Interview with Prof. Vladimir Filippov, President of Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN), Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences
Among the numerous challenges faced by your university in the current COVID-19 crisis, which was the most difficult?
The first challenge was the urgent need to switch to online teaching. There are 429 educational programmes at RUDN University, including medical and engineering courses. It was quite easy to use remote teaching for the humanities, but online technology was not best adapted for replacing many practical classes in the technical, science, and medical fields.
The second challenge was organising campus life during the pandemic. Of the 9,000 students who live on the RUDN campus, almost 7,000 decided to stay in dormitories. It was important for us to provide the safest and most comfortable conditions for them. We organised medical supervision, purchased sanitizers, gloves, masks, etc for students and personnel. We restructured the working processes of the canteen and coworking areas and we supported students' volunteer initiatives. The staff of the campus faced difficult tasks, but we managed to solve them.
Which innovative solutions you have found in handling this crisis, that you would like to share with other universities?
The urgent transition to massive e-learning has given us an impetus to create new educational "products". For example, the RUDN University decided to make a digital analog of an entire faculty –the Russian Language and General Educational Disciplines Faculty, which has 8 departments. International students study in this faculty before starting their major subjects: they learn Russian "from scratch", improve their knowledge of physics, chemistry and other subjects to the level of graduates of Russian schools. Such faculties are also called "preparatory faculties" in Russia. The courses help international students to study together with Russian citizens in the first year of their major.
RUDN decided not to depend on the opening of borders, giving its international applicants the opportunity to start studying at home before coming to Moscow. We have divided the entire programme of the preparatory faculty into 17 modules – all of them will be available for self-study online. An international student will need to pass 9 modules: 4 are mandatory, 4 can be chosen from a list of options, depending on their future profession, and 1 is cultural. Virtual lectures will be held in real time online. There will be exercises for communicating with native Russian speakers. Special tutors will help them solve all organisational issues.
This academic year, RUDN University will be helping international applicants prepare for 2021 admissions without coming to Russia.
Do you think that there will be changes in your university once this crisis is over? If yes, could you highlight the most important in your opinion?
In recent years, we have implemented a strategy of switching from "teaching" to "learning". The situation with the COVID-19 pandemic has provided an incentive to create digital educational content – this means that individual studying will move to a new level. Many academics have mastered new technologies of interaction and time management. At the administrative level, we have improved mechanisms for online meetings. At the educational process level, teachers have started to use more visual means of communication.
What could the Council of Europe offer in response to this crisis?
The transfer online has clearly created new opportunities for international collaboration in the field of education, science, and culture. It is necessary to develop the strongest projects and support new initiatives. RUDN is the most international university in Russia. Our European partners include universities in France, Spain, Great Britain, Austria, Italy and other countries. We will continue to work with them on research initiatives, short courses, internship and dual degree programmes. New legislative tools may be needed for developing academic and scientific partnerships, so as to organise new "windows of mobility", including remote ones. We need to continue to harmonise our higher education systems and give the best educational programmes a digital format, as well as solve the issues of recognition of educational e-documents.