In May 2023, Vladimir Putin signed a decree on improving the higher education system. This document initiated a reform designed to bring the training process to a qualitatively higher level and increase the number of competent engineers in the country, which is essential for the sustainable development of the national economy. The St. Petersburg Mining University of Empress Catherine the Great became one of the six participants of the pilot project, which have already started to implement the initiative of the Russian President. Forpost asked the rector of the university Vladimir Litvinenko to clarify the essence of the ongoing changes and tell us about the reasons that led to the rejection of Western standards of education.
- Vladimir Litvinenko, why is it so important to transform higher education today?
Vladimir Litvinenko: In the 21st century, having an effective higher education system is becoming increasingly important for the economic sustainability of any state, but above all for countries with low and medium levels of GDP. Artificial Intelligence, globalization, neoliberal trade relations, accelerating technological progress and other challenges of our time create great uncertainties in labor markets. This means that universities need to diversify their curricula so that they meet the different demands of society.
As far as technical universities are concerned, we should develop a unified approach to training engineers that would meet both the needs of the labor market and the state objectives. For this purpose, we need, first of all, to create a competitive environment based on equal access to the mastery of certain disciplines for each member of society. This will increase confidence in higher education and return it to the status of a publicly accessible social elevator.
Specialty graduates are in demand by employers, and their labor is well paid. At the same time, the mineral and raw materials complex is experiencing an obvious staff shortage, and this is undoubtedly one of the main factors hampering Russia's socio-economic development. The decision of our President on the need to improve the system of higher education is aimed at eliminating this paradox. That is why I consider it extremely relevant and timely.
- What specific changes will take place at the Mining University due to the fact that it is taking part in the pilot project?
Vladimir Litvinenko: It is obvious that the training period for engineers should be increased to 5.5 and 6 years. At the same time, we should be engaged not only in training of specialists striving for professional self-realization, which is very important in itself, of course, but also in education of spiritually developed individuals. People who are less consumers and more creators, who feel personally responsible for the fate of the Motherland, its prosperity and well-being.
The new structure of higher technical education envisages the creation of three modules. The first of them is the basic module, which is a unified "core" of higher engineering education that will take three semesters to master. It includes the study of general education and general technical disciplines, for example, copromat, as well as familiarization with basic scientific competencies. That is, citation rules, methodology of experiments, equipment needed to achieve reliable results, and so on. This is extremely important, because now many students, and not only them, have stopped distinguishing truth from opinion. It is clear that each of us has our own views on the processes going on around us, but, nevertheless, any interpretations should always be based on fundamental knowledge, not assumptions.
For example, in order to professionally discuss the prospects of using hydrogen as an energy resource, it is necessary to know the temperature of its combustion and liquefaction, the density of energy produced by it, to understand what happens when the lightest gas in nature comes into contact with oxygen. No less important is information about the economic component, as well as the technological chain involved in the process of its production, transportation and use. Only after that one can make some far-reaching conclusions, although today for some reason many people make them without having information about the subject of discussion as a whole.
The second educational module involves mastering the disciplines of the enlarged direction of training and specialized subjects. That is, if we take drilling engineers as an example, starting from the fourth semester they start training in general for the whole oil and gas faculty, for example, in oil and gas well drilling technologies, and in narrowly focused ones. Such as "Installation and operation of drilling equipment".
By this time the knowledge of general education and general engineering disciplines is already completed, but humanitarian subjects and basic scientific competencies are still included in the curriculum. By the way, this year we have included a fourth specialization - "Machinery" - in the consolidated direction of training "Oil and Gas Business". Due to the high percentage of imported technologies used in the industry and the need to create domestic analogs, engineers of this profile are in high demand in the labor market.
From the second to the sixth year, students must also acquire at least eight additional professional competencies. This is necessary for a graduate to be able to become a full-fledged member of the labor collective as soon as possible. It is obvious that if a miner or geologist has skills in the digital sphere, in the field of economics, or possesses working professions, his/her adaptation to production will take much less time, which means that he/she will be more in demand on the labor market.
If we talk about working specialties, then, for example, at one of our training bases in Sablino, you can get a certificate for mastering such programs of additional professional training as oil and gas operator, assistant driller, drilling rig operator, and laboratory technician-collector. The conditions for this have been created there, in particular, there is a drilling tower, a rocking machine, and stands simulating the work of a field operator. In other words, young people have an opportunity not only to see the equipment they will have to work on later, but also to take part in production processes and learn the relevant competencies.
In the IT sphere we offer students to master knowledge and skills in numerical modeling of oil and gas structures and equipment using ANSYS software, to take a basic course of simulation modeling using AnyLogic, to study the basics of geological modeling on Petrel platform. In total, more than 80 programs have been prepared now and their number is sure to increase.
- One of the most serious claims to bachelor's degree graduates by employers is the lack of practical skills, which makes it difficult for young employees to adapt to the company. Will the new educational programs increase the time allotted for practical training?
