Ivan Romanchuk on UTMN role in Regional Development

In an interview with TASS, Acting Rector of the University of Tyumen Ivan Romanchuk answered important questions about the essence of the student-centered education, development of the biosafety field within the University, student employment during the pandemic, and the meaning of “the third mission” of the University.

The UTMN has undergone a lot of transformational processes regarding its core areas such as education, science, infrastructure, and partnerships for the past five years. What is the reason for it?
This is a serious question. Five years ago we realized that the job market was about to change drastically.

Obviously, the pandemic only exasperated this change. It became more obvious that education should become student-centered to ensure their employment in the future. The development of a new education system was a complex process. We’ve adapted the best practices from the leading universities and research organizations in Russia and abroad, simultaneously forming meaningful partnerships.

In addition, we’ve improved on the UTMN’s facilities, creating unique classrooms, laboratories, and coworking spaces. In order to address the current issues of science development within the University the West Siberian Interregional Scientific and Educational Center was formed. It is safe to say that we were one of the first universities in Russia who anticipated the changes that are happening across the higher education landscape which allowed us to be one step ahead.

What is it like for the University to undergo such changes?

It is tough because any change is a step out of the comfort zone. More than 2 000 professionals work at the UTMN, who had to adapt to the new circumstances. Most importantly, we’ve managed to unite and work as a team to deal with any complications along the way. Many ambitious goals were achieved through the 5-100 Project. We have managed to attract the best professors and researchers, who had great expertise and rich academic background. We’ve also hired managers and leaders who aided UTMN through the transformation. We invested in our employees and infrastructure. We invested in innovation. Now I realize that was the only right decision.

Biosafety at UTMN was always a “hot topic” to research even before the pandemic. How did this research field develop?

Indeed, biosafety is even more relevant now. The work began back when we established the Institute of Environmental and Agricultural Biology (X-BIO) and sourced the modern research equipment for it. However, updating the infrastructure is not enough to make a global revolutionary breakthrough. Now we are planning to build a High-Performance Computing Cluster for bioinformatics. Capabilities of this cluster will be used to conduct genomic studies.
It feels that being a student is quite stressful these days. What changed?
When high school graduates enter the University they are met with a whole new set of responsibilities. Now they create their individual educational trajectory themselves. The institute of tutoring and professional psychological consultation service was established to decrease the levels of stress and anxiety connected to making these decisions.
The ambitious transformation of the higher education system, being realized by the UTMN and by the leading universities of Russia, reveals a crucial issue. We are talking about high school graduates being psychologically, emotionally, and intellectually unprepared to set their own educational goals and create corresponding individual educational trajectories. In order to solve this problem, a transformation of the education system needs to happen, starting from schools.

What can be done within the university?

This is a challenge that can be addressed only by strategic reconstruction of pedagogical education programs, which we’ve already launched. This year, the first students have enrolled in the “Experimental Higher Education” Master’s degree program. These postgraduates will transform the UTMN, having the whole university as testing grounds for educational experiments.
However, we realize that we should do more. We foresee that students of pedagogy will need in-depth field practice. This is why the UTMN is determined to become a technology supplier of educational solutions not only for universities but also for high school, beginning with experimental educational platforms of course.

There has been a lot of talk about “the third mission” of universities lately. What do you think about it?

This mission is focused on accelerating the social, entrepreneurial, and innovative functions of the University. It is utterly important for us that the whole University activity is directed towards life improvement in the region. Science should improve the quality of life, education should give people confidence in the future and innovation should generate income. This is a goal we set for ourselves.

You have mentioned that during this period of big changes in the University the work with professors and researchers is being carried out systematically. What about students’ involvement in creative activities?

We strive to instill such values in students as responsibility, leadership, patriotism, constant self-development, and participation in the development of society. For instance, we created student clubs. They serve as a great outlet for students to develop themselves. Currently, there are 100 student clubs within the UTMN and 100 leaders banding about 3 000 students together. That is only the beginning. This is why we support young leaders to realize significant projects and solve important social problems. Youth policy at the University is not the set of events and leisure activities, but a tandem of curricular and extracurricular activities.

How is it implemented in practice?
We have started to develop the “Makerthon” project marathons system and set up partnerships with leading Russian business accelerators to generate new ideas. Now more than 500 students participate in marathons. Although this is an extracurricular event, it helps students to develop entrepreneurial competencies, which are essential in the modern world.

During summer 2020, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the RF realized a large project for student employment during the pandemic. How did UTMN encourage student employment?

From May to August 2020, the UTMN organized the student employment assistance program. For four months almost 5 000 students of UTMN and other Tyumen region universities managed to work and get financial support.

Now the new project called “Sirius. Summer” is in the works. Sirius encourages collaborations between students, representatives of industries, and pupils to be created. The project is based on the “New Generation” Regional Centre. Such companies as “SIBUR”, the Siberian-Urals Energy Company, and “Taxtelecom” will introduce practical cases and pupils will solve these cases with the help of UTMN students who take on a mentor role. In the end, the solved cases will be integrated into the performance of the enterprises, while students and pupils will receive invitation letters for traineeship and offers for future employment. This is an example of new technological and highly commercial solutions development created within the University via the cooperation of talented young people and industrial leaders.