Yury Kazakov, Acting Rector of KNRTU: “Universities Must Foster Dynamic Learning Environment to Keep Up with Demands of Business”

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Higher education has long ceased being a guarantee of decent earnings or even employment. As per new data, 19% of university graduates who looked for a job failed to find one within a year. Yet despite this, the number of state-funded places in Russian universities has been gradually increasing.

Kazan has been one of the primary destinations for higher education since the 19th century, and it still attracts applicants from all over Russia and abroad. It is, however, surprising that the number of this year's state-financed openings increased by 6.5% across the country, whilst the figure for Kazan amounted to 20%. In fact, local media reported that there were 4,000 more free university places than school graduates.

Amongst other institutions, additional state-funded study places were granted to Kazan National Research Technological University (KNRTU), the first university in Tatarstan for engineering and technology. It was established in 1890, following the decree of Emperor Alexander III. In 1919, it was transformed to Kazan Polytechnical Institute. Currently, over 25,000 undergraduates and postgraduates are studying at KNRTU.

Professor Yury Kazakov, Acting Rector of KNRTU, gave an interview to Forpost Press. The first question concerned the reasons and consequences of the RF Government's decision to allocate significantly more study places to Kazan universities.

КНИТУ
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What do you think is the reason for such a generous quota allocation for free education at universities in the republic, and how has it affected the admission competition? Does this not threaten the "quality" of applicants and then graduates?

There are 34 higher education institutions in Kazan, including a federal university and two national research universities, including ours, so competition is fierce. Indeed, this year the number of state-financed places exceeded the number of Tatarstan school graduates. It was a challenge for universities, but they coped with it. KNRTU, for example, fulfilled its enrolment plan by 100%.

We perceived the increase in admission quotas by more than 300 places as a reflection of the demand for the University's academic and training programmes and the high employment rates of graduates.

In addition, the city itself gives its universities a specific advantage. Kazan is a dynamic, multinational metropolis with exciting history, architecture, and comfortable modern infrastructure. All these are essential factors for applicants. The developed system of target education, which helps to attract students from the regions where the petrochemical and military-industrial complexes are present, should also be noted.

KNRTU can boast the fulfilment of the admission plan and the first place among Tatarstan's universities in terms of job placement of graduates. What is the secret of success?

Tatarstan, as you know, is the centre of petrochemistry in Russia. The University is a leader in the field of chemical technology and trains highly qualified specialists in the field of chemical engineering. Over its long history, the University has established close ties with industry enterprises in the region and the country. We know their requirements for specialist training, and we shape our education programmes with due consideration of business needs.

During their education, 80% of the petrochemical students undertake practical training at the petrochemical plants, carry out research work, and write term and graduation projects on the topics proposed by the plants. It is also common practice to sign contracts for targeted training at our University. In this case, the interaction between the future employer and the student starts already at the University's enrollment stage.

Лаборатория КНИТУ
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You have said that understanding the needs of enterprises helps the University develop up to date education programs. What new programs and specialisations have appeared at KNRTU in the last few years?

Without maintaining a dynamic innovation environment, it would be difficult for the University to meet the demands of businesses. Every year we introduce at least 10-12 new educational programmes. This year, for example, we can note the emergence of the Digital Engineering in Polymer Technology and Processing profile in the Chemical Technology field, associated with the training of digital chemists. Several other areas focusing on digitalisation have been opened, such as digital engineering for energy- and resource-saving processes in oil refining and petrochemicals, digital design of modern materials and textile products, information technology in process safety, and information and communication technology in the service sector.

Knowledge of foreign languages is in demand today on a par with skills in digital technology. That is why the first English-language Master's programme, Smart Materials, will be launched at KNRTU in the new academic year within the core area of Chemical Technology. It is the field of molecular engineering for electronics and biomedicine and the production of 'smart' materials. Graduates of the programme will have a wide choice of scientific and applied careers in the most modern areas of science and technology. Leading professors and lecturers with work experience in foreign universities are involved in the implementation of the programme.

A new example of interdisciplinary training is the undergraduate profile Vacuum Technology in Oil and Gas Processing. There are innovations in the social and humanitarian disciplines as well. In particular, we have developed programmes in youth policy, media technologies and media marketing (in the field of publishing), and sociology of management.

Студенты КНИТУ
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Constant updating of the curricula requires a high level of professionalism and activity of the teaching staff. How does KNRTU work with human resources?

This year we also have a challenging innovation in the field of human resources development. Since February, the University has been implementing a large project called Talent Pool, which provides training in R&D commercialisation and project management for initiative young teachers, holders of chairs, and heads of departments.

The skills they acquire are transformed into practical ideas for university development. We have formed 18 project teams who have already submitted their proposals - on new research projects, Master's programmes in cooperation with foreign universities, other areas of international activities, for example, cooperation with African countries.

The University has prepared an application to participate in the federal Priority 2030 programme based on the above ideas. Before being included in the application, each project underwent an internal university defence. For a month and a half, we heard from the project teams and assessed the quality of their proposals. In this work, a circle of enthusiastic young teachers and academics has emerged and committed to the University's development. This fact already gives us an expectation of success.

The second critical area is internships for teachers at Russian research centres and leading European universities and visits to industrial enterprises together with students undergoing practical training there. The Tatarstan government supports such initiatives through the Algarysh Republican Grant Programme. Thanks to it, about 20-25 representatives of KNRTU annually go for training in leading foreign and Russian scientific and educational centres.

Р.Н. Минниханов и Ю.М. Казаков
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We cannot ignore the issue of online technologies in the educational process. What is new in this direction?

Undoubtedly, the pandemic has accelerated the introduction of online projects, but we have accumulated similar experiences before. Based on KNRTU's e-university, full-fledged information and educational environment have been created, including the Moodle and Microsoft Teams platforms, its channel with a database of online lectures on YouTube. A framework pilot project using the Google Class web service is being implemented at the Oil Faculty. Students can view the content of work programmes for all disciplines, presentations, methodological recommendations, calculations and graphic works.

We successfully promote our training courses online. In particular, a course on physical and colloidal chemistry has been posted on the Open Education national platform, and a course on Smart-materials, jointly developed with the National University of Science and Technology (MISiS), has been posted on Coursera. It is entirely in English and has already attracted a large audience of over 1500 listeners, mainly from India and the USA. The overall score for the course is 4.9 out of 5. By the way, this course's success motivated us to develop the Master's programme in English mentioned with the same name.

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In 2021, KNRTU became a member of the Nedra Consortium of Universities. How do you see the University's interaction with other members of this association, how can they be helpful to you, and how can you be beneficial to them?

For KNRTU, joining the Nedra consortium is a promising and long-term project. In our view, it is one of the few consortia in Russia that promotes new forms of interaction with students. Over the past six months, our students have already travelled twice to St. Petersburg to participate in scientific events based at the University of Mining.

We will promote networking in the fields of chemical technology, sustainable development policy and green chemistry. We want our students to participate in hackathons, summer schools and internships organised by the University of Mining.

In return, we are ready to offer participation in our projects, including international ones. In particular, Erasmus+ - KNRTU has very well developed inter-university cooperation within the framework of this European project, and a specific training centre has been set up.