Vladimir Litvinenko: Yes, of course. The timeframe for obtaining training and production skills, work experience in the specialty, in total, should be at least 36 weeks. In the first year, all students, as well as now, will undergo training and familiarization practice, which, in fact, is a tour. In other words, none of the students touch anything with their hands, but only listen to the instructor, who tells them in detail about the equipment and technological processes.
The locations for such practices are selected depending on the areas of training of future engineers. For example, ecologists go to water bodies of the city and the region, observe how their teachers take samples of water, bottom sediments, air, and then learn how to analyze them in laboratory conditions. Geologists go, for example, to the Sablinskiye caves, as it is possible to observe a variety of geological processes and phenomena there. Representatives of the oil and gas faculty, in general, undergo practical training in the neighborhood - at the training ground of the Mining University, which I described earlier. But some of them already in their first year of study familiarize themselves with their future profession at the sites of our partner enterprises. These are, in particular, the Gatchina underground gas storage facility and the Izmeron plant. Construction workers go down into the subway tunnels where tunneling is in progress, miners are hosted by the Vyborg Quarry Department, and so on.
At the end of the second year, there is a training and technological practice, in which the students are shown production processes, told about the principles of their organization and are involved in them to a greater or lesser extent. In other words, they are given the opportunity to perform certain operations independently. Our task is to create conditions so that the result of this work would be that the students would be obliged to get a working profession. For this purpose, in collaboration with leading Russian companies, we are creating up to six training and production sites in various areas of training, where young people will receive all the necessary competencies. The time to master them should be increased to one and a half months.
Industrial internships will start in the third year, as they do now. There will be no major changes here, our students will continue to undergo them at partner enterprises. These may include field trips, for example, to the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District, where the fields operated by Gazprom subsidiaries are located, as well as much closer locations. For example, students majoring in oil and gas transportation and storage often stay in St. Petersburg to acquire the skills necessary for their future careers at Gazprom Mezhregiongaz or Gazprom Transgaz facilities. All the necessary conditions have been created there. Our partners also include such flagship companies as Russian Copper Company, Titan, SIBUR, BelAZ and many others.
Bachelor's degree curricula are written in such a way that internship, which takes place at the end of the third year for three, maximum four weeks, is the only opportunity for a future engineer to familiarize himself with production. It is clear that the vast majority of employers do not want to take risks and do not allow inexperienced students to participate in production processes. Often it is also caused by the fact that there is simply no person on the staff of the company who could take on the functions of a mentor, because the employees, of course, have certain tasks to accomplish, and they objectively do not have so much time to seriously deal with trainees. In this regard, their internship often turns into almost the same excursion as in the first year, only longer. As a result, bachelor's graduates do not acquire any competencies at all, they only get a visual familiarization with their potential place of work.
So, the new structure of the higher education system envisages a number of decisions aimed at changing this state of affairs. Firstly, as I have already mentioned, after the second year of study, students will have to obtain a certificate of having a working profession. In other words, they will a priori come to the enterprise much more prepared than they are now. Secondly, the Mining University will have several new structural subdivisions, in particular, a department that will organize practical training. It will be staffed by several of our employees, as well as representatives of partner companies delegated as mentors. In addition, in their fourth and fifth years, students will also go "into the field", which will allow them to consolidate their skills and represent competent young professionals upon graduation.
This year should be the last year when we accept applicants for bachelor's degree programs. The training system for those students who will enter the Mining University for 4-year programs will be similar to the model I mentioned above. In particular, they will go through the "core" of higher education, but after the fourth year, instead of undergoing practical training, they will have the opportunity to defend their final project and receive a diploma. This applies, including to foreign nationals. Those who will not use this right and continue to receive engineering education, and I am sure that the overwhelming majority of students will make such a choice, will not need to defend any project, they will write a final paper in the sixth year.
- Are you sure the vast majority of guys would really prefer to study for another year and a half or two years?
Vladimir Litvinenko: A Bachelor's degree is of little value on the labor market even now, and once the number of competent young engineers in the country becomes much larger, it will lose any significance in the eyes of employers representing the real sector of the economy. I think that students themselves should realize and parents should explain to them that career prospects largely depend on a successful start. And it will be possible only if there is a full-fledged engineering education.
Transformation of higher technical schools, of course, meets not only the interests of graduates, who, in particular, will be able to count on more intensive career advancement. It is, first of all, necessary for the national economy, the sustainability of which largely depends on the qualitative and quantitative growth of engineering personnel. The solution of this, without exaggeration, state task will become a reliable support for further increase of the country's GDP and improvement of living standards of all Russians.
- Master's degree used to be the second level of higher education. And what tasks does this institution face now?
Vladimir Litvinenko: Master's degree is a special educational direction that should be realized only in those university institutions where a modern scientific and educational environment has been created. The task is to train specialists who have already received basic higher education in educational programs that will allow them to master a new professional qualification. This may be relevant either for the purpose of building new knowledge for progress or for learning more complex technologies.
The curriculum will provide for the teaching of special disciplines at the level of the highest achievements of modern knowledge. This includes the study of modern methods and tools of scientific analysis, allowing the graduate to understand the dynamics of the economy, master new technologies, and develop his/her ability to think critically.
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