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Why does Siberian Federal University need the Nedra Consortium

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In November 2020, the Siberian Federal University joined the Nedra Consortium of technical universities. In an interview with Forpost.ru, its rector Maxim Rumyantsev spoke about the benefits that the association would bring directly to students, why the national higher school today is so concerned with the issue of competitiveness, and why engineering universities in the regions do not switch to a remote format of education.

SFU is considered to be the largest in the eastern part of the country: it was formed by combining five educational institutions and one research institute in Krasnoyarsk. The range of training areas offered covers from robotics and oil and gas to psychology and tourism. In 2021, more than 5 thousand students and postgraduates will be accepted for budget places only. In total, more than 25 thousand people study here. Therefore, when the head of the university claims that without consolidation the integrity of the educational system is impossible, he relies primarily on the existing experience of his region.

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- How do you see the mechanism of influence of the Nedra university consortium on state authorities and business communities?

- The consortium was created to form a unified state policy in the field of subsoil users training. At present, it includes 25 universities, which will consolidate to form proposals for the Ministry of Science and Higher Education to improve the education system of fuel and energy and mineral resource complexes.

In part, the mechanism underlying the consortium resembles the work of the Federal Educational and Methodological Association of Universities. It used to solve methodological tasks of all universities, for example, it gave comments on educational programs, curricula, and general policy on opening new specialities. For the time being it suspended its work, but now it is working with new forces and tasks. Without the consolidated work of all universities the integrity of the educational system is impossible. So I expect that the impact of such a community will grow over time.

As far as business is concerned, the universities will be able to work out the request of industrial companies and industrial giants for qualified personnel much more efficiently and accurately. This is unambiguous: training of specialists in the mining and geological sphere ideally should be carried out in close cooperation with the basic mining and metallurgical companies in the organization of practices and employment.

We need to strive, and the consortium can be an effective tool for this for the ministry, universities and business structures to work together to prepare qualified personnel for the industry and the economy of the country.

- How will the operational work be planned?

The working agenda is formed by the consortium presidium. It comprises two SFU institutes - the Institute of Oil and Gas and the Institute of Mining, Geology and Geotechnology. Accordingly, when some general decision is made, we receive letters from the consortium. Here on the spot we, taking into account the regional specifics, the capacity of the scientific and technical base, the flexibility of our specific training system, form response proposals. Each higher education institution is still independent and can tell about its vision; its established point of view will have weight and place.

Онлайн-заседание консорциума университетов «Недра»
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Periodically, representatives of different universities will meet to discuss strategic issues and development plans. The consortium meeting will be held at the sites of different universities.

I will give examples of joint work. Just the other day, a Russian-German conference on hydrogen energy, initiated by the Subsoil Resources, was held. In November, the International online forum “Advanced engineering competencies - the future of the mining industry” took place; it was dedicated to the formation of common competencies for training of miners, oil and gas engineers. Representatives of the core community from China, India, Australia attended it, as well as the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, Ministry of Energy, Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, PhosAgro, SIBUR, NOVATEK, Russian Copper Company, SUEK and foreign companies: Shell, Caterpillar Inc., Orica, Schneider Electric, and London Stock Exchange.

- Within the consortium, are you interested in academic mobility programs?

- The formation of a common policy regarding the training of professionals does indeed increase opportunities for academic mobility. It is a perfect practice! If a common grid of study plans and competencies is formed, it will be easier for students themselves in the first place. Today, there are about 56 universities of the Russian Federation training personnel for oil and gas industry, and each of them has its own educational programs. If a student wants to transfer to another regional or metropolitan university, there is a huge academic difference.

A common consortium policy will simplify inter-university mutual understanding also in the framework of international exchange programs. Institutions abroad will understand that students who come from the consortium of universities Nedra have a single part of the curriculum, measurable in their credits and coinciding with their disciplines. As a result, they will be able to take any included courses, for example, in Austria, Germany, France, without loss to their basic education, because when they return, this list of courses will be counted as a credit.

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- Today there is an active discussion on certification of mineral specialists with the participation of the International Competence Center for Mining Engineering Education under the auspices of UNESCO. When can this practice be implemented in Russia?

- Most likely, there will be some transformation, we are moving in that direction. I think it will be implemented in the nearest future. There is a need for general certification, first of all, on the part of employers who have claims to universities in terms of training engineers. The unified system of specialists’ evaluation will help to rank students according to employers’ requirements, so that at the moment of employment they could evaluate the level of potential employee's competence.

- The technical profile of your university implies a significant share of practical and laboratory work in the total volume of classes. Today in Moscow and St. Petersburg the higher school is transferred to distance learning. How is your training organized during the pandemic, what do you do so that the pandemic does not affect the quality of your graduates?

