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Education will follow a new trajectory

NEFU Rector Anatoly Nikolaev - on plans to improve training for the Far East

Northeastern Federal University is one of the leading universities in the Far East, and in some respects in Russia. At the end of June last year, Anatoly Nikolaev became its rector. In an interview with EastRussia, he talked about the introduction of an individual educational path, the unusual development of students, their achievements and plans to improve training for the entire macroregion.

Education will follow a new trajectory
Photo: NFUU press service

- Anatoly Nikolaevich, NEFU is among the best universities in Russia. Tell us what successes were achieved in 2019, and what tasks do the university face in 2020?

- For ten years in the status of a federal university it has made a huge leap - we occupy the 31st position in the ranking of the RAEX and EXPERT RA agencies, in the ranking of the RUR agency - the third after the Moscow State and St. Petersburg universities in medical fields, and in the sciences of life and land - 16 For the first time entered the 300 top universities of the agency Times Higher Educations (THE) in the direction of University Impact Rankings. In general, the university’s potential is huge, our employees have good competencies, and the most important thing that pleases me in all our teams is the success of our young employees. It gives hope for a bright future.

We are not used to resting on our laurels, therefore, we are developing different lines of activity. We have a very good school in cellular, molecular genetic technologies, in the study of paleoclimate, climate change. Many have heard of our Mammoth Museum, whose employees conduct expeditions every year in search of biological material to revitalize an ancient animal. The International Center for Collective Use “Molecular Paleontology” was specially created for these purposes. With existing technologies, this is a very difficult and almost impossible task, but, working in this direction, we step by step discover new methods for processing genetic materials, which ultimately improves the capabilities of our young scientists. In addition, the university deals with the problems of languages ​​of the indigenous peoples of the North. Part of the team, in the framework of work with the Roskosmos company and on other complex projects, monitors the health of the population of the republic.

2019 at the university was held under the auspices of digitalization. We launched students' personal accounts and online educational courses, opened the House of Scientific Collaboration N.G. Solomonova, FutureSkills International Center for Advanced Technology: NEFU. The successes of the guys who are involved in this center showed the correctness of the decision. So, a student of the Institute of Natural Sciences, Alexander Taishin, won the silver medal of the world championship in FutureSkills competencies in the field of “Synthesis and Metal Processing”. Our young people at the FutureSkills championship were just a step away from the team of such a large corporation as Rusnano, and took fourth place in the competence of Quantum Technologies and blockchain technology. I was pleased to hear about them during a speech by the head of WorldSkills in Russia, Robert Urazov, at the Eastern Economic Forum, especially since they represent the entire Far East. I was proud of the republic, of my native university.

This year we will continue to digitalize our activities. Already, the entire workflow has been transferred to the Directum system, which greatly accelerated the process of document approval, thereby greatly increasing the efficiency of decision-making on the main university management processes. The next step is to automate the life management processes of our buildings. Due to the large number of objects, building a system requires large financial investments.

Now the university is in the process of transferring part of the educational program to a digital platform. First of all, we set the task to strengthen the quality control of students' knowledge. We will not fully digitize the process, because we are afraid of a loss in the quality of the educational process. In addition, the mentality of both teachers and students so far has disposed to classes in the usual format.

In 2021, the university plans to introduce an individual educational trajectory. This will allow our graduates to be as prepared for the requirements of the employer as possible. If now training is conducted in a traditional format, then in the future it is expected to conduct educational trajectories regardless of courses, groups and even faculties. The educational process at the university will be done for a specific subject or for a professor. At first glance, it is quite difficult to imagine in the work. But there are universities that have tested personalized learning, and Tyumen State University since September last year completely switched to such an educational system. There, as the vice-rector of Tyumen State University told me, the changes were not very positive at first, but later teachers and students liked the bonus system. For example, those who study well have the opportunity to choose the best course before others, etc. The teachers have the motivation to develop and improve their educational programs, because the more students choose his course, the more it will be in demand. Thus, the weakest educational courses or subjects will be closed in the curriculum, which, in my opinion, will significantly improve the quality of education at our university.

- You talked about the digitalization of the educational process. What successes and plans can NEFU have in IT?

- I have already mentioned our international center Future Skills: NEFU, which consists of three clusters: engineering, IT and building information modeling. All this was created by the university for high-tech and advanced vocational guidance, accelerated and advanced training. The sites are formed and aimed at applied programming and advanced engineering competencies. This is 3D prototyping, scanning, blockchain technology. The center is expected to open two more clusters: creative and manufactory. This will allow to achieve new opportunities in the field of mechanical engineering and advanced design competencies.

Recently, the guys from the center showed us their latest invention - a suit for working in the cold. It is completely autonomous, nourishes itself. In simple words, this is a prototype of a space suit that is ideal for our region. The prospects, according to the director of the center, Roman Gogolev, are many. But most importantly - cooperation with international corporations and educational institutions for the development of the university on a global level. Future Skills Center: NEFU is not so much an educational project as an engineering project. Our guys are engaged in real digital production, including industrial development, which may appear in the next five to ten years.

In addition, our OREH incubator operates on the basis of the Republican IT Park. Its residents have developed programs for smart homes, assembled a bionic prosthetic arm, and the whole country now knows about the VeDroid cleaning robot, one of the first developments. Our graduates-programmers get a job in the leading Yakut IT-companies: MyTona and InDriver.

- What other companies and organizations find graduates employed? Does the university cooperate with large enterprises in training personnel?

