the next three years, not just for one year as it used to be. The defense marked the middle of the 5-100 project and it was the point when the future of the Programme was under question, which automatically meant that the decision about the future of all 21 universities-participants of the Programme was to be made. We all remember the discussion that took place at the meeting of the Global Universities Association. There were two options: to leave only the 5 or 6 most effective universities in the Programme or to continue supporting all 21 universities. Is it necessary to say how worried we all were, waiting for the ultimate decision in Yekaterinburg?

Second, the defense was scheduled as part of the general meeting of the rectors of 150 leading Russian universities. Therefore, it was intended to be public. This made it more important and demanded more commitment and responsibility from the participants.

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Third, the criteria of evaluating the roadmaps were clear and transparent to all the participants of the defense procedure. We used to have less understanding of the grounds for the evaluation. What we used to be introduced to were only the results.

Let me explain in detail three most important moments, starting with the criteria mentioned above. This time, the Ministry of Education and Science and the Board of the Programme came up with three main criteria, each criterion was evaluated on a scale from 1 to 10. The first two were quantitative, they reflected the place of a university in global rankings and the indicators that showed whether the preliminary goals of the Programme were achieved. The third was qualitative, it showed how many points a university had received from the Council over the whole period of time. The diagram presents these criteria as equally important (about 33% each) with different colors, orange, blue, and grey, accordingly.

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You can see that we did not get many points for the “orange” criterion (only 3 points). We used to have very good results in this regard up until this year. This means that we moved up in global rankings, such as the ARWU, QS, and Times, complying with the commitments we were binding ourselves to. But this time, we did not achieve the goal we had set and obtained a place in the fifth hundred of the Times ranking, not the fourth as we had anticipated.

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However, it was the initiative of the Higher School of Economics (HSE) to change the pattern of evaluating the advancements of universities in global rankings.  If the pattern had not been changed, we would have had better results. The HSE proposed to evaluate advancements not only in general global rankings, but in subject rankings as well.  It took a lot of time and efforts from the working group of the Programme to make the decision that dramatically changed the approach and pointed at the leader in the subject rankings, which turned out to be the HSE itself. The School entered the subject rankings of the ARWU in four areas and became the only Russian university on the list in such spheres as sociology, political studies, and economics.  Sociology, by the way, took the HSE up to the top-75. The School also entered the top-200 of the Times ranking in liberal arts and humanities. This is a very impressive result for a non-English speaking country, considering national specifics of the area of humanities. TSU is in the group of 201-250 in those areas and this indicates our potential.

The second, “blue”, criterion brought us many points because we achieved almost all the goals we had set. If we had achieved the goal in the Times ranking, we, again, would have had better results.

Finally, the third criterion earned us the most points. What was important for the experts in this case? The target model of the future development, whether it is clear, well elaborated, and focused on the most promising areas in accordance with global trends in science and education. It was important to show that the plans are realistic and can be put into practice in terms of the resources they require. Among the latter was a leading team of like-minded managers who could carry out the strategy and engage the staff.  

We became the sixth university on the list of seven leading Russian universities, having left behind National University of Science and Technology, because the results we have achieved and the potential we have were recognized by the Council. 

Of course, some rectors were not satisfied with the results of the defense that were based on those criteria. For example, the rector of Kazan Federal University believed that the first criterion was supposed to weigh more. The response from the members of the Council was explicit: if advancements in global rankings were the most important criterion, there would be no reason to keep the Council. The money would be issued automatically, based on how high a university had moved up in the rankings. But one should not forget that any ranking, even the most recognized one, is a formal and commercial mechanism, which has nothing to do with the criteria of quality. And with very flexible systems of indicators. Numbers are important, but sometimes they show the results of spinning the indicators, instead of improving the quality. That is why the qualitative evaluation of universities’ activity carried out by the Council is extremely important. The members of the Council are true experts in science and education. They have implemented reforms at their universities.

But let us get back to what we received the most points for. The procedure was very formal. We had 10 minutes for the presentation and 20 minutes for the questions from the members of the Council. The working language was English. We were aware of the fact that we would not receive resources for everything we could plan. Therefore, we focused on three main directions for the next three years.

