Andrey Sushentsov on Institute for International Studies Reform

Andrey Sushentsov on Institute for International Studies Reform

18 July 2019

In October 2018 Andrey Sushentsov, Director of the Laboratory of International Trends Analysis, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, became the head of the Institute for International Studies. In his interview for our Portal he told us about the reform of the Institute, its immediate and strategic development goals.

— What does the Institute for International Studies do? What are the new tasks set by the leadership of the University?

The key task of the Institute for International Studies (the IIS) is to prepare the analytical papers requested by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in advance as well as to write memos for other federal executive agencies that substantiate their position. As a rule, the analysis is based on many years of experience in research and diplomatic work of our employees. Very often it is based on field research and in-depth interviews. In the past six months we have been using the Semantic Archive, a big data processing system, and sociological tools. We also started to cooperate more closely with our clients by involving them into relevant swot analyses.

We have changed the operation concept of the ISS in terms of carrying out the scientific research. We aim at making our activities contribute to the official recognition of MGIMO as de facto one of the leading centres of applied expertise as well as academic excellence in traditional for MGIMO research areas. The goals related to the academic development serve as a basis for the IIS Development Road Map for 2019-2023, which was endorsed by the Academic Board and approved by the Rector.

— How are the academic development tasks approached by the IIS?

We proposed the idea of increasing the number of articles that are referred to in the top-rated journals. We are moving towards this goal in three ways.

First, we use competitive selection for our lecturers and reward those who have a considerable number of papers published in Scopus and Web of Science indexed journals. Recently we have invited new highly-qualified experts who won grants previously and who are now publishing papers in Russian and foreign journals to join the IIS. Among them are the leading young Russian economists such as Mikhail Mamonov and Anna Pestova, the MSU graduates, Candidates of Science in Economics, who are now doing their PhDs in the CERGE-EI of Charles University. A prominent Russian political scientist Sergei Markedonov came to us from the Russian State University for the Humanities. Evgenii Minchenko, who is a well-known political analyst in Russia and abroad, will have his own center in the IIS. These are young yet accomplished scholars who got the international recognition.

Second, we kick-started the preparation of applications for external grants. In the past months the IIS scholars made nine applications. Five out them won. We managed to attract external funding for our research worth 37.5 mln roubles. Now our employees are working on grant applications for the Russian Science Foundation and Megagrant of the Russian government.

Third, we pay special attention to international cooperation and publication plans. Now we are working on several issues of the top-rated journals. Sergei Markedonov prepares a special issue on Russia’s policy in the Caucasus in Caucasus Survey, an American journal. I supervise the work on the special issue on small wars in Quaestio Rossica, a Russian journal.

— Tell us, please, about the internal grant competitions in the IIS.

With the help of our Rector, we adopted the practice of the Russian Science Foundation and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research of supporting the publishing authors. Our key task here is to create long-term research programmes at the intersection of different disciplines.

The IIS grant competition usually applies very high standards. The report on the grant should include only papers published in the first and second quartiles of Scopus and Web of Science journals. Compare it the requirements of the biggest and the most difficult grant competition of Megagrant of the Russian government where they require only 25% of the papers to be in the Q1-Q2 journals and this requirement doesn’t apply to the social sciences and arts.

However, MGIMO needs such papers to be promoted in the international rankings as the Q1-Q2 journals provide the most references and strengthen the image of the scholars and the university.

According to Scopus, the MGIMO scholars published 128 articles in the Q1 and Q2 journals between 2016 and 2018 (only 17 out of them were in the Q1 journals). This is not the result we can be proud of. Generally the existing system of performance-based contract efficiently stimulates our professors and lecturers to work and publish more. However, the practice shows that the number of scholars who are published in the Q1-Q2 journal grows too slowly.

To be published in the Q1-Q2 journals you need to put a lot of effort into your work during many months. Such project requires long-term planning, special skills and a lot of international connections. These journals are not so-called «rubbish» ones, they have a very strict reviewing process. That’s why such papers should be rewarded in a special way.

We received thirteen applications during the first IIS competition of joint research projects. Nine of them were endorsed by the Grant Council headed by the Rector. In total in the coming three years the scholars undertook to publish 78 articles in the Q1-Q2 journals with 34 of them being published in the Q1 journals. This is twice as many articles in the Q1 journals as were published by all the researchers from MGIMO in 2016-2018. To compare, there are only 63 employees in the IIS while the total number of the academic staff in MGIMO is more than 1200 people. I believe that the number of papers to be published in the framework of the IIS grants is pretty high. In general it attests to the great potential of researchers in MGIMO providing the ground for further development of this practice.