- Now we have switched to practice-oriented training. This means that students practice and undergo internships in companies and organizations, in which they will go to work after graduation. For example, students of a medical institute practice in all medical facilities located in Yakutsk. Soon we will have an oncology center built, and now we must train specialists who will be in demand in the field of oncology. In this area, several people undergo an internship in Japan. Soon they should return and begin work in the capital of the republic.

The university also trains specialists for ALROSA, its subsidiary Almazy Anabara, and the companies INK and Rosneft. We have a partnership agreement with the Colmar mining company. We are the only partner university in the Far East of PJSC Gazprom.

- Now in the Far East there are not enough personnel, do you follow the trends of the market? Are you training the specialists who are now most needed in the Far Eastern Federal District?

- Yes, of course, we train specialists. And, of course, it really is. On the other hand, the problem is much deeper. I touched on it in my speech at a meeting of the Federation Council Committee on Social Policy. The fact is that if we knew in which year and what kind of personnel the company would need, in general, for the economy, we would start to prepare them in advance. But now we have to plan budget places in accordance with the plans that we have at the moment. For example, we are contacted by an industrial company that needs two thousand geologists. She needs them right now. But in order to satisfy this request, we had to start working on it at least five years ago: get a license, get budget places, get accreditation, accept and train students. Therefore, we need the systematic work of the university, synchronized with the work of the same company and the republic or the macroregion as a whole.

The task, we believe, will be greatly facilitated by the introduction of an individual educational trajectory. The employer will have the opportunity with our own hands with his own direct participation to prepare a specialist with the necessary competencies. Suppose all future geologists get basic knowledge. Then each of them will choose individual courses that vary according to market requirements.

- At NEFU, much attention is paid to science. Tell us about key projects and current trends and about your personal contribution to the scientific activities of the university.

- Science is the basis of any educational institution, our university is no exception. In my report, when I assumed the post of rector, I said that it is necessary to concentrate resources on new promising research areas with a focus on the development of the most productive areas (research mainstream), which will ensure the presence of NEFU among the best universities in the world that carry out research and development in areas determined by the priorities of scientific and technological development. Promising areas will be determined taking into account the global and research agenda, public policy priorities and the existing backlogs of the university.

Based on my experience, I can add that the emphasis should be on interdisciplinary research, focused on a wide international collaboration. We will stimulate the development of promising areas at the intersections of science, research in the field of end-to-end technologies for STI and research in the field of convergent technologies, primarily within the framework of the interregional scientific and educational center “North: Territory of Sustainable Development”. The priority in this direction is the formation of a research environment of a competitive level and the creation of conditions for innovative growth in the field of research, development and commercialization of technologies in priority areas of the university.

It is necessary to strengthen interaction with an open platform of experts in various areas of the implementation of STI, in the context of markets, end-to-end technologies and other areas of scientific and technological policy. In addition, it is important to expand the search for new science markets in the Asia-Pacific region. We are going to open the Center for Russian Language and Culture at Heilongjiang East University - the Research Center for the Russian Language and Education of NEFU and HVU. In June 2020, it is planned to open a joint international laboratory at Harbin Polytechnic University and NEFU to study the environment of the Asian part of the Arctic and adjacent territories and the effect of pollutants on humans and biota. The second Arctic forum of the Association of Technical Universities of Russia and China is planned to be held in Harbin, which we are co-organizing.     

- At the beginning of the conversation, you mentioned that the university occupies a leading position in the ranking of Russian universities in the medical field. Are there any new programs at the university in this area? Do applicants from other regions enter the medical institute?

- Training of high-quality medical personnel in Yakutia is more relevant than ever in connection with the construction of cancer and cardiology centers. In addition, the indicators of the medical institute indicate its high potential. But for further development, a new building is needed. Now the institute is located in two buildings, which are reconstructed into classrooms. Regional authorities support our desire to build a new educational and laboratory building for the medical institute, while there is an understanding of the federal center. Now work is underway to prepare the necessary documentation to consider the issue at the federal level.

It should be noted that we are building this building not only for Yakutsk, but for the entire macro-region. In the whole Far Eastern Federal District there is a shortage of health workers - we cover the demand for only 30% of vacancies. In addition, applicants from other regions are steadily entering our medical institute. About 80 foreign students came to study last year, so we opened an English-speaking group at the institute.

- In addition to them, do foreign students study in other areas? How many are there at university?

- Over 500 students from foreign countries study at the university. Ten years ago there were only two dozen. Most of us come from Asia, from the countries of the African continent. Obviously, the number of foreign students will increase every year. It is pleasant to realize that we are becoming a recognizable and quoted university.

Basically, our foreign students choose medicine, philology, ecology, technical and engineering specialties. The high interest is due to the fact that NEFU is really very strong in these areas. The Department of International Relations conducts individual work with each student. Some, upon learning of severe frosts, change plans for admission to our university. I will answer that we are constantly improving the conditions for studying and staying at the university so that some foreign students stay and are happy to continue their studies in a magistracy or graduate school.

- Yakutia, in order to be less dependent on taxes and dividends of industrial companies, has set a course for the creative economy. How can NEFU help the region solve this problem?

- One of the missions of modern universities is the creation of an educational ecosystem. In the process of training specialists, we must not only give them knowledge, but also change their worldview, attitude towards themselves, so that they have a desire to create something new, improve, develop and develop.

Leaving the walls of the university, our students, and there are almost 19 thousand of them, will begin to change the environment around them, create production facilities, companies and ecosystems. Ultimately, this will give impetus to the development of the entire region.

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