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What Education is the Thing of the Future: Master’s Degree++ Conference Held at ITMO University

St. Petersburg hosted the Master’s Degree++: Programming Future Education conference organized by ITMO University and the Foundation

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St. Petersburg hosted the Master’s Degree++: The Programming Future Education conference, organized by the National Research University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics (ITMO University) and the Vladimir Potanin Foundation. The event brought together winning lecturers of the 2018/19 Grant Competition of the Vladimir Potanin Foundation, experts from leading Russian and foreign universities, representatives of government authorities, business and non-profit organizations. Over three days, the conference attendees took part in discussions and training sessions aimed at identifying global educational trends and best practices in the implementation of master’s degree programs as a tool for training personnel for the economy of the future.

“We see this conference as very important, because today we lack platforms to comprehensively discuss issues of modern master’s degree programs. However, this area is obviously growing rapidly and, like any dynamically developing area in education, it requires reflection. We hope that the conference will give all participants the opportunity to look at a master’s degree from a new perspective and will act as a driver for new achievements in each lecturer’s work,” commented Oksana Oracheva, General Director of the Vladimir Potanin Foundation. 

Vladimir Vasilyev, Rector of ITMO University, called the master’s degree a stepping stone to support national projects designated by the President in 2018/2019, including the national program Digital Economy of the Russian Federation. In his words, the main task the country is now facing is to make a significant economic breakthrough, which is possible only when there are new technologies in place. “In our opinion, master’s degree education is a key support element that performs the task of training qualified personnel for the digital economy. So, it is extremely important now to exchange best practices and discuss our vision regarding the prospects and objectives of the master’s program development. I am confident that this discussion will act as a catalyst for new, effective master’s training tools to emerge,” Vladimir Vasilyev says.

A video of the conference plenary session is available here.

The main topics of this year's conference included the design of curricula, interdisciplinarity — the emergence and implementation of master’s programs at the intersection of disciplines, the balance of soft, hard and digital competencies in the context of the introduction of new educational technologies, as well as the identification of best practices and analysis of problem points in the implementation and promotion of master’s programs.

The conference started with a practical training day for the lecturers who won the 2018/2019 Grant Competition of the Vladimir Potanin Foundation. The key event of the first day was the discussion panel titled "Trends in Master's Studies: International Experience", during which experts in education and science from top European universities shared their case studies on master's training abroad. The internationalization of universities, the level of academic freedom, the interdisciplinary approach and bringing together specialists with different backgrounds are the topics most discussed by the international community in light of the master's program development. 

The conference’s highlight was the plenary session on master's program changes in the era of data and interdisciplinarity. The session featured Vladimir Vasilyev, Rector, ITMO University, Oxana Oracheva, General Director, the Vladimir Potanin Foundation, Andrew Wachtel, Rector, University of Narxoz, Vadim Ivanov, Rector, European University at St. Petersburg, Professor Peter Sloot, University of Amsterdam, Andrey Ivanov, Head of Investments, Research and Education, JetBrains, Dimitri Ozerkov, Head of Contemporary Art Department, State Hermitage Museum, and others. The speakers touched on the critical topics of education development in present-day Russia: state and private support for education, the formation of university-based educational ecosystems, effective cooperation between companies and universities, the use of digital tools in students training, and online education.

In particular, Oksana Oracheva noted that education today remains one of the most popular areas of support, even though investments in this area have a delayed effect. She believes that the task of foundations and private investment in education is primarily to set trends and shape the agenda for the future. “Private foundations, at their own expense and due to a lack of the restrictions present in the state system or in the corporate sector, can support those initiatives that would not receive support in any other ways,” she explains.

Andrey Ivanov addressed the perpetual issue of the gap between education and industry needs: “Companies have a widespread claim that masters graduates come to them from university poorly trained. But wait, no one committed themselves to train students specifically for your company’s needs. How can this problem be solved? Start communicating with students not after they have graduated, but from the very beginning. The density of communication can vary: dedicated lectures, providing topics for term papers, individual work with students, etc. If you do all this, they will become your employees even before graduation.”

Vladimir Vasilyev stressed that under the current circumstances, it is not universities that are competing, but ecosystems that are formed both inside and around universities. “Students, lecturers, researchers, graduates who need to keep in touch with the university and influence its development, as well as partners who share the values of the university, are all part of the ecosystem,” explained the ITMO Rector. “What is the role of the university in it? First of all, it acts as a communicator and integrator of all groups that are involved in the educational process. Moreover, it is certainly a carrier of the values and mission chosen together with its partners.”

The final day of the conference featured a flagship event — the Looking for the Master’s Degree “Growth Points” panel. The experts discussed possible ways of developing master’s programs in Russia based on current experience, analyzed both successful and imperfect practices of implementing master’s programs and identified the growth paths of Russian master’s education. Among the key “growth points”, the speakers named the integrative approach (supporting fundamental training with practice and project work), enabling employers and students to independently set their educational path, talent support, and forming a powerful and active ecosystem around the university. A video of the panel discussion is available here.

The Master’s Degree++ conference is an annual event organized by the Vladimir Potanin Foundation together with a university participating in the Grant Competition. It is aimed at discussing key issues in the development of master's degree education in Russia. This year, ITMO University is the co-organizer of the conference. ITMO University has also acted as a partner in conducting the onsite rounds of the Grant Competition in St. Petersburg. In addition, as stressed by Oksana Oracheva, the Foundation has long been following ITMO’s rapid development and its experiments with different educational formats.

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