Rector of Gubkin University: Distance Learning Is a Format to Communicate Knowledge Not Skills
One of the winning projects of the All-Russian "My Country - My Russia" contest - Development of Fuel-Efficient Engine Oil - was presented by students of the National University of Oil and Gas 'Gubkin University'. They took a prize in the Energy for My Country nomination. The competition aims at engaging Russian youth in solving socio-economic problems of the country's regions, monotowns, and villages. How badly has the pandemic affected the work of Gubkin? Do its graduates enjoy the demand on the labour market? And does Russia need to establish a domestic national ranking system of higher education institutions? Viktor Martynov, Rector of the Gubkin University, answers these questions.
In a meeting with the Civic Chamber members, Vladimir Putin paid attention to the need for a unified national ranking of higher education institutions. What is your opinion on the criteria and numerical indicators that should form its basis, and who should develop them?
Both international and Russian rankings are beneficial for forming a multifaceted independent evaluation of higher educational institutions' activity. It is particularly significant for a university's basic tasks: education, science, and the formation of a cultural ecosystem. At the same time, each university has a mission, goals, and objectives that build on regional specifics, industry affiliation, etc. In this regard, selecting the necessary criteria and indicators requires a detailed discussion, taking into account the opinions of the academic and educational community and representatives of business and regional authorities.
What is your opinion about consortia of engineering universities? Can such collaborations serve as industry influencers?
There are many consortia of engineering universities, and they are all different in their orientation. Instead, it would be correct to talk about university consortia in a particular area, such as fuel & energy or mineral resources. We support such ideas. We also support the inclusion of scientific organisations, first and foremost research institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in such consortia.
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
The Soviet system resting on Specialist's degree programmes was competitive and met the industry's then-current challenges. Due to the active integration into the international educational space and the international specifics of the oil & gas industry, a partial transition to the two-level education is an absolute necessity. However, there is a stable demand from the industry for graduates with engineering training. That is why, for some specialities, we continue to train engineering personnel under 5-year educational programmes, expanding and updating the range and content of educational programmes with the active participation of industry partners.
What programmes are currently in high demand at Gubkin, and why do you think young people choose them?
Students' choice is directly related to the demand for study fields for which there is a need in the industry. Stably high admission thresholds for public tuition are characteristic of the faculties of chemical technology and ecology, development of oil & gas fields, automation and computer engineering, engineering mechanics, and the faculty of integrated safety of the fuel & energy sector. However, the competition for state-funded places in other fields of study remains at a very high level.
There is an acute shortage of highly qualified personnel in the mineral sector. How do you assess the level of demand for Gubkin University graduates in the labour market?
The most objective answer to your question one may get by analysing Gubkin's position in terms of demand for our graduates in leading Russian and international rankings. The University is among the top Russian educational institutions. Thanks to the University's teaching staff, we have received eight Russian Federation Government Awards in Education over the last years!
Moreover, it is worth noting that the actual figure is even higher. Since Gubkin, following the Russian Government's order, has been assigned to supervise the formation of regional oil & gas education in the areas wherein massive oil & gas production facilities operating.
How badly has the coronavirus pandemic affected the work of Gubkin?How efficient was the transition to the distance learning system? Can it fully replace face-to-face study
The pandemic has undoubtedly led to adjustments to the organisation of the learning process at Gubkin. Our previous experience, confirmed by the 'forced' university-wide experiment of the distance learning format, shows that an educational institution can convey only 'knowledge' remotely. In contrast, communicating 'skills', especially those related to solving academic cases with a high degree of multitasking and requiring the use of visual and laboratory equipment, is possible only through face-to-face education. This problem is common to all sectoral and technical higher education institutions. We have also encountered it and will accordingly adjust our curricula in the light of the experience gained.
Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stressed that universities should do more than just graduate specialists. 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?
The annual volume of research work at Gubkin is over 1 billion roubles, with 80% being industrial orders. These R&D projects are put into production in the pilot testing mode when they are in the final development stages. If we talk about landmark projects implemented by the University's team, these are works that the state has recognised. For example, in 2019, the University's scientists received two prizes from the Russian Government in science and technology. The first one is an award for developing new import-substituting technologies for producing reforming catalysts and their industrial development at oil refineries in Russia. The second one is an award for creating and implementing a complex of advanced technologies, ensuring mechanical integrity of pipeline systems.
Throughout the 90-year history of the University, its scientists have received 14 Lenin prizes, 11 state prizes of the USSR, two prizes of the USSR Council of Ministers, 14 state prizes of the Russian Federation in science and technology, 18 prizes of the Russian Federation government, three prizes of the Government in science and technology for young scientists. All this reflects the demand for and recognition of these works, not only by industrial enterprises - direct consumers - but also in the scientific community.
Import substitution is on the agenda to develop the fuel & energy complex. How do you assess progress in this area? What is the University's contribution to supporting the production of modern products?
The University is always at the centre of developments in the fuel & energy sector; we focus on solving oil & gas problems. Having assessed our capabilities, we have offered a line of solutions. Of course, we cannot launch manufacturing import-substituting products on our own, but we can comprehend and structure technological challenges.
Among them, we would single out the outdated regulatory and legal framework for creating and promoting new products and the lack of modern tools for the development and diffusion of innovations. We have actively engaged in the development of theoretical foundations and practical filling of industrial test sites, test centres and laboratories, which in the world practice play a notable role in the formation and development of the oil & gas complex.
Suffice it to say that all modern technologies that determine the industry's technical development have been tested and fine-tuned at specially created testing ranges. We have offered our vision of industrial testing in the Russian Federation, and it has found understanding in the Ministry of Industry and Trade of Russia. Gubkin University was officially appointed as the moderator of the Ministry of Industry and Trade of Russia's expert group on formation of the regulatory framework to enable joint testing of import-substituting products by fuel & energy companies. We have prepared policy documents "The concept of a scientific and industrial common access polygon "Bazhen", "The concept of polygons for testing natural gas liquefaction technologies".
Could you share the most promising and relevant scientific & educational areas the University is developing?
Gubkin is continually expanding and adjusting both specialist training and research activities. In particular, in addition to the areas mentioned above, we are actively working in such fields as subsea production complexes, production, storage and transportation of hydrogen and helium, collaborative robotics, advanced materials and additive technologies, substances and materials with controlled properties, digital twins of oil and gas objects, and many other interdisciplinary areas. We believe that only by building educational and research activities based on a multidisciplinary approach is it possible to train specialists who will realise themselves effectively in today's rapidly changing world.