Anatoly Torkunov: «Our aim is to multiply the MGIMO identity»

Anatoly Torkunov: «Our aim is to multiply the MGIMO identity»

30 April 2019

Early in 2020 the current MGIMO Development Strategy will expire, so Anatoly Torkunov, Rector of the University, and his team are to develop a new one next year. The rector’s vision for the new strategy pursues a complex duality — expanding the university’s globally comprehensive nature whilst enhancing education quality, and preserving tradition along with developing the university’s best features. ‘In other words, as MGIMO expands and grows in numbers, its identity should multiply, not blur.’ ‘Besides, it is our evolving, and yet always distinct, MGIMO identity that attracts the best student talent in the country,’ he adds.

MJ: Introducing a new ‘Agricultural Attache’ programme appears to be an example of this identity evolution, doesn’t it?

Yes, this is one of the outcomes of this significant trend which we have been working on for a while.

Since last summer we have been collaborating with the RF Ministry of Agriculture and its head, Dmitry Patrushev, and also engaging with our trustees from the agricultural sector and regions. Together we have developed a range of new syllabi for foreign affairs experts, including ‘International Agricultural Markets and Foreign Economic Policy in the Agro-Industrial Complex’. It is a one-year programme (two terms) and, indeed, will prepare ‘agricultural attaches’. It is supported by ‘Rosselkhozbank’ and works in partnership with the two best universities in the country — Timiryazev Agricultural Academy and Kuban State Agrarian University.

As you see, we are breaking into new professional spheres, forming networking clusters in many academic areas with a wide range of higher education institutions. As a result, in as short as two years, we have set up joint Master programmes and MBA courses in sports diplomacy and sports management as well as international commodities and raw materials markets. Part of the modules for these programmes will be provided by The University of Physical Education and The Mining Institute (Moscow State Mining University), respectively. Last autumn we had a second advance enrollment for an MBA ‘Digital Economics’ programme, co-run with Moscow Institute of Institute and Technology. The first enrollment was last February and revealed a huge untapped demand for these kinds of programmes.

MJ: What will the cornerstone of the Strategy be?

The University of International Relations has the broadest international focus of all Russian universities, graduating professionals with a unique set of professional skills, preparing them for the competitive global market and for work in the international political, legal, and information environments. At the same time we are constantly expanding the traditional boundaries of the term ‘international’, in line with our motto, ‘MGIMO goes beyond diplomacy!’

As I said before, preserving unique academic standards in diplomatic training, we will keep entering new professional niches in the international arena, mastering applied subjects in economics, law, IT, state policing and corporate management.

An MGIMO graduate must be well above other graduates of the best Russian universities; he must be equipped with a unique set of skills. What can be more unique than, for example, providing language training in 53 languages? Both federal and institutional academic standards for all Bachelor programmes include two compulsory foreign languages. Master programmes in ‘Diplomacy’ and ‘Oriental Studies’ also include two compulsory foreign languages.

MJ: MGIMO is not only entering new professional spheres but also expanding its presence globally — in educational markets in Russia and beyond.

MGIMO today comprises two campuses within the Moscow conurbation: in Vernadskogo Prospekt and Odintsovo in outer Moscow. There is also a small-scale educational facility in Geneva. There are plans to set up an autonomous department of MGIMO within the Far East Federal University in Vladivostok. Finally, this year we are opening two branches — in Tashkent (Uzbekistan) and Baku (Azerbaijan) — both of which have a lot of potential.

Last year was a milestone for us, our University reached an important threshold, with almost 10,000 students enrolled in core full-time Bachelor and Master programmes.

Opening the branches in Tashkent and Baku are also major benchmarks. In both the cases there was an official request from heads of state. The Baku branch is part of the ‘Action Plan for Developing Key Areas of Russian and Azerbaijan Cooperation until 2024’, signed on 1 September 2018 in the presence of the two presidents.

As for Uzbekistan, the pace of collaboration is nothing short of impressive. At the end of last year we were officially notified that Uzbekistan had granted free use of a whole building in the centre of Tashkent to MGIMO.

