Tomsk higher education institutions have been not only competing for prospective students but also collaborating with each other for decades. And Rectors signed an agreement on the establishment of a Consortium to reinforce this collaboration. Professor George Mayer, Rector of National Research Tomsk State University, told about the aims and objectives of the consortium as well as about Tomsk higher education development plans in the interview to the correspondent of Russian Information Agency (RIA News) Eleonora Chernaya.
– The Consortium of Tomsk higher education institutions is called a unique association. Why do you think it was Tomsk that initiated the establishment of the first Russian University Consortium?
– Tomsk universities have been always competing. So, in the Soviet times we competed for prospective students, business contracts, and today we are also competing for the possibility to engage in research and development. And the universities have been cooperating at all times. A medium where universities cooperate is a huge non-material achievement and asset of Tomsk. The concept of collaborative medium appeared long ago when the first university was established in Siberia. Lecturers from Moscow, Warsaw and other cities came here to work, then the first technological university was established and the higher education institutions started to “exchange” professors. Therefore, a unique environment was developed which resulted in the fact that schools of thought in Tomsk fulfill their purposes through this interchange of specialists. Tomsk was lucky to preserve its distinctive character of a purely Russian wonderful place. In academic sense, we have managed to preserve some Mecca.
– Is the University Consortium a follow-up of the collaborative medium created in Tomsk?
– Sure. By the moment when the agreement on the Consortium was signed all higher education institutions had been already bound by some treaties on cooperation. So, Tomsk State University and Siberian State Medical University implement joint projects within the platform “Medicine of the Future”, and the cost of the projects exceeds tens of millions rubles. The Consortium is a flexible system of control over the collaboration of universities aimed at deriving new projects as additional advantages for universities. If we manage to implement our idea Tomsk universities will advance.
– Will they also advance in world rankings?
– The governor of Tomsk region Victor Kress in his address to the citizens of the region expressed his wish to Tomsk universities to improve their ranking significance at the international level. I think it is feasible due to the new type of interuniversity collaboration which is arising nowadays. Today, the world university rankings include several Russian universities, Moscow State University, St. Petersburg state University, Novosibirsk state University and Tomsk State University are among them. We are not on top thereof. However, for the last few years TSU advanced to top-400. The governor sets the objective to reach top-300 by 2020. I am sure Tomsk State University will do it. The Consortium with new projects will help Tomsk universities start working. This is required for every university to implement its development program. Universities innovation activity ranking was compiled recently. The criteria of the ranking were the amount of money made by the University through research activity, its participation in technological platforms, programs of innovation development of companies and some others. Tomsk State University was the forth in this ranking after Moscow State University, the Bauman Moscow State Technical University and the Moscow State Engineering Physics Institute (MEPhI). We earned over one and a half billion rubles.
– Will universities from other cities contribute to the extension of the Consortium?
– I think other universities from Siberia will certainly seek to enter Tomsk Consortium as associated members thereof. For instance, some higher education institutions from Novosibirsk. And in particular, we have close links with Chinese and Taiwan universities.
– There is one more issue in terms of international cooperation. If Russia joins the WTO how will it affect research and educational complex of Tomsk?
– We will have to compete for Russian students with foreign universities. In general, the WTO opens the way for Russia to different goods and services including educational ones. Branches of foreign universities will appear. The Consortium of Tomsk universities provides for the creation and development of student exchange programs both within Tomsk universities and with universities of other countries. Even now some students from TSU have diplomas of European and Chinese universities. The Consortium is a measure that allows withstanding external challenges.
– How would you comment on talks about possible merging of Tomsk universities into one higher education institution?
– This is only rumors. “Mechanical” merge will lead to the appearance of a cumbersome administrative structure. And we are developing a more beneficial system – a system of collaboration. To my mind, the whole world shall be based on collaboration today.
– What is the destiny of the council of rectors which you chair? Won’t it be eliminated with the establishment of the Consortium?
