The Master’s Program Enrollment Campaign: Bringing in Best Students and Training Elite Specialists

ITMO University positions itself as a “university for Master and Post-Graduate students”. Please tell, what exactly is conferred by this concept? 

One of the goals proclaimed in the mission of ITMO University is training elite specialists ready to work in the modern conditions of a fast-changing world and ensure advanced development of science and technology. Obviously, such specialists can only be trained at Master and Post-Graduate level, and this calls for special conditions for these students. A few years ago ITMO U set a course towards creating such conditions. This is reflected in the increase of the amount of state-funded places for Master degrees – thus, currently there are 182 Master’s Degree programs, the guideline figure for admission in 2016 is 2,160 students. As far as I know, ITMO University has the highest rates of admission of Master Degree students on state-funded positions in the all of Russia. 

What is more, our Master’s Degree programs are focused on creating special conditions for the students. To begin with, a master’s program implies that 35% of the study time shall be devoted to research. Our university’s status as a research institute is reflected in its many achievements, thus, we have all the necessary conditions for that. In the recently published rating of Russia’s research institutes by Interfax ITMO University was in the top ten; Nature Index of Rising Stars marked out ITMO U as a “rising star” of the world science. The full volume of research projects conducted at ITMO University during last year amounted to 2,286 billion rubles – which places ITMO U 3rd in Russia by this indication.

The University pays high attention to the development of the student’s “soft skills”: project management, scientific communications, skills in preparing research articles and presentations, business English, technology entrepreneurship. We are set on not only training our students to be specialists of their particular field, but on preparing them for the conditions of the fast-changing world of modern science as well. Master’s Degree programs in ITMO University are really attractive – 40% of last year’s enrollment were students from other Russian and foreign universities.

What about opportunities for partaking in real scientific projects? Do ITMO U’s Master’s students get those?

There are 39 international research centers at ITMO University, led by leading Russian and foreign scientists. A Master’s student work in one of these units is invaluable for one’s future scientific career, as it includes international-level research side-by-side with first-grade specialists, experience in visiting foreign scientific centers and working in collaboration with foreign scientists and so on. What is more, ITMO U exercises a system set on conducting research along with Master’s and post-graduate students. This unique practice is being realized only in few Russian universities. There is also the Russia-wide intercollegiate conference for young scientists; last time, the event gathered almost 2 thousand people from 115 research and educational establishments. 7 scientific magazines are published by ITMO. Finally, our university upholds close ties with employers: as of now, there are 17 affiliated degree chairs in the university which are focused on training the students for working in leading high-technology companies, so students can not only attend lectures, but work on real projects for these companies. To sum up, Master’s Degree students at ITMO University are offered all possible ways ofdoing science. As a result, in 2015 60% of Master’s students were either published in a science journal, addressed a scientific conference or participated in an RTD on a paid basis.

What else is there to be done as a part of establishing this “university for Master’s Degree and Post-Graduate students” concept?

In one respect, we can say that we already have a basis for such a university, but the system call for development. We plan on creating three different types of Master Degree programs, focused on developing particular skills –research, engineering and entrepreneurial. That is why we are modernizing our current programs. Our second essential task is establishing feedback from students and graduates, which will allow us to control the quality of courses, to assess their relevance within the framework of particular programs. This way it will be easy to correct the curriculum of our programs and educational methods.

The students who apply for a Master’s Degree have clear expectations for the program, so it is really important to not disappoint them – to give them exactly what they, let’s say, read in the description of the program. In this context we should also work on eliminating the “mentorship” of the academic staff, and develop different forms of cooperation between the students and the staff, so that the former would have the chance to influence the educational process. Here, we can mention the third task, which implies the development of modern forms of education – the individualization of education, the introduction of distant education methods, etc.

Which of the Master’s Degree programs correlate with the National Technology Initiative, the tendencies in the market and the educational sphere?

From the perspective of the principles of developing Master’s Degree programs, the latter can be split into several groups. The first includes those that have to the university’s basic competencies – information technologies and photonics. In the IT field that would be Technologies of software development and design, Informational technologies and services in telecommunication, Informational security management, Intelligent technologies in robotics – they are all in demand among the applicants. In photonics, that would be Computer optics, Laser micro- and nanotechnologies, Materials of Photonics and Optical Informatics and others. At the same time, these programs change significantly in the process of their development.

There are also the new programs that are being developed and introduced due to two reasons. First of all, these are the programs developed with the future markets in mind, - markets that have just started to develop but will become essential in 5 to 7 years. For instance, Additive technologies and Geoinformation Systems are of such programs. Secondly, we start to develop new fields based on the university’s unique competencies: medicine, urban science, social and economic systems. Thank to that, we’ve started such programs as Scientific Communications, Innovative transport technologies, Biomedical laser technologies, Multimedia technologies in art. Creation of such new programs is a conscious decision. We aren’t aiming at becoming a classical university or opening a clinic, or an Art or History department; still, we are set on developing competencies in the fields which will define the quality of life in the XXI century. Thus, when developing new programs, we consider both STI and national technological platforms, as well as foresight and market analysis.

ITMO University maintains a high momentum in creating joint educational programs with other universities. Will this be the strategy for the coming year as well?

Currently, there are 36 Double Degree Programs at ITMO University. As a result, Master’s students have the opportunity to attend lectures of the leading scientists from world’s best universities and receive all benefits of networked learning. Creating joint educational programs is one of the key strategic directions of ITMO’s development, as ITMO U is an international university. Involving foreign students and sending your own students to study at other universities for some time has shown to be essential for a university’s development. Thus, we are set on continuing our work at creating joint educational programs with high-ranking universities. When choosing such partners, we focus more on their rating and communion of scientific interests than on its geographic location. We already have many ties with foreign universities, now we are set on developing them.

How important is it to motivate Master’s Degree students to stay at the university for their Post-Graduate programs?

Obviously, we are interested in that our best Master’s Degree students stay as our Post-Graduates. One of the mechanisms that helps keep them at the university is the rankings on the university’s inner web portal. This is a good motivation for young people – to see themselves being first in the rankings which reflects the results of their current professional activities. It also helps us to define future leaders, ones that we’ll be encouraging to work at the university. Thus, our best Specialists become our Master’s Degree students, and the best of them continue on to being our Post-Graduates.

The admission campaign for Master’s Programs is almost over: what are the preliminary results?

ITMO’s popularity and authority is continuing to grow: the amount of applicants from other universities has increased by 1.8 compared with the previous year. As of now, there are over 2,5 thousand applications , about 1,5 thousand (57%) are from graduates from other educational institutions. All in all, Specialists from about 300 universities applied, 3,5 thousand of them have already registered on our electronic database.

The submission of documents for full-time education ends on August, 10th; by that time, we expect around 600 more applications. There are several ways to enter a program at ITMO University: winning a portfolio contest, a contest of reports at the Young Scientists Conference, or passing traditional examinations. This year we’ve also tried conducting distant entrance examinations: now applicants from other cities don’t have come to ITMO personally, they just have to send in the documents and then take their exams using a personal computer. During the summer, there will be 61 exams in such format. Not all applicants are comfortable with such a disruptive approach yet, but I believe that when this year’s enrollment is over, more and more applicants will be taking the exam distantly.