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Reform of higher education institutions: focus on practice

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The transfer of knowledge that is not useful in the workplace is perhaps the main problem of higher education in Russia. It is no coincidence that Vladimir Putin's August instruction to create a sovereign university ranking focuses attention on assessing the employability of graduates. The decree on the pilot project to improve the higher education system (dated 12.05.2023) is also primarily aimed at strengthening the integration of universities with the real economy.

The Empress Catherine II Saint Petersburg Mining University opened the Institute of Academic and Industrial Skills as part of a federal experiment. It will deal with the practical component of education at all stages.

Anti-Russian sanctions have been a good incentive for economic sovereignty. The need for highly qualified engineering personnel capable of not just creating an adequate analogue to imports, but setting the tone in global technological development has grown. Last summer at the forum "Engineers of the Future" it was reported that the defence industry alone lacks 120 thousand specialists with higher education. This year, the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation stated that the country's manufacturing industries need 600 thousand employees. Moreover, at many production facilities, in particular at Rostec's plants, the demand for engineering personnel is higher than for workers. This means that we may already be talking about a deficit of 2-3 hundred thousand people.

© Форпост Северо-Запад Павел Долганов

Engineers with bachelor's degrees clearly fall short of the requirements of modern production. According to Vladimir Litvinenko, Rector of the St. Petersburg Mining University, the curriculum of the 4-year study programme is designed in such a way that 3-4 weeks of practical training at the end of the 3rd year is practically the only opportunity to familiarise oneself with production. Employers, as a rule, do not allow such students to participate in the production process.

"The new training model assumes that the acquisition of training and production skills and experience should be at least 36 weeks in total. Representatives of production, in turn, are integrated into the educational process: they hold seminars or lectures, participate in choosing the topic of the diploma thesis. Such a graduate is welcomed at the production facility as a familiar, proven person, capable of efficient work from the very first day" - noted the rector.

Today's first-year students of the Mining University will be trained under the new model. The interest in this model is confirmed by the success of the admission campaign: 5-7 thousand more applications for admission were submitted than last year, and the competition was 18 people per place.

© Форпост Северо-Запад Павел Долганов

Let's consider the process of students' familiarisation with production in stages. As before, first-year students will start with summer training and familiarisation practice. Prior to the pilot project, students visited enterprises mainly in the field of their chosen speciality. For example, for future specialists in mining transport systems and mining machines it was envisaged an excursion visit to specialised enterprises of St. Petersburg and Leningrad region, such as Vyborg or Kamennogorsk quarry departments.

The new model implies unification of programmes for the first 3 semesters, so in the summer of 2024 all first-year students, regardless of speciality, will undergo a common programme of training practice and will go to a number of partner enterprises. These include PJSC FOSAGRO, JSC Kovdorskiy GOK, RUSAL, Kirovsky Zavod and others, as well as visiting the university's training grounds.

Практики Горный
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At the end of the 2nd year of study, students of mechanical engineering specialities acquire knowledge, skills and competences corresponding to the level of a working profession, e.g. mechanical technician, equipment adjuster (machine tools, lines, instruments), machine tool operator, assembly fitter.

Mechanical students, for example, at the site of our partner OAO BELAZ, using the facilities of the BELAZ Competence Centre, have an opportunity to start long-term training in the "test driver" programme. In order to master this programme a student will need driving licences of categories "B" and "C", as well as permits for high-altitude work and for servicing electrical installations up to thousand volts.

Previously, up to 2 weeks of valuable time at the production site was spent only on various briefings and obtaining a permit for certain types of work. These courses can be taken by the students of the Mining University as part of their elective classes.

Moreover, the BELAZ Competence Centre at the Mining University has a dynamic simulator of a dump truck cab and a VR training environment for this purpose. Theoretical knowledge and skills about hydraulic and electric drives will be useful, which can also be acquired during the programme of additional professional competences. Trainees will arrive in Zhodino with an understanding of how to approach a complex machine and knowledge of its design, correct and safe operation. The finale of the programme, in more senior courses, will be a certificate of mastering a working profession.

© Форпост Северо-Запад / Павел Долганов

"The summer internship at the end of the third year of study will take place in the status of a trainee in the area of their specialisation. Within the same machine-building production, students will have to develop documentation in the design department or go to the workshop as a CNC machine operator or equipment adjuster. At the end of each type of practice it is proposed to assess the level of production competences in two stages, directly at the enterprise with the participation of a mentor-mentor and at the university during the defence of the report before the certification commission. It is planned to involve third-party specialists, for example, from Rostechnadzor," said Sergey Lavrenko, Head of the Skills and Experience Department.

Practical training after the 3rd year is devoted to mastering the profession at the level of a mid-level specialist. The opportunity to complete the working competences is preserved. Those who have already acquired primary skills in operating a dump truck can, complete a programme in the "Operator of robotic and unmanned quarry equipment".

"For this purpose, the BELAZ Competence Centre has placed a workplace for an operator of autonomous transport, with the help of which it will be possible to remotely control transport complexes that are located at the testing grounds of BELAZ and partner companies. This is the first time something like this has been implemented in Russia. Students have an opportunity to master the Karyer mining transport control system, the developments of Digitala with central control room emulation and samples of on-board systems in bench version," said Sergey Lavrenko.

Горный практики
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By the time a student of the Mining University receives a diploma of higher education, he/she will have 8 programmes of additional professional competences confirmed by certificates. It is clear that such a specialist will be a real find for a future employer.

In the 4th year of study, the internship provides for the consolidation of skills and experience in the chosen profession. For example, for students who have chosen design activity as a career development trajectory, they can additionally study and consolidate skills of work in various software products, the same automated system nanoCAD and others during practical training in design institutes.

After the 5th course there is a final mastering of professional knowledge, skills and abilities on speciality and specialisation.

The sixth course - exit on pre-diploma practice. If the previous periods were devoted to the formation of certain skills, the final stage involves the acquisition of industrial experience during 4 months of work at the production sites of partner enterprises.

Горный практики
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Sergey Novikov, Director of the Institute of Academic and Industrial Skills, said that the educational concept of the Mining University was supported by the industrialists almost unanimously, and about 10 major companies have already expressed their willingness to work together, in particular on polygons.

"Such co-operation breaks the outdated stereotype when business representatives used to tell universities: your task is to train personnel, and our task is to pay taxes, which will be used, among other things, to finance education. Today, the real sector of the economy understands that universities work in the interests of industry, and it is impossible to talk about quality training of specialists if the customer does not take the initiative and minimises its participation in the educational process.

We are increasing the terms and deepening the content of practical training, including so that companies do not waste time and money on retraining employees.

The Institute's task in working with third-party sites is to agree on internships, agree on conditions, form tasks for the students, and control the maintenance of passports of production skills. In addition, we need to understand where our students will live, how many times a day they will eat, whether they are provided with overalls. And the main thing is for the guys to understand in detail where they are going, what they are going to do and what the expected result is" - said Sergey Novikov.

The university's co-operation with industrial partners does not stop with regard to graduates. We can talk not only about professional development within the framework of additional postgraduate education. For example, through participation in the certification of young specialists.