– The truth is that the council of rectors has its own objectives and it has contributed a lot to the establishment of the Consortium. In fact, the Minister of Education and the President of the Russian Rectors Union confirm the council chairman’s appointment. This union solves a number of problems: the Rectors Union engages into the analysis of higher education institutions activity, arrangement of academic competitions, social issues. The Consortium is to some extend a specialized council of rectors aimed at the implementation of the projects of “INOTomsk’ 2020” program. Of course, it is difficult now to differentiate between the activity of the Council of Rectors and that of the Consortium, but here we talk about collaboration. There will be joint meetings, projects, issues.
– When we talk about the implementation of “INOTomsk’ 2020” project I cannot but ask about the construction of a university campus in Tomsk.
– About 70% of students in the three largest Tomsk universities, i.e. TSU, TPU and TUSUR, come from other regions of the country. And all of them need somewhere to stay, we don’t have enough dormitories. And it is a strategic problem. When prospective students choose a university they also take into account dormitory accommodations. And accommodation for students is our special problem. We have applications for education in TSU from Chinese prospective students since they realize that training in engineering and physics and mathematics in Tomsk is competitive compared to that in Europe. A lot of students are ready to come to study in Tomsk but we don’t have accommodation for them. So, we decided not to wait for a campus to be built and started construction of a new dormitory right now. In 2012 we will commission an eighteen-storey dormitory in Buyanovsky side-street. I always realized that roads and accommodations represent strategic task for the development of research and educational complex of Tomsk. I am happy that the project “INO Tomsk 2020” provides for campus construction.
– At the press-conference devoted to the Consortium, Anatoly Kobzev, President of TUSUR, proposed to Tomsk universities to announce a competition to oil-and-gas producing complex and estimate a share of the GDP. Do you think it is feasible?
– We are likely to be compared. But we must not base on the principle “competition for the sake of competition” and rather get things done. It is a too multiple-factor task to estimate oil-and-gas sector and I wouldn’t treat it so downright. I believe it depends not only on us but also on global events. However, in general, we will increase our GDP share.
– Since 2009 TSU has established 13 small innovative enterprises under Federal Law No. 217. When higher education institutions are said to make money on such enterprises and research and development engineering area is meant here as a rule. However, TSU is famous not only for its technical scope of activity but for its humanities. Do humanists manage to contribute to the revenue of the University?
– TSU is a typical classic university with a large number of faculties along the whole range of science: from mathematics to culture studies, art and psychology. Humanists, for instance, the faculty of economics, earn money on paid educational services. How can an engineering company work without qualified economists? It is time of good educational services now. It is an absolute competitive ability in labor market. There are innovations both in science and education. And a new development does not always mean an innovation. Innovative projects are being carried out at a number of our faculties of humanities. For instance, the faculty of psychology engages in it. We won a large grant for the engagement of a foreign professor. Julia Kovas, psychologist of world-wide reputation from the Great Britain, came to Tomsk. She is supposed to establish a school of cognitive science of international standard. I believe that such approach to innovation activity allows positioning the University as a completely innovative structure.
– What developments of small innovative enterprises of TSU you consider the most useful for average citizens?
– Coincidentally, we signed the document on the establishment of the Consortium on the birth day of the governor Viktor Kress. I decided to make him a present of a product of one of our small innovative enterprises and chose virusless potato seeds. These are very good potato seeds. I planted such potato in my garden. I knew Viktor Kress also engages in plant cultivation. This potato grows large and tasty even without any fertilizers and additives. A small enterprise does not have to deal with a very sophisticated technical item. Small enterprises should produce goods that make human life better. And it would be wrong to point out one enterprise and one product out of the whole range of them in TSU. So, I gave one example of the innovative potato.
– Innovation projects have more possibilities within the framework of technological platforms. How is Tomsk State University fulfilling its potential in this regard?
– University R&Ds do have more possibilities to enter markets within technological platforms. Today, we participate in 12 platforms, which is record high for a university. These platforms include “Medicine of the Future”, “National Software Platform” etc. Now we are tackling “Ocean Development Platform”. In total, over 500 million rubles have been made within technological platforms.