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First: development of TSU’s ecosystem in general because today there is a competition between universities’ ecosystems, instead of universities themselves. The term “ecosystem” determines multilevel and multifunctional combination of infrastructure, organization, and resources. Every university does not have enough resources to solve all the problems connected with revolutionary research and education work. Only partnership with all possible stakeholders from science, business, and government can lead to success. We have certain results in this area. There are several large organizations that are ready to be our partners on a new level, for example, the RUSSIAN QUANTUM CENTER, SIBUR company, and the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research. We have a mutual understanding of the situation with Sergey Zhvachkin, Governor of the Tomsk Region. He considers the development of the research and education complex of the region as one of the top priorities. There are many regions in Russia where the situation is very unstable because their governors are being constantly replaced by one another. We have a stable situation in this regard and representatives of all three spheres – university, business, and state – can concentrate on joining their resources and achieving joint goals.  

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Second: we must concentrate on new interdisciplinary projects. I have written and talked about that many times, so, I will move to the next factor.

Three: we should concentrate on three modes of managing the transformation processes, which are run, change, and disrupt. They can provide our University with non-linear growth. Let me focus on each mode and explain it in detail.

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The RUN mode: we are going to continue running the projects that help to keep us competitive. We will not change the principles of establishing a classical university, which include division into traditional structural units, such as institutes, faculties, departments, and laboratories. But we will be open to changes and innovations. Without them it will be impossible to achieve results by 2020. New units, such as Strategic Academic Units, will be established in collaboration with partners from outside the University. Other variants of collaboration can be represented by temporal research teams and new forms of education programmes. Experiments are something that helps to shape the future. Universities must be open to them. It is important to create a culture of everyday changes and development.  

As for the DISRUPT factor, the term was presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2016. It implies creative (constructive) disruption. This means creating new and, as a result, disrupting old formats. Disruptive technologies appear in all spheres of social life and professional activity. As a rule, they become global very fast. For example, the Uber application as a technology of internet taxi service; the blockchain system; VR and AR technologies; the co-creation management principle; and so on. In education, we can think of open electronic education platforms, development of a digital education environment, and so on.

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Disruptive projects will determine the development of TSU after the year 2020. But we have begun working in this direction. One of such projects is an open structure for gathering and analyzing big data in social media that can be used in solving all kinds of problems. We call it  the University of Open Data. It is open and has been used by our colleagues from other universities and companies.

Another disruptive project is aimed at developing AI and VR technologies that will be used in education. It will allow using adaptive content and flexible education trajectories, as well as changing the education process and the teacher-student role relationships at a university.

We are working on launching some other disruptive projects, for example, connected with designing smart materials that will make it possible for people to spend more time in space.

Combining all three modes will allow us to use the potential of all our staff and partners, because each level of these modes requires a certain type of professional and a certain level of readiness for changes. This approach will be the basis for our non-linear growth in the future. The beginning of this growth will be establishing the University’s ecosystem that will make our region one of the world’s 50 centres of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

 Just like all other presenters, we felt nervous, defending our Roadmap. In fact, the future of each university was on the line. The venue was very festive. The defense was held in the famous  Sevastyanov’s House, which is the official Presidential residence in Yekaterinburg. The city residents are very proud of the building.   

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The final meeting, at which the results were announced, took place in the Conference Hall of Ural Federal University. Rectors of 130 Russian universities participated. They came to share their positive experience and practices. The highlight of the meeting was the decision made by the Government and the Council: to keep all 21 universities in the Programme. They will be divided into three groups in accordance with the results of the defense. This was the key event for the future of Russian education. Of course, it is important to have 5 or 6 leading universities. But it is more important to improve the whole system of education.

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Olga Golodets, Deputy Prime Minister for Social Affairs, told us that she wants to address the President with a a proposal to continue carrying out the Programme after 2020. Russia should not fall behind the leading countries. China, for instance, is in the third stage of such programme and the government grants 3 billion dollars to it. 

My dear colleagues, today we all need to feel what we have achieved, as well as feel the level of responsibility that we have imposed on ourselves. We will discuss it at our regular staff meeting at the end of December. I want to thank the members of our team who did their best in Yekaterinburg: Victor Dyomin, Artem Rykun, Mikhail Myagkov, Richard Ernst, Irina Kurzina, Yuri Kistenev, and others who worked on the Roadmap and prepared it for the presentation. And, of course, I want to thank all the staff! We could not have done it without your efforts! I congratulate us on the victory and wish you to enjoy the momentum. But we should not relax, because there are new goals and new opportunities for TSU that we should think of!