PLANS FOR A BIG EURASIAN STATE UNIVERSITY

A conference to discuss the plans for creating a Big Eurasian State University (BESU) as a large-scale socioeconomic project was held in Ekaterinburg. Rectors of the leading Ural universities, businessmen, politicians, and governmental bureaucrats got together to discuss issues relating to establishment of a super university, the so-called cluster destined to create conditions for the implementation of a unique project involving 250 thousand people engaged in educational and R&D activities at a facility with total area of 1,5 thousand hectares. Academics and scientists could only dream of anything happening in Russia at such a scale.

Stanislav Naboichenko, rector of the Ural State University of Technologies, chairman of the board of rectors of the Ural Federal District, first came up with an idea of launching the project. Its co-authored by Vladimir Tretyakov, rector of the Ural State Universities. They spent a few years considering and discussing the issue with their colleagues. A concept was finally drawn up, a form of incorporation and projects financial structure, and a clusters mechanisms of self-financing were developed.

Establishing BESU is the only chance we have for giving a boost to our education system so that it may be again in line with the world standards. Its the only way of pulling the plug on the stupid practices of making money out of natural resources i.e. selling oil, gas and metal. Weve got no other alternative since the economy centered on the production of natural resources cant ensure the living standards of 25 million people living around the Ural Mountains and other Russians as a whole, says Sergei Vozdvizhenski, director of the Committee on development programs for the Ural region.

According to Nikolai Kosarev, rector of the Ural Academy of Mining and Geology, the state can hardly provide half the budget of his university these days. He stresses the importance of creating an association of universities. Vladimir Tretyakov found out that funds currently spent on maintenance of the old university buildings and dormitories were greater than the estimated construction costs.

The machine builders and defense industry workers are also in favor of the project. The Vice President of the Union of Defense Industries Companies Nikolai Klein, director of the Kalinin plant, points out that the project will enable to bring out new technologies of metal-working and restore the disrupted relationships between the companies and fundamental science.

The project is viewed as a panacea even by such tough pragmatists as businessmen and bankers. It sparked enthusiasm with Rustam Mamatov, CEO of Metkombank.
Nikolai Timofeev, who owns a non-ferrous metal-working plant and a large chain of food stores, also showed his interest. The latter businessman is ready and willing to open his stores in a new scientific center. Stanislav Naboichenko admits that the project still looks quite raw due to lack of a mock-up, its completion time, budgetary estimates and contractors are also missing. But a very strong idea was brought into life and now its being evaluated, says he.

The originators of the project are hoping to see it taking shape within the next 15 year on the shores of Lake Shartash nearby Ekaterinburg. The cluster of science and research facilities is estimated to fill the area of 1,500 hectares. The general development plan of Ekaterinburg already provides for the construction of instructional and laboratory facilities, developing technological, college and social infrastructure of the center.
A planned subway line is going to deliver passengers from the center of the city to the facility in just half an hour. 17 state institutes of higher education presently based in Ekaterinburg are going to be moved to the ultramodern center of science and technology. Vladimir Tretyakov believes that BESU will be soon capable of attracting hordes of students from Japan, China and Korea.

However, the prospect has rather bleak prospects for completion, according to some people working for the same Ural Division of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Gennady Mesyats, a former President of the Ural Division of the Academy of Sciences, now a Vice President of the Russian Academy of Sciences, had had similar ambitions in the past. But he eventually gave them up: Russia isnt America. Everything boils down to money. The estimated cost of BESUs first stage is in the neighborhood of E 5 billion.

The authors of the concept are trying to prove many interested parties will join the financing of the project. Aside from the state budget and its tax relief schemes, some private entrepreneurs are likely to come aboard, not to mention the bank loans, venture and charitable funds. And last but not least, a university itself will make money by rendering services in education, science and research.

I doubt very much that everything is going to work fine for them, said to Izvestia Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Evgeny Romanov, scientific secretary of the Ural Division of the Academy. There was only one institute, one printing house in Russia back in 1917. Only 44 academicians and 33 corresponding members worked for the Academy of Sciences. A huge number –380-of academic institutes were set up during a 70-year period that followed. Yet only the Moscow State Universities was a breakthrough in terms of scientific achievements for this country. It cost 6 billion roubles (1 Soviet rouble officially equaled 1.4 USD at the time) to build in 1945. The funds spent by the government paid off well. We launched the space program and the whole world was gaping after us. But do we need that BESU nowadays? The problem is that nobody seems to know, neither the government nor the president. Clear-cut objectives for science development need to be set out by the state, thats the only way to go.

Why the idea to establish the above educational and scientific center came to light in the Ural region? The area is the most urbanized part of Russia today, it has a well-developed machine-building complex featuring high-tech industries especially in the defense sector. The cooperation between the different economic sectors of the region was put into shape throughout the long historical period; its the transnational region known for its self-sufficiency and advantages in respect to the international economic competition. Ekaterinburg presently holds the second place when it comes to investment activity, Moscow is on top of the list. Therere people here who have been thinking of the integration of science, education and production for a long time.

The projects authors submitted their ideas for consideration to the Presidential Administration and the Ministry of Education. They reportedly got verbal approvals from both the offices. The Presidents representative in the Ural Federal District was instructed to oversee the project. Though Sergei Vozdvizhenski blamed the customary fear of novelty when speaking about the sluggish attitude displayed by bureaucrats toward the project.

I dont understand what youre talking about, told Izvestia Nina Khridina, advisor to the Presidents rep in the Urals, brushing off all the allegations. Our approach to the issue is purely standard and considerate. The idea is truly great. But what shall we do about it? The scientists are willing to get a lions share of money out of the state coffers. In the meantime, theres a lack of funds in the budget to increase wages and pensions. Incidentally, a female student spoke at the conference about the problems of today. She said that the plans for a super-university looked just fine though the authorities had better take a closer look at todays students – weve got zilch! The BESU paperwork now awaits an expert economic opinion. Lets listen to what the independent specialists and the public have to say. Were not going to get involved in some monkey business. Men of science should try and understand one simple thing: this project needs financial backing through investments. The public opinion should be taken into account too. Once all the requirements are met, the project will get a go-ahead. Now its under consideration. Its a normal procedure.

.. - NEKTO 2009.


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