We Continue to Reconstruct the University

An open university is constantly interacting with the wider world and exploring it. The major advantage of this policy is the opportunity to find out about new global challenges with more potential and more risks. We talked about it last time. This time I would want to concentrate on processes connected with possible feedback a university may show as a reaction to such challenges. I will even give several examples.

Most people are aware of us looking for possible ways to restructure some of the TSU units. We must do that in order to meet certain challenges of the global education market, such as reaching high education quality in accordance with accepted standards and finding one’s own identity. Those two are the main requirements for a university to reach and maintain high international competitiveness.  

Another challenge we face is a requirement to use our internal resources the most efficient way possible. The more resources it takes from an organization to win, the less time it enjoys its success. Therefore, we made a decision to establish five basic strategic academic units (StrAUs) at TSU: 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). However, the International Academic Council recommended us to continue with four StrAUs now. They supported this recommendation with the following argument: there is a severe global competition in economics and management among universities. It is not a realistic goal to obtain excellent results and to gain in the top rankings by subjects in the near future with the funds we have today.

We cannot ignore this recommendation, because the idea of StrAUs represents a concept for the 5-100 Programme. The government supports it and the International Academic Council is responsible for the distribution of funds. We are not giving up the idea to establish the Institute of Innovations, Economics, and Management in general. It will probably have some other status different from a StrAU. In June, I participated in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum and saw once again: the Institute of Innovations, Economics, and Management is our strategic priority that will provide TSU with connections with the world of business and innovations.


That is why we will be spending the programme money we receive on four StrAUs and looking for new partners and additional resources to develop the Institute. 

This example illustrates very well that it is impossible to restructure such a complex organization as university once and forever, strictly in accordance with a plan.  External environment (new trends in science and education, requirements from the academic community, stakeholders, and other factors) is changing the plans all the time. Nevertheless, general outlines of the new university system have been adumbrated. It would be easier to assign all the faculties and institutions to one of four StrAUs. But the purpose of the StrAUs is not to make the structures inside the University bigger, but to consolidate units around the most current interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research and education arears that will constitute the identity of our University in the near future.

StrAUs are structures that have been established around interdisciplinary master’s and postgraduate programmes based at world-class leading research and education centres and laboratories. They will invite bachelors with majors in different spheres. In other words, many TSU faculties and institutions have connections not with one but with two or three academic units. But we also face an opposite problem. Different TSU departments duplicate each other’s functions, which  leads to inefficient spending of our internal resources. Students receive the same (or very close) professional skills and competencies at different faculties. We have discussed these problems and found out that many heads of the departments want to have an idea of a complete model of the University so they could work on the models of their faculties and institutes. In my opinion, we have some kind of misunderstanding here that does not let us continue developing at a quick pace.

We have put a lot of joint efforts to develop a comprehensive model of Tomsk State University. In fact, the model consists of four StrAUs that represent the identity of the University and the gene of the University that includes three basic principles: classicality, fundamentality, and openness.


There is no final version of the model that will work forever. Otherwise, it would contradict with the principle of openness for the external environment and lose its feasibility and flexibility. That is why it should be re-evaluated from time to time in accordance with new challenges. The model should not be too complex or it might lose its outlines and manageability.

The proposals to change the model should be expected from the faculties and institutes, not from the top management of the University. The staff should analyze the potential and conclude how they may contribute to achieve the goals of a certain StrAU. There are no contradictions between the interests of the StrAUs and the units. When we were establishing the StrAUs we were considering the achievements of the faculties and institutes and their top priorities.  

There are no standard scenarios of development for all TSU units. Some of them will have to consolidate to fulfil their potential. Some of them will have to be divided and merged with some other faculties and institutes.  University systems change faster when the processes are supported by the majority of employees. It will take some time. That is why we came up with the idea of research and education centres as contemporary consortiums of faculties, institutes, and departments. Such consortiums will help to test the future model of cooperative work and to find the most efficient option. What is that efficient option? In our case, we talk about a model of interaction between several University units that will help to achieve a synergetic effect, which would be unachievable in case they did not work together.   

Once such an efficient option is found, a consortium is ready to get to the final stage of its integration. It is happening now with the research and education centre established in 2015. Now it is turning into the Institute of Economics and Management mentioned above.

I would want to say the following to everybody who is about to be involved in the processes of integration. If there are still no efficient variants of consolidation, the further restructuring is required. At the end, the most efficient variant of developing a unit must provide students with fundamental knowledge and system and analytical thinking, as well as with specific competencies. The latter is especially important, as it is a downside of some of our faculties and institutes. 

It is clear that faculties and institutes that propose the most elaborate strategies of achieving certain goal will become pivotal. The rest will consolidate around them. The goals have already been set: 1) high quality education and research that meet global standards; 2) education and research programmes that help to make the University unique and demanded worldwide; 3) and efficient spending of the resources we have in our disposal today (which excludes duplicated functions).  

In order to evaluate all the information given above, I would propose to find answers to the following questions:

-       How many languages should be taught at TSU and what factors define this number? 

-       How will teaching foreign languages and other language disciplines be different from teaching them at other universities (meaning, why people have to choose our University to master languages)?  

-       Who should teach languages – linguists, specialists in intercultural communication, or native speakers who might not have linguistic education? If all of them, what should be the proportion of their involvement?

-       How efficient is it to have linguistic majors at non-linguistic faculties?

-       What particular skills should graduates have in order to be demanded on labor market?

-       What requirements does our University have for those who teach foreign languages besides diplomas? Should they have any additional certificates?

-        How to provide not only quantity but also quality of programmes targeted at professors and staff of the University who have just started learning foreign languages?

-       What fundamental scientific areas in philology should be developed despite the global trend of cutting the number of those in the system of modern education? What should prove such a necessity to develop them?

-       What inter- and transdisciplinary scientific and education areas require, among the rest, philological and linguistic competencies?

These are not the only questions we are waiting to receive answers to from the TSU Faculty of Philology and the TSU Faculty of Foreign Languages. At the moment, they develop strategies of interacting and further consolidating with a newly established research and education centre Institute of Modern Languages and Literature. However, the questions are to be directed to the other units and departments. For example, the Department of International Relations at the Faculty of History.

I hope that this information will be helpful to all the faculties and institutes that face the problem of building new strategies of development.