Bridging the Gap Between University and Industry: ITMO in the Vanguard

Universities all around the world are no longer strictly educational institutions, their role in building a knowledge economy which will enable us to solve industrial problems is now in the foreground. Earlier this month, in Singapore, at the 9th QS World Class Seminar – Classroom for World University Leaders Conference, experiences of university and industry cooperation were explored. The only representatives of Russian Tertiary Education, where representatives from ITMO University who also presented at the conference.

At the conference, rectors from leading international universities and industrial partners gathered together for discussions, or more like a classroom. The participants discussed modern university and business collaboration trends. Universities are no longer just the custodians of academic knowledge but above they raising up the next generation of professionals. The old “you will learn on the job” mentality is disappearing and there is a focus on graduates being the ones to promote innovation in the industry and ahead of their employer in terms of their knowledge of the current trends in their area of expertise.

"Humanity today is faced with many economic and environmental problems. In order to address these challenges, and build a safe and prosperous world, it is necessary to have modern and up-to-date technologies. The pursuit of these solutions is now shifting to universities. This is why we are gathered at this conference: to learn about our role and how we should act in present-day society” – explained Ihron Rensburg, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Johannesburg, to the participants of the conference.

President of Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Professor Bertil Andersson explained how industrial collaboration is a success factor for a rapidly developing university. Although NTU became autonomous in 2006, it continued to be funded by the state. This allowed the university to attract academics and lecturers from the best educational and research institutions around the world. It was mostly due to this that NTU rose significantly in the international educational rankings.

ITMO University was represented at the conference by the Vice Rector for International Relations, Daria Kozlova and the leading analyst of “Diakont” Mikhail Uvarov, who talked about their experience with university and industry collaboration. The “Diakont” group are amongst the world leaders in R&D and production of high-tech security equipment.

“Our students began participating in an internship at “Diakont” in 2000. In 2010, the company opened a graduate affiliated degree Chair of Technogenic Security Systems and Technologies at ITMO Universities. Starting from 2012, in partnership with “Diakont”, we took on three projects for creating new high-tech production, conducting scientific research and experimental R&D. Dynamic development of relationships both in the educational sphere, as well as in the field of R&D has led us to the opening in 2015 of the representative office in Italy (in Arezzo). But most importantly, from the beginning of the initiative, collaboration came from students which is a huge advantage. The development strategy of educational activities at ITMO University is aimed at closer interaction with industrial partners, to work on international professional standards," commented Daria Kozlova.

Collaboration with "Diakont"

A joint office was created to attract new industrial partners, who could together with ITMO University work on scientific-research and experimental-design work, organising internships for undergraduate and graduate students. As a result of this office’s efforts, a gathering was held for ITMO University’s International Council in October 2015 in Italy, and the conference for "University-Industry collaboration: A New Milestone", which was attended by representatives of universities from USA, Russia, Germany, Italy, as well as local authorities.

With the financial support of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, according to the decision of the Government of the Russian Federation of April 9, 2010 №218 «On measures of state support of development of cooperation of Russian institutions of higher education, public research institutions and organizations implementing complex projects on creation of high-tech production." From 2016, a new project was launched, for new high-tech production of high-speed high-precision electromechanical power a new generation of drives. They can be used on any plants where production is automated, including injection-molding machines, welding machines, packaging lines and press machines.

Mikhail Uvarov, Chief Business Development Analyst at "Diakont" noted that, unfortunately, there is not a high demand in Russia for general actuators, so the main markets for production are in the U.S. and Europe. However, specialized solutions developed and manufactured with the same production capacity will go primarily to the Russian market.

Another example of a joint project like the one just described is the manufacture of high-torque compact roller-screw gear. The launch of the new production line is planned for 2018. The gearboxes are designed for such industries as aircraft, shipbuilding, machine tool industry and energy, and can be used in drives chassis, wings and hatches of the aircraft and actuators of pipeline valves.

Furthermore ITMO University experts in alliance with Diakont Enterprise specialists are also developing a prototype of a robotic system. The Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation supported this project and included it in the grant program for promising research and inventions in the industrial field.  The prototype can be applied for monitoring and testing of pipe lines without their breaking up. It will simplify the activities of housing and communal services and oil and gas facilities. The developers presented this project at the Russian import substitutions sessions.

“The new technologies connected with this field are very relevant because such systems are not produced in Russia. Thus the representatives of the industry have to use imported systems developed in the USA, Europe and Japan,” noted Mr. Uvarov.

The expert also underlined that the enterprise involves students in all activities, for example, they participate in engineering design, technological support, development of software programs as well as testing and certification of products.

“I am sure that the Chair of Technogenic Security Systems and Technologies trains excellent specialists. Instead of waiting for our students to graduate we try to understand their strong points while they are studying and depending on their strengths offer them to join real industrial projects. Thus they study and gain work experience at the same time – it makes them effective specialists,” underlined the expert.

The collaboration of ITMO University and Diakont resulted in the development of a unique system for preparing engineers and technical experts. It was also acknowledged by the State Council for Professional Qualifications. The officials evaluated this system as one of the best tools for training skilled experts in Russia.

“Many companies around the world are battling with how to teach young graduates to solve real tasks because they haven`t obtained the required skills during their university studies. To assist students to develop the relevant skills for the workplace, universities have to collaborate with the industry and develop together with them practical-oriented training programs. ITMO University and Diakont enterprise have succeeded in this,” said  Vladlena Serebryakova, rector’s assistant for interaction with high-tech organizations.

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