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The Future of TSU and UFMG Cooperation – Academic Exchanges, Joint Research and Startups

July 30, 2015

Svetlana Barannikova – Head of the Cross-disciplinary Lab for Computer Modeling and Analysis of Condensed Environment, Professor in the Department of Physics and Technology at Tomsk State University (TSU), Doctor of Physics and Mathematics – was the first participant in the short-term exchange program between Russian and Brazilian universities. She visited the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte.

Ms. Barannikova in an interview with shared her impression of visiting one of the most prestigious universities in Latin America. She was more than happy to relate her exchanges with her Brazilian colleagues.

Svetlana Barannikova : The program arranged by my hosts was very well-conceived and elaborate, and included personal meetings and discussions with the university’s administration, tours of the labs, scientific dialogue with researchers, seminars a visit to the Department of Sciences, Technology and Higher Education of the government of Minas Gerais State, and excursions to the Academy of Sciences of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, the techno park, and several industrial enterprises. The meeting with the administration of Minas Gerais resulted in an agreement for cooperation between Tomsk State and the universities of Minas Gerais.

I was very impressed with the scientific research conducted by the laboratory of the School of Engineering, especially with the design of unique aircraft that they make there, and with the cross-disciplinary character of their research, which involves scientists from the fields of biology, physics and engineering.

How did Tomsk State University decide who would take part in the exchange program?

S.B.: Well, maybe the most important factors concerned one’s participation in the succession pool program at TSU and in strategic sessions for university development led by Professor Volkov (leading expert in education policy in Russia). And also one’s knowledge of English. As far as English is concerned, I found the advanced training courses very useful: the academic writing course taught by G. Collantay and the course of academic English taught by Y. Lirmak.

What mission did TSU put you in charge of? 

Expansion of cooperation in education and research, evaluation of the opportunity to participate in academic and scientific exchange programs, and the gaining of familiarity with the directions of research in the Federal University of Minas Gerais.

Have you ever taken part in other similar programs? If yes, where and when?

I have participated in research programs in Finnish and Swedish universities, which was part of the TSU’s advanced training program for professors.

What are the priorities of the future cooperation between TSU and the University of Minas Gerais? What direction will joint research take?

Some of our priorities include the organization of academic exchanges, joint summer schools, science seminars, the education of UFMG students in main educational programs and as part of included study programs in TSU, the education of TSU students in UFMG in the main study programs and as part of included study programs in the Federal University of Minas Gerais, and the implementation of joint cultural and science projects.

As far as joint research is concerned, the Brazilians are especially interested in bioengineering, aerospace and robotics. We have spoken of collaboration with the employees of the labs dealing with the mechanics of composite materials and those involved in the development of new materials, reinforced with carbon nano-tubes; also, we are thinking of cooperation with the employees of electronic structure labs who are studying 2D material modeling.

Two of the scientists from these labs have been invited to participate in the International Conference “Theory of Electronic Structure for Accelerated Development of Construction Materials” which will be held in Moscow in October 2015. We are planning to talk more about our joint projects when our Brazilian colleagues arrive in Russia for this conference.

It is also worth mentioning the prospects of the joint experience exchange program for startups and acceleration programs of the BHTech techno park. The Brazilian techno park will provide Russian projects with a work space for three month; at the same time, Brazilian startups will have the opportunity to work in Russian cities and build contacts with local consumers of their products.

What does UFMG do to develop academic mobility?

The department of international affairs is comprised of five exchange centers for students from Africa, Latin America, Europe, India and the Far East. The University is interested in Network Open University and BRICS Network University projects; it also participates in the program called “Science without borders”, which provides undergraduate and postgraduate students with free exchange trips and study abroad programs for up to one year.

What is the system of performance evaluation like in UFMG? Can the evaluation tools used in UFMG be useful for TSU?

Brazil has a classification system for professors. Lower level professors are only entitled to a scholarship from the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technical Development (CNPq); such employees must undergo professional assessment every third year. The highest level has sub-levels А1, А2, B, C, D. In addition to scholarships, employees of this level receive grants for work trips and equipment. Professors of the highest level A 1 undergo professional assessment every five years, others – every four years. Getting a grant is not just a financial bonus; it is also a sign of prestige. Only A1 level professors can participate in large grant programs.

The university has developed a unique open-access system called SOMOS which is used for professor assessment and stimulation. A similar system which would include a database about publications, patents, teaching guidelines etc. could be used in TSU.

A personal rating is calculated as a sum of points for publications in referenced journals, monographs, patents, teaching and supervisory work with undergraduate and postgraduate students etc. If a professor has a sufficient number of points and a large number of articles in referenced journals, he or she can have a lighter teaching load. The data from the university database SOMOS is automatically updated from the national platform Lattes.CNPq, where each Brazilian researcher, lecturer and student has a personal open-access page which lists information about this individual’s lectures, courses, publications, participation in conferences, grants, patents, thesis supervision, awards, degrees, membership in professional associations etc.

How can TSU benefit from cooperation with other universities of Minas Gerais in Brazil?

We are hoping to increase the number of Brazilian students studying in TSU. We are also thinking of expanding the number of topics that can be studied in summer schools as well as other disciplines  and structures of scientific and educational cooperation. Courses in English pertaining to the culture of Brazil and Latin America, the political history of Brazil, plus the opportunity to visit historic cities are very interesting for TSU students. In addition, our students are interested in the opportunity to study Portuguese

What best practices of Brazilian universities can be used by Russian schools?

I found very interesting the practice of evaluating the quality of educational programs in Brazilian universities in accordance with the criteria developed by the Federal Agency for the Development of Higher Education (CAPES) on a scale from 1 to 7. Of 78 UFMG educational programs, 70% have the highest scores – from 5 to 7. This indicator is very important for employers and for the government when deciding to provide government financial aid to the university. The evaluation criteria include such factors as intellectual products, articles in journals (QUALIS classification by level А1, А2, B1-B5, C), number of professors (CNPq classification), and the structure of educational programs and research labs.

New knowledge, international contacts, unique experiences – all of these opportunities are open to TSU employees thanks to the exchange program for Project 5-100 university staff and leading Brazilian universities.