The branches will operate within the free market with additional partial state funding to meet national demand, especially in the case with Uzbekistan.

Both the branches have a similar operating model — they are compact, focused mainly on Master programmes, which usually underpin bilateral economic relations. These programmes include ‘International Private, Commercial and Financial Law’, ‘International Finance and Risk Management’, and the business IT programme ‘System Analysis and Socio-Economic Forecasting’.

MJ: Master programmes are also in great demand at the main campus of MGIMO.

Yes, for two consecutive years we have had equal numbers applying for our Bachelor and Master programmes. This is a new trend for the University, which involves a serious upgrade of academic staff requirements — older students are more difficult to work with, they are more demanding and tend to be more direct and open in voicing their complaints.

Today, MGIMO (jointly with Odintsovo branch) awards Master degrees for 73 programmes in 15 academic fields. Almost thirty programmes are officially co-run with our foreign partners, which award two, and sometimes even three, Master degrees at the same time. The dual-degree projects in collaboration with the prestigious Fletcher Law School (USA) and Seoul National University are in the final stage. This year we are also starting several projects in partnership with British universities.

MJ: How is the digitization process going at MGIMO?

In 2018, we upgraded our IT hardware and framework; this year we will be focusing primarily on digitizing the course delivery process. The tasks are wide-ranging — from introducing distance-learning courses to integrating and adapting our existing computer facilities to traditional course content in economics, management and social politics.

Another direction in development is the Odintsovo campus which now runs programmes in «IT in Business» both for Bachelor and Master degrees. Besides, our vocational training facility, MGIMO College, successfully runs the «Applied Information Science» module. Incidentally, a team of students on this programme will be representing the College in the ‘WorldSkills Russia’ section of the ‘Young Professionals’ championship, showcasing their key digital skills: web-design and development; network and system administration; and business software solutions.

Another segment we pin much hope on is a Master programme in ‘Artificial Intelligence’, created in conjunction with two business partners — ADV Group, represented by one of our trustees Dmitry Korobkov, and Microsoft. Microsoft provided all the necessary software solutions to our Master programme unit and a team of training instructors. These purely digital programmes are run in parallel with innovative programmes at the ‘International Institute of Energy Policy’ (Faculty of MGIMO) in economics and innovation management.

It is important to mention that digitization and IT-based subjects trigger a change in teaching approaches too; for the first time in the Bachelor and Master programmes in ‘IT in Business’, we are introducing a project-based approach to graduate final assessment.

MJ: This year the university is celebrating its 75th Anniversary.

A jubilee year is a unique opportunity to promote and secure a new niche for our university, especially in the international arena. What is special about this jubilee is that it will take place throughout the whole year, which will make the celebration closer and dearer to everyone within the MGIMO community. The celebrations will be launched in May, when our overseas alumni come to the 5th MGIMO Alumni Forum in Tashkent. In June, the business alumni community will take part in the St. Petersburg World Economic Forum; in October our academic staff and alumni from R&D facilities and think-tanks will meet at the 12th RISA Convention; for art and culture lovers, there will be a music festival in Gorky Park and a traditional art-exhibition; the main sport events will include MGIMO Open Olympic Games as well as MGIMO Football and Golf Cups. These events will culminate in a gala evening in Moscow on 15 October.

There will be a very diverse representation of the MGIMO community involved in the jubilee activity; we are using the «crowd sourcing» model. There has been a call for entries for a personal success, long read competition for alumni, and the winning stories will be published in MGIMO Journal, on social networks, and on the Facebook Alumni Association website.

An important groundbreaking concept to be introduced in the jubilee year will be ‘generational continuity’ or ‘mentoring’. We are planning to start a new initiative — Trustee-led lectures — and integrate them into the curriculum. 1990-2000 alumni who once were active members of student clubs and scientific societies will be invited to return to MGIMO in the jubilee year to share their experience and take part in their former club activities but at a new, modern stage of their life. We would like the 75th Anniversary to leave a long lasting tangible heritage.