IUT Rector: “University Consortiums Are Drivers of Regional Development”

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Tyumen Oblast is one of Russia's leading regions in developing new industries and competencies. As the area is rich in oil and natural gas, a matter of particular importance is to graduate specialists for the fuel industry. It can be said that the entire federal subject depends on it.

Veronika Efremova, Rector of the Industrial University of Tyumen, gave an interview to Forpost Press. She talked about IUT's successes, being the institution that is one of the country's flagship universities, the critical problems in domestic engineering education, and the national ranking of universities and whether the country needs it.

The Industrial University of Tyumen is one of the backbone universities of the country. What are areas of research being conducted for the innovative development of the region? What is the spending structure of the subsidies received under the state programme?

The tasks set before the supporting university - to train highly qualified specialists for the region's economy and in practice to solve the issues of introducing innovations into production - are being successfully fulfilled.

To solve scientifically and applied problems of the industry engineering plan and research our university, a Center for Collective Use (CCU) has been created.

Thus, we have opened up access to 31 pieces of expensive research equipment to a wide range of researchers. The total cost of the instrumentation is estimated at 202.96 million roubles.

In 2020 IUT was among the winners in the competitive selection of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science for grants under the federal target programme "Research and Development in Priority Areas of Development of the Scientific and Technological Complex of Russia in 2014-2020". The amount of funding was 89 million roubles. 80% of the grants received purchase scientific laboratory equipment and 20% on digitalisation and educational development.

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Registration of the Centre for Collective Use, the establishment of laboratories, involvement of about 300 students in research activities, implementation of 24 major projects - this is by no means a complete list of achievements of our Technopolis, which carries out its activities within the framework of the Programme of Development of the backbone university.

Based on the strategies of scientific and technological development of markets in the country and the development plans of our industrial partners, we have defined for ourselves five areas within which we implement projects. These are a digital transformation and the development of artificial intelligence; improving the efficiency of hydrocarbon production and deep processing; the development of environmentally friendly and resource-saving energy; integrated development of the Arctic zone in Western Siberia; new materials and import substitution.

Apart from establishing more flagship universities and the 5-100 project, what could help universities develop more intensively? What changes would contribute to this?

In our opinion, we need a paradigm shift in assessing the quality of higher education. Universities do not relinquish responsibility for ensuring this quality. Still, universities implementing transformational projects often face a situation where innovative educational practices do not 'fit' within the regulatory constraints of the FSES (ed. - Federal State Educational Standard). I want to give an example of the individualisation of educational trajectories.

The new paradigm can be based on such essential elements as reducing centralised control over the activities of leading universities, expanding their autonomy and responsibility, full participation of universities themselves in the evaluation procedure. It is necessary to change this procedure so that the self-evaluation report is brought to the forefront and considered against the conclusion of external expertise. Evaluation of the quality of education may be based on an annual public presentation of the university's performance to a board of experts. In this case, the criteria for guaranteeing the quality of education would be the Monitoring of the Effectiveness of Universities.

What do you think of the idea of establishing a consortium of engineering universities? Can such education establishments be practical tools of sectoral influence?

Undoubtedly, such institutional formations as consortia are alliances of strong, like-minded people who become strategic partners rather than competitors. They are not only practical tools of industry influence but also drivers of regional development.

The creation of consortia is critical today when our country is undergoing processes of transformation of territorial and economic organisations based on building network models. They focus on the mobilisation of resources of the whole network, flexible specialisation, provision of innovative receptivity, and concentration of efforts on developing sustainable strategic economic relations within the framework of formation of the multiform regional economy.

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The Ministry of Education and Science has repeatedly spoken of the need to build a qualitatively new higher education system. What are the main trends in education today?

The key trends include integrating the university environment and creating a single open educational space, practice-oriented education, which links teaching and research closely, and students' immersion in professional activities through innovative pedagogical forms and methods. Significantly, in implementing this strategy, employers are actively involved in shaping the competence model of the educational programme, the content of practical training and the independent assessment of students' learning outcomes.

