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Rector of Grozny State Oil Technical University: “Transparency of Evaluation Criteria Is What Should Define National Ranking of Universities”

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Magomed Mintsaev, Rector of Grozny State Oil Technical University (GSOTU), shared his opinion on the most pressing problems faced by the domestic higher education system and how successfully they are solved.
He also discussed whether regional specifics influence the research areas and the driver of integration into the international scientific and educational space.

What study programmes are the most demanded at your university?

The results of recent admission campaigns show that IT specialities are in high demand. Such position is due to various factors - global and regional trends in digitalisation, coordinated career guidance work of the Institute of Applied Information Technology management, the favourable situation with the Unified State Exam in computer science, etc.

In addition, architecture remains the leader in demand from applicants year after year. It seems that the beautiful appearance of modern Grozny and our leadership efforts, the head of the Chechen Republic, the Hero of Russia Ramzan Kadyrov, to improve it also encourage our young people to achieve architectural feats.

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How has your university adapted to the mixed format of the admissions campaign, where documents for admission can be submitted both in-person and online?

Indeed, applicants can choose a convenient way for them — visit us on-site or submit documents remotely. For online submission, we use software products developed by our IT specialists.

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I think that our specialists made a suitable software solution with an understandable interface. For the sake of interest, I was able to test-file the documents myself - it took me 10-15 minutes. It is a significant advantage to submit papers from anywhere globally, even without considering "coronavirus" events. I do not see any significant gaps in this practice, except that not everyone has digital devices and Internet access. That is why there is an opportunity to submit papers in person.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected the university's work? How efficient was the transition to the distance learning system? Can it fully replace face-to-face study?

In my opinion, the transition to a remote system for our university was painless and in the shortest possible time. We are already planning to allow students to take several courses in the humanities voluntarily using the university's online digital platform, created based on the popular moodle environment.

As for completely replacing the face-to-face system with online studies, I believe that we can achieve the most outstanding efficiency by practising a combined option.

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Tell us about the most significant scientific developments at the university in recent years. What tasks are they aimed at, and when can we expect their introduction into production?

At all stages of its development, from technical school to university, Grozny Petroleum University has always had a balance between quality education and in-demand scientific and technical results. Considering the existing groundwork and the demands of business, society and the state, we have identified some areas as the most promising university.

Naturally, they are oil and gas, including technologies of deep refining, pulse-plasma impact in oil refining and transportation of oil and oil products. It's energy, including renewable energy - solar, wind, hydro and geothermal resources. Besides, they are IT, artificial intelligence and robotics, BigData, digital technologies in manufacturing, mechanical engineering. I can't help but mention energy-efficient construction technologies, including the creation of new composite building materials. The list could go on for quite a long time; it would take a lot of time.

Here we should pay attention to the fact that there are competencies, the uniqueness of which is enhanced by regional and geographical peculiarities. Our university can confidently cooperate with world-class scientific schools in such areas as geothermal resources, of which the Chechen Republic is rich. Grozny Petroleum University has a long tradition of studying them. The existing groundwork of the university in the field of efficient use of geothermal energy can be successfully replicated in some regions of Russia, as well as in some countries with geothermal reserves such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Kenya...

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Another promising area of focus on the global agenda is the work carried out by our researchers using pulse-plasma technologies in various applied fields - oil transportation and refining, metallurgy, housing and utilities, waste disposal, and so on. By the way, most of the developments in building materials using anthropogenic raw materials have been successfully introduced into production, both within the Republic and beyond its borders.

Before the well-known events associated with the spread of coronavirus infection, there was considerable interest from several Middle Eastern countries in the developing oil, gas and construction materials. After easing the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic, we plan to intensify our efforts to transfer our intellectual activity abroad results.

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How do you assess the level of demand for your graduates in the labour market? In which companies do they do their internships and subsequently work?

In the conditions of a shortage of highly qualified personnel in the mineral sector, I think that our decision to form and develop a block for training mid-level personnel based on the secondary vocational education department is exceptionally correct. The short training periods for blue-collar occupations and specialities - from 10 months to 3.5 years - allow us to cover the needs of industrial partners with whom the university cooperates in a more flexible and timely way. At the same time, our leading partner, Rosneft Oil Company, under an agreement between the company's management and the Head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, has also made a stake in training mid-level personnel. And it has invested about RUR 200 million in creating a vocational training centre at our secondary education faculty, known locally as the "oil technical college".

When asked about graduates' employment, I can say that they are in demand, first and foremost, at Rosneft and virtually all major regional companies operating in various real economy sectors. These are Gazprom Transgaz Grozny, Vainahtelecom, Kazbek, Chechenenergo, Grozneftegaz, Chechencement and others.