- This is the most pressing issue. Our educational process is organized in a hybrid format with maximum preservation of full-time classes where necessary. That is, theoretical streaming lectures are translated into a remote format, while the rest, i.e., practical classes and laboratory work requiring access to equipment, are conducted in person with compliance with all sanitary and epidemiological standards. For the future oilman and miner it is essential to gain practical skills; they must not just know what the valve looks like but need to understand with what force it should be twisted to open and in what direction. Some competences can be achieved only in a practical way, for example, formation of some solutions: here practice is very important. We try to keep it in a sufficient volume.

- Does federal status impose additional responsibility?

- Of course, it imposes responsibility, but at the same time it is an advantage. All federal universities were established in various so-called support regions across the country. Our task is to be the conductor of the policy of the federal center. Implementing the federal agenda, universities are meant to work and develop their region. And this is not only about human resources. For example, the SFU Yenisei Siberia REC, established on the basis of SFU, is geared towards scientific and expert support of industrial companies operating in the region.

- Can you give examples of successful implementation of innovative developments of SFU in production? Tell us about the most significant developments of the university in recent years.

- There are quite a few successful cases. We are cooperating quite actively with industrial partners. Among them are such industrial giants as RUSAL, Norilsk Nickel, Polyus, SUEK, Rosneft, Gazprom Neft - the total number of partner companies is over a hundred. Our projects are among the top three in terms of innovation; for example, RUSAL has a unique system of industrial technology for producing coal extractive pitch, which reduces emissions. A unique work is underway with Rosneft to form drilling fluids tied to a specific field: SFU specialists are conducting research on a specific field as part of a target order and form a unique composition of the solution, which helps increasing oil recovery. Fruitful work is going on with KrasnoyarskNIPIneft, where our employees form a single database for Eastern Siberia with an eye on Russia as a whole. The R&D center has been successfully operating for the third year: this is our joint project with MMC Norilsk Nickel. This is a scientific and technological center for the development of a dynamic management system and quality control of the extraction and processing of mineral raw materials.

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Cooperation is not only of a purely scientific and innovative nature. First of all, worth noting is the fruitful cooperation with Rosneft, which is actively developing a new major oil and gas province within the Krasnoyarsk Krai, Irkutsk Oblast and Yakutia. The Company initiated the development of public-private partnership for the construction of the INiG SFU training and laboratory building. Commissioning of the building, its equipment and attraction of specialists from the Company's subsidiaries allowed us to launch training in most areas and specialties of oil and gas profile. The same Engineering Academy is a project on personnel training with VSNK. We plan to replicate this success and implement this work with other companies.

- What did you get from the "5-100" competitiveness program? Besides this project, what could help universities develop more intensively, what changes would help?

- Project 5-100 is more than a story about just financial support for universities. The guidelines of the program are a reason to think about, perhaps, regrouping internal forces and directing resources to the most important and relevant tasks at the moment, including those related to participation in various competitions of national projects "Science", "Education" and "Digital Economy".

Today, this project is being replaced by the Strategic Academic Leadership Program (SALP) initiated by the Russian Ministry of Education and Science. We intend to participate, our application will be focused on the socio-economic development of the region. The working group is now actively conducting consultations and discussions.

I would highlight a few points that allow us to speak about the SALP program as a promising one. First, it is the democratic nature and equal opportunities for development-oriented universities to receive support. It is not just about subsidies. Getting into the program even as a candidate allows universities to announce their development plans at the federal level and, in fact, get an assessment of the reforms they are implementing.

The second is the proposed format of a consortium that works to strengthen the university resource. In the absence of a rigid framework this allows removing barriers and joining efforts in solving significant scientific and educational tasks.

Finally, the program takes into account two key trajectories of the university development: focus on the research agenda and focus on participation in the socio-economic development of the subject. There is a place for each university in this program.

- In one of the interviews you said that in many ways the work of the university is aimed at improving its competitiveness and for Russian educational institutions to enter the global rankings, the top leading universities. Why has this question become relevant in recent times?

- Global rankings are a way to measure the dynamics of the university, and such attention to them is associated with the shift in Russian education, which took place in the 1990’s. Before that, our universities had no task to meet the needs of a market economy. There were internal priorities, and the value of the ranking was not significant. The education system met the needs of the planned economy, the number of budget places was determined, and they were distributed, and this was not a competitive environment. It was a state task, which was solved by the educational system and the position in the ratings was not a task.

But the processes of globalization and the formation of new economic markets demanded from the Russian education system perestroika, because at the end of 20th century, in the 2000s, a different structure of market formation began to take shape. The centers were shifted. As soon as it became obvious that the domestic educational segment was inferior to the European and American educational markets, programs to increase competitiveness appeared. We started much later than our colleagues from Asian countries. However, today, precise guidelines have emerged that need to be met.