Another significant trend is the individualisation and personalisation of educational paths and a high degree of academic freedom.

By engaging in these strategic transformations, universities can become more innovative without changing standard academic requirements.

What are the problems facing engineering education in Russia today? Is it in demand in your region?

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The critical problem of domestic engineering education is the inadequate personnel training for the economy in the transition to the format of Industry 4.0. As we know, the global trends today are the massive use of digital technologies and the global digitalisation of industries. The university has embarked on the transformation and introduces technologies to train engineers with a demanded set of competencies. In the future, they allow the graduate to actively participate in changing production, business, and technological cycles to keep abreast of technological innovations. The graduate must be ready to propose ambitious projects, take responsibility for them, and create new jobs, branches of knowledge, and the economy.

Today, IUT occupies a centre for solving the region's industry problems, and its graduates are engineers of a new formation.

How do you assess the level of demand for IUT graduates in the labour market? In which companies do they undertake internships and subsequently work? Tell us about your most prominent university graduates and their contribution to developing the exploration and mining industry

Our university is the only one from the Urals to the Pacific Ocean that trains personnel of all levels in the whole range of specialities of the strategically important oil and gas industry. It meets the basic staffing needs of the region's economy in such areas as metallurgy, mechanical engineering, instrument engineering, geology, mineral exploration and development, transportation, and several others.

As for the demand for our graduates, their employment rate is 85%. They work in 50 regions of Russia and abroad, but primarily in the Tyumen region - 82%. We have cooperated with the most significant stakeholders in Russia (Rosneft, Gazprom, LUKOIL, Transneft, SIBUR, NOVATEK, Surgutneftegas) to fully cover the breakthrough HR needs of companies in the region. The university's industrial partners provide their sites for internships, work placements and employment.

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The human resources of today's West Siberian fuel and energy companies have grown out of the bosom of the Industrial University of Tyumen. Yury Shafranik is Chairman of the interstate oil and gas company Soyuzneftegaz (former Russian Minister of Fuel and Energy). Vladimir Bogdanov is General Director of Surgutneftegaz. Viktor Parkhomovich was an Honoured Geologist of the Russian Federation, with more than 30 oil fields, have been discovered. And many others. These outstanding personalities have contributed to developing the Russian fuel and energy complex, geological exploration sector, and economy of the Tyumen Region and the country.

What are the most significant developments in recent years? What tasks are they aimed at, and when can we expect to see them in production?

Let me mention a few key projects. One of them is Social Potential in the Neo-Industrial Development of the Yamal Sector of the RF Arctic Zone. The project is based on a concept that makes it possible to effectively implement a programme to develop Yamal resources while ensuring a high quality of life for its participants. We collaborate with the Tyumen Scientific Centre of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which has provided us with a pilot site - the Yamal Experimental Station - which gives us enormous advantages in testing the methodologies developed.

One more project, "Perlite-polystyrene composite material", interested the company PJSC "Novatek". The company needs the material for the development of the fields that are on the permafrost soils. Work is underway with Neocomposite to produce a sand-polymer composite for making pipes of various diameters.

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The university's scientists are also engaged in developing technical means to construct multilateral and multi-hole wells. These results will make it possible to implement the TAML-4 import-substituting well-completion system competing with Western and Russian counterparts worldwide and implement the R&D results in the university's educational activities and the FVE.

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

I would note that Mr Putin spoke about the need to develop national rankings of universities because they are primarily used as a competition tool on the international education and science market. We must have an adequate response to them in our country.

Mandatory criteria in the development programmes of each university are the ratio of the number of teachers to the number of students, the share of staff with a degree, the citation rate of scientific publications, the percentage of foreign teachers and students. In addition, a significant indicator of evaluation is the reputation of the university among reference groups (academic, recruiting).

A core of internationally ranked universities is being formed in Russia, and the gap in positions with international rankings lies in expert assessment. It is in this direction that university performance needs to be improved.