— What are the conditions for funding the projects?

The projects are funded annually by the order of the Rector based on the assessment of application (and reports) by the Grant Council.

If we calculate the «price» of one paper funded by the IIS grants for the University budget, it will be higher than the one in the current version of the performance-based contract. Is this «overpayment» worth it? I am sure, it is.

It provides incentives for the groups of scholars. Their joint obligation is to publish a package of papers in the top-rate journals. We need to admit that in the existing system of performance-based contracts the scholars are not obliged to do this and that’s why there are only few papers published.

The groups of scholars work according to the three-year research and publication plan. They prepare special issues of foreign journals, plan international conferences and collaborations. In essence, we get long-term research projects with long-lasting effect rather than individual papers. The grant programmes help to create an impetus for the academic work in the University.

— Please, tell us about the winning applications and about the new research programmes.

The grant competition became a true challenge for the groups of scholars in the IIS, prompting them to look for nontypical research perspectives. In the past three years the IIS employees published only six articles in the Q1 and Q2 journals while within the next three years they undertook to publish 78 papers thanks to the competition. Six out of nine scientific projects were suggested by the new research groups. The application by Mikhail Mamonov and Anna Pestova on credit and monetary shocks in international economy is the case in point. The scholars took on the obligation to prepare 10 articles, with nine of them to be published in the Q1 journals. Take into account that it’s much harder to be published in the economic journals than in political ones.

The project by Sergei Markedonov and Andrey Tokarev is devoted to de facto states in Eurasia: the recognised and unrecognised ones. Eight articles are planned to be prepared by the scholars.

The project by Kirill Petrov and Evgenii Minchenko deals with political elites and global trends in the internal policy of states. They will prepare five articles on this topic. Igor Okunev and his young colleagues initiated the research on the space autocorrelation in world politics. Here a lot of field research will be done which will result in four articles.

The application by Ekaterina Arapova tackles Russia’s integration strategies in the context of modern global challenges. The authors intend to prepare eight articles. The renewed Center for European Studies made the biggest application which included 16 planned articles. The group of the authors is headed by the Center’s senior researcher Vladislav Vorotnikov. The application is devoted to the frontiers in the CIS region. Experts from the Center for Caucasus and Regional Security and the Center for Post-Soviet Studies will also participate in this project.

Two applications were prepared by the experienced authors headed by Alexandr Lukin (on the Chinese One Belt One Road initiative - 13 articles) and Andrey Kazantsev (on the conflicts in Central Asia and the South Caucasus - nine articles). Ksenia Borishpolets and Maria Nebolsina prepared an application on strategic competition between the great powers (five articles).

Each of the application mentioned will become the basis for a three-year research programme.

— One of the biggest challenge which impedes the promotion of the University in the International rankings is to get enough references. How do you deal with this issue?

The newly established Department of IIS Academic Development has designed several approaches to this problem. Firstly, we work on how to communicate the results of our research and how to make them known among Russian and foreign scholars.

Secondly, we use new practices while preparing applications for external and internal grants. We encourage authors to choose the journal for the publication in such a way that when others start dealing with the same research area, they would not miss this article and refer to it.

Finally, we participate more actively in the international research projects and develop our international scientific network. Among our achievement here are the works of our scholars in joint monographs such as Routledge Handbook of Russian Foreign Policy, Eurasia on the Edge: Managing Complexity and Threats to Euro-Atlantic Security, which will soon be published in Palgrave.

— What are your plans for the future?

We have completed the first stage - we created practices of intensive academic development in the Institute for International Studies. We created new groups of scholars who initiated new research programmes. In the near future we will get a good impetus for publishing papers.

Our next task is to develop the Institute as an influential think tank in Russia and abroad. This will require working with media and general public, which didn’t characterise the work of the IIS previously. We also aim at intensifying the work on applications for scientific research projects which may be interesting for the business. We have already started it, but we plan to upscale it this year. The newly created Department for Strategic Development will deal with it. We believe that the tasks before us can be accomplished within the terms mentioned in the IIS Development Road Map.

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