Russia’s Key Industry Reaction to University Global Ranking, ’Priority 2030’ Programme
On Wednesday, October 6, Vladimir Putin held a meeting on energy issues, where he indicated the need to adjust the plans and objectives of the industry for the next decades. The rector of St. Petersburg Mining University, Vladimir Litvinenko, took part in it because the fundamental tools for the development of the mineral resource complex are innovative developments of scientists and personnel training.
On the same day, a joint meeting of the Presidium of the Academic Council and the representatives of the Board of Trustees of Mining University was held. It is the only Russian university that for five years in a row has been among the world’s top 20 higher educational institutions directly in its field of activity. This is the assessment of the most authoritative international rating agency - British Quacquarelli Symonds (QS).
During the meeting, the results of the competition for the distribution of the special part of the “Research Leadership” grants within the Priority 2030 Program were discussed. Representatives of the largest Russian oil and gas, metallurgical, chemical and petrochemical companies who are members of the University Board of Trustees expressed their dissatisfaction with the results of the competitive selection. The mineral and raw materials sector (RMS) of the Russian economy has been denied the opportunity to conduct full-fledged research work, which is critical for the development of the national economy.
Today the country needs a qualitative breakthrough, which will increase the efficiency of enterprises in the mineral sector and reduce the anthropogenic load on the environment from their side. This is an issue of national security. Only intensive development of the industry, creation of value-added chains within the country producing high-margin products, and production facilities engaged in deep processing of raw materials can be a guarantee of sustainable development in the medium and long term. This is all the more important if we take into account the global trend towards decarbonization. Without being at the forefront of the modernization of RMS enterprises, the country risks losing its position as the world's energy leader.
The strategy of St. Petersburg Mining University, declared within the framework of the Priority-2030 program, is aimed at creating a scientifically substantiated concept of decarbonization of enterprises of the mineral resource complex, including the processes of geological exploration, production, transportation, and processing of oil and gas.
For extractive companies, for example, this includes research on the creation of optimal technologies for capturing and utilization of CO2, reduction of emissions during the generation of liquefied petroleum gases and liquefied natural gas.
A wide range of scientific work is envisaged in the field of hydrocarbon processing. In particular, research on the creation of wasteless technology of catalytic processing of carbon dioxide with the formation of chemically pure organic substances - alcohols, acids, and hydrocarbons, carbonization of anthropogenic red mud with flue gases of sintering furnaces at alumina refineries, processing of anthropogenic phosphate rock (phosphogypsum) by carbon dioxide mineralization with associated extraction of concentrates of rare-earth metals. In addition, a separate strategic project on the use of hydrogen fuel as an element of carbon neutrality has been prepared.
The inclusion of Mining University in the third group of special science grant recipients provides funding of 142 million rubles through the end of 2022. This is a little more than 1% of the total amount of 12.2 billion provided for the 18 winners of the research track. Let us remind you that we are talking about the best Russian university according to the most authoritative global rating agency (Mining University is 12th in the world in the QS subject ranking).
There is a paradoxical situation when the industry, which provides 63% of the budget income of the country, gets 1% of the funds for its scientific development at a time when the importance of innovations in this very field is rapidly growing. After all, other domestic universities that specialize in research and training of personnel for the MSC are generally left out of the special part of the Priority 2030 program.
The real indignation of the meeting participants was caused by the fact that the leitmotif of the majority of the strategies selected for funding was propaganda. The position of the Ministry of Education and Science contributed to this approach. The statutory documents of the Priority 2030 program set the ambitiousness of the announced plans as the main criterion of their evaluation. Minister Valery Falkov, commenting on the work of the competition commission, once again emphasized the decisive importance of this criterion. He directly stated that during the selection process it was not the real research capabilities of the university that were evaluated (availability of equipped laboratories, personnel potential, scientific achievements), but “the ambitiousness of the goals and breakthrough nature of scientific research.”
Considering the composition of the commission, which determined the ranking of universities and gave them scores during the selection for the Priority-2030 Program, the participants of the meeting stated that this ranking is obviously not aimed at the development of the Russian economy and solution of its problems, but is only a pronounced “project of promises”.
The failed 5-100 project had the same goal of a breakthrough - it was planned that Russian universities would be included in the first hundred rankings of international universities in the world. It is obvious that the goal was not achieved, but nevertheless, the Ministry of Education and Science evaluates the project positively. In fact, the state has spent tens of billions of rubles just to look into the “mirror” of the world ranking - to get feedback and to state that the position of the Russian higher school in the world academic space has not changed fundamentally.
In their attempt to occupy a place on the educational Olympus, the participants in the 5-100 Project, for example, inflated their staffs by finding the easiest way to get extra points - to achieve a record ratio of professors to students.
Unfortunately, the general tone of most university strategies that have received financial support from the government under the "Priority 2030" program is in line with the ideas of the 5-100 Project. Naturally, with adjustments for the current topics of digitalization and structural reforms in universities.
The leaders of Russia’s largest resource companies, who were present, stated that by continuing the “5-100” trend, Russian higher education is condemning itself to another decade of ineffective ostentatious endeavours. True, with a significantly increased amount of state funding. Already 46 billion rubles have been allocated to imitate the development of higher education, and that is only until the end of 2022.
Vladimir Putin has repeatedly commented on the level of the material base and personnel potential of Mining University:
“The Mining Institute in St. Petersburg, thanks to the efforts, first and foremost, of course, of the rector, is one of the exemplary higher educational institutions in Russia... It is wonderful that we have higher educational institutions of engineering profile of this level. This is especially important for our country with its large mineral resource base... St. Petersburg Mining University is one of the best in the world. Both in terms of equipment and the level of training of specialists. So we have something to be proud of.”
Can it be that the Ministry of Education and Science does not share the position of the President and the leadership of Russia’s flagship companies?