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At a meeting with members of the Public Chamber, Vladimir Putin announced the need for a unified national ranking of universities. What criteria and numerical indicators should form its basis, and who should develop them?

President Vladimir Putin's idea of a unified national rating of universities is undoubtedly relevant and is likely to be implemented. Another thing is how meaningful the criteria and indicators will be. I believe that the teaching and research community must necessarily participate in their development. They are the Russian Academy of Sciences, representatives of development institutes, business and state structures. In my opinion, the most important thing is the transparency of the evaluation criteria.

I can cite the extremely non-transparent and unworked grading by the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, which has divided domestic universities into three groups. Our university was given the worst third category, and formally we are classified as an organisation that has "lost scientific activity as its core activity and development prospects." At the same time, we have not received any methodological documents explaining the evaluation criteria, specifying any values and thresholds.

Let's assume that we do fall into the third category, which of course, I strongly disagree with, but we want to get out of this reputational hole. Then where are the benchmarks to which we should aspire in terms of numbers, percentages and so on? After several visits to the relevant department of the Ministry of Education and Science, which accompanied the evaluation process, I could not get transparent criteria and current indicators, which were used in the evaluation of our university, and those to which we need to strive to get into the highest category.

Lack of transparent evaluation criteria is the most unfortunate and categorically unacceptable thing about any ranking. Each of its participants must understand the principle by which their potential is "measured", know their current "measured" data and the values they need to be guided by to improve their ranking position. Seemingly it is simple logic, but even in such a responsible job of evaluating HEIs and assigning categories, it is not apparent.

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What do you think of the idea of forming a consortium of engineering universities? Can this kind of education be an effective instrument of sectoral influence?

I believe that any association should bring concrete benefits to each of its members. It can be access to the partners' educational and methodological resources, to a more developed, or better yet, unique educational, scientific and innovative infrastructure, joint projects, exchange of experience, etc. If this association is only a "framework" agreement between its participants, and then, of course, there will be no harm from such a consortium but no particular benefit either.

We are part of the professional community of mining universities in Russia, headed by the St. Petersburg Mining University. This community is a single educational space, all of whose members provide each other with their teaching and learning resources and, where possible, with their infrastructure resources. For example, St Petersburg Mining University has expressed readiness to provide us with its "Neftyanik" training and research site, a unique facility in which huge investments have been made.

Do you agree that the transition to the two-level system of training specialists - bachelor and Master - has harmed the quality of domestic higher technical education and the level of graduates? What do you think of the idea of returning to the former model - the speciality, which involves studying for five and a half years?

I still cannot fully comprehend the advantages of the two-tier system of higher education in the form in which it has been introduced. Just saying, in the West, the point of the bachelor's degree is to give a person a minimum amount of knowledge and competencies at first. Then later, when he knows what he wants to become, he can continue his studies in the Master's program focusing on a particular workplace.

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It is encouraging that there has been some reflection on this issue in the last 3-5 years. Many people enrol in Master's programmes consciously with an understanding of their career trajectory. As for the return to the previous model: It is again some costs for developing and adapting normative documentation, a long transition period. My opinion is that the two-tier system can be "fine-tuned". Why not make small transformations in terms of consolidation, to make it simple to those who have chosen the profession of a researcher - "bachelor-master-PhD" instead of "bachelor-master - candidate - doctor of science".

This is solely my opinion, and it may differ sharply from that of most of my colleagues. Secondary vocational education can also be consolidated with a bachelor's degree, with its graduates necessarily obtaining a working speciality and becoming mid-career professionals. The duration of bachelor's degree programmes is slightly longer. It allows for two parallel tracks focusing on potential entrants to Master's degree programmes or employment at the level of a mid-level specialist. One-year vocational training after 11th grade, which many technical schools and universities are now actively developing, could be retained as a platform for preparing skilled workers.

In conclusion, how did it happen that you decided to leave the federal ministry and returned to the Republic, the university?

Unlike education and science, public service is a slightly different type of thinking, a different way of life. Working at the Russian Ministry of Education and Science gave me an insight into how the state policy in education and science is formed and implemented. Two years in the ministry gave me a lot of necessary and valuable information, which, I am sure, will help me in making decisions and forming the university development strategy. Therefore, when I received an offer from the region's leadership represented by the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, to head the university, I accepted it without hesitation. Of course, for me, it is a great honour to work for the benefit of my small motherland - the Chechen Republic, a beautiful and flourishing corner of our immense Russia.

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