Careers Day at MIPT, including leading Russian companies such as software firm ABBYY

According to a UNESCO report, Russia holds sixth place as top global destination for tertiary-level students.

“Many additional partnerships were facilitated by MIPT alumni at the middle and top of high-tech and research companies.”

While the vast majority of students going to Russia for studies comes from the states that once were republics of the USSR, there are significant numbers of students coming from Asian countries like China, India, Malaysia, Vietnam and Mongolia, just to name a few.

The Asian countries listed above have something in common: they all import their share of Russian high-tech exports. The high-tech industry in Russia, in turn, has always worked in collaboration with leading technical universities.

My alma mater and most recent employer, the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT aka Phystech), was perhaps the first university in the then USSR to be set up (in 1946 as a faculty of the Moscow State University and in 1951 as independent organization) with academic-industry partnerships at its core.

Back then such a novel approach, later dubbed the Phystech System, was needed to quickly train and inject young scientists into various fields of general and applied scientific research. The research that helped to boost the country’s post-WW2 competitiveness on a global scale.

The academic-industry collaboration approach was proposed by renowned Soviet physicist Pyotr Kapitsa, founding father of MIPT. Here’s how it worked during my student days there in 1982-1988:

  1. First and second year students from all the faculties studied the same set of subjects.
  2. In the third year of studies, one day was devoted to studying specialty subjects at one of the academic-industry partners, mostly research institutions of the USSR Academy of Sciences. Mine was the Lebedev Institute of Precision Mechanics and Computer Engineering, named after Sergey Lebedev ,the designer of the first Soviet computers.
  3. Fourth and fifth year studies involved spending three-four days a week at the research institutions. We were actually hired there as part-time laboratory assistants. Which, together with student allowance, helped us to earn almost as much as graduates. At the MIPT campus additional specialty subjects were taught.
  4. In the sixth and final year we devoted 100% of our time to doing off-campus research and writing the diploma thesis.

Back then MIPT was closed to foreign students. MIPT students didn’t travel abroad either, except for a small group of biophysics students which sailed faraway south to conduct research in neutral waters.

I graduated from MIPT in the Perestroyka days, three years before the USSR’s breakup. Already in 1988 it was clear there were three career paths:

  1. to leave science and earn some money in any legal way
  2. to remain in science in the USSR and stay low on money
  3. to remain in science and earn good money by moving to another country.

Yours truly went for the option (a). In the first year or so after the graduation, money was made by rendering translation services, fixing electronic items and occasional programming. I never came back into the research field, having gone into corporate communications instead.

Most of my classmates went for the option (c). As a result, there are huge MIPT alumni groups based outside of Russia and neighboring countries.

“It’s clear that a country’s academic-industry partnerships are strategically and globally beneficial to all stakeholders.”

Nevertheless, the university and the partnership industries have survived this terrible brain drain. You can still see the traces of it in the age distribution of management and lecturers at MIPT. As noted by the rector at last year’s alumni conference, they are either in their early thirties or late fifties and above.

Opening up of Russia to the world in early 90s led to opening up of the country’s higher education sphere. At MIPT and other universities, bachelor and MS programs were introduced. Their introduction spurred growth of international student exchanges. In 2013 there were about 610 foreign students from 20 countries at MIPT (11% of the total students number) , including over 100 from Asian countries such as Myanmar and Vietnam. The same year about 130 students and 280 scientists and lecturers from MIPT went abroad to destinations in Europe, North America and Asia.

The academic-industry collaboration principle not only has survived but actually thrived and was copied, albeit on a smaller scale, by other universities. There are some 120 partnership departments at MIPT (up 20 compared to early 90s).

Many additional partnerships were facilitated by MIPT alumni at the middle and top of high-tech and research companies. Some of them, like ABBYY, Yandex, Parallels, are Russian brands that are well known globally. Several, like Intel, Schlumberger and Samsung, are global. All are prominent employers of MIPT graduates.

It’s thus clear that a country’s academic-industry partnerships are strategically and globally beneficial to all stakeholders.

Valery Levchenko (Валерий Левченко) is Head of Communications Department at Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.

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