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Rector of MISiS: There Is a Growing Interest in Engineering Education in Russia

МИСиС
© МИСиС/Сергей Гнусков

As distance learning has abruptly become widespread in all of Russia, many new questions arise. Have domestic universities adjusted to the remote format of teaching? What would be the route forward for our higher school? What professions are in most demand among today's undergraduate applicants? Alevtina Chernikova, Rector of the National University of Science and Technology "MISiS", agreed to answer these questions.

What programmes are currently in high demand at MISiS and why do you think young people choose them? Are there any underrated fields that youngsters are not interested in, yet they are critical for the economy? How do you stimulate interest in them?

МИСиС
© МИСиС/Сергей Гнусков

Interest in engineering education has been growing steadily. As time goes by, more prepared, more motivated, and more talented applicants apply to our programmes. The average USE score of school graduates who entered MISiS in 2019 was 86.6. This figure has increased by more than 19 points since 2012. Students aspire to higher technical education because if they master the basics of materials science, have digital production and IT skills, they will find it easier to build a successful career regardless of the area of expertise.

The highest competition in recent years has traditionally been in such fields of study as information systems and technology, materials science and nanotechnology.

МИСиС
© МИСиС/Сергей Гнусков

MISis is one of the country's best and the world's leading mining engineering schools. There is a growing demand for professions related to the digitalisation, automation, and robotisation of production processes in exploring, developing and processing natural resources, and advancements in green technologies.

In 2012, the University developed and ever since has been successfully implementing a comprehensive programme of professional navigation for school students from all regions of Russia, CIS and non-CIS states, aimed at finding, attracting and developing talents.

Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stressed that universities should do more than just graduate specialists since Russia needs a strong university science. Would you share some of the University's most significant developments of recent years? What is their designation? When can we expect to have them put into production?

We have two tasks: to form our own scientific and educational plans and find answers to the modern challenges and the business community's demands. Our laboratories and centres are working to offer developments that shall help solve the most acute issues the international academic and business community face in various fields. Among them are quantum technologies and computing, biomedicine and bioengineering, natural resource management, materials engineering, engineering solutions for MegaScience projects.

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All of this is highly relevant. Once there is a quantum computer, we will reach a new level and ensure the higher speed and quality of computations and tasks in hand. Green-energy developments - including the creation of alternative energy sources and energy-saving technologies - will help solve ecological problems. Synthesis of new materials for a new generation of implants and drugs for cancer therapy will improve life quality and average life expectancy. Establishment of new nature-like and nature-oriented mining technologies will minimise the negative impact on the environment.

The University's scientists are involved in research & development work as part of federal targeted and presidential programmes. They also carry out projects commissioned by leading high-tech companies and government agencies. Over 500 contracts are signed between the University and its business partners every year.

If we talk about commercialising our developments, it is good to bear in mind that MISiS conducts both fundamental and applied research. In-depth studies are of such a nature that it is impossible to determine when theoretical results will translate into practical solutions. As for R&D projects, scientists regularly present new efforts to innovate the mining and metallurgical industries.

МИСиС
© МИСиС/Сергей Гнусков

In 2019, MISiS launched the School of Pedagogical Excellence, whose primary aim is to teach the University's workers how to maximise the potential of modern educational methods and digital technologies in designing educational programmes and courses. What prompted the University to take this step? Who acts as experts? And can online education fully replace the face-to-face education system?

The world's leading research and educational centres face a constant need to search for new educational technologies and teaching methods. NUST MISIS has been implementing the so-called 'digital university' model - Digital MISIS - since 2012. We consider developing digital technologies with their subsequent integration into the educational process as part of the blended-learning model.

The School of Pedagogical Excellence, established in 2019, is one of our ecosystem's essential elements. It is a platform for developing, testing and implementing new educational methods and technologies, scaling best practices. Last year, over 400 University's teachers completed their training at the School. The best Russian and international education experts are involved in the educational process.

Amid the pandemic, in April 2020, to support teachers in the transition to distance learning, we launched the online marathon 'Pedagogical Design in a Digital Environment', which aims to help create an online learning environment that is comfortable for teachers and students alike.

Digitalisation in all spheres of activity is a complex process that involves mandatory and comprehensive testing of new technologies. Higher education goes through a transformation, and it needs to be carried out in a balanced and cautious manner to ensure that the education system does not lose what it has gained before.

МИСиС
© МИСиС/Сергей Гнусков

Today, universities actively participate in international collaborations allowing them to train specialists familiar with the foreign field-specific experience and increase research efficiency. In what collaborative programmes does MISiS participate? How do you ensure that international education cooperation does not lead to brain drain, as specialists are leaving abroad?

We successfully implement joint projects with major Russian and foreign high-tech companies and research centres. Since 2014, we have been interacting with international MegaScience research infrastructures. The University is a member of such international collaborations as LHCb (running experiment at the Large Hadron Collider) and SHiP (experiment at the SPS accelerator). The SHiP project leader, Professor Andrey Golutvin, headed the NUST MISIS Centre for Infrastructure Cooperation and Partnership MegaScience in 2017.

As of now, scientists from more than 20 countries - winners of open international competitions - work in the University's laboratories and engineering centres. We create the conditions for outstanding scientists, who once went abroad, to return to Russia. For many years, we have been implementing programmes to attract talented and motivated young people with research experience at the world's leading research and educational centres. This practice allows for building new research teams, integrating into the global academic community, and making scientific progress. More research papers mean higher publication activity. Our research articles are published annually in highly ranked international scientific journals.

МИСиС
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What is your opinion about consortia of engineering universities? Can such collaborations serve as industry influencers?

Consortia of universities, associations, and industry-specific organisations is an essential link in the university community's development towards synchronising positions and implementing joint educational and scientific projects. NUST MISiS heads two federal academic methodological associations, within which, with the participation of all specialised universities, educational standards are discussed and consolidated. The consortium of mineral and material science institutions works on projects to develop innovative forms of organising the educational process. The vital initiative of the Rector of Russia's first higher technical university, - St. Petersburg Mining University - Vladimir Litvinenko, and his systematic work resulted in the International Competence Centre for Mining-Engineering Education under the auspices of UNESCO. The new institution has contributed to the consolidation of leading universities, increased academic mobility of undergraduate and postgraduate students, specialists, the unification of educational and professional standards.

What impact has the transition to the two-level system of training specialists - Master's degree and Bachelor's degree - had on the quality of higher technical education in Russia and graduates' skills? Is it necessary to restore the system we once had - Specialist's degree, implying 5.5-year-long studies?

Sticking to Specialist's degree in one of the most hard-to-master engineering specialities - mining - was the right decision. Specialist's degree holders enjoy high demand from industrial enterprises, proving that this format is crucial in specific fields. However, most countries' international mining engineering standards show that a two-tiered education system also has the right to exist, especially regarding developing research competencies. We have yet to find points of convergence between these two different attitudes. It is a topic to be examined by the Competence Centre.