The Association of Leading Russian Universities Visits the United States

A delegation of the Association of Leading Russian Universities led by a high-level group of Ministry of Education and Science representatives and by Association co-head, V. A. Koksharov, chancellor of Urals Federal University, visited the United States April 11-16. In the history of the U.S.-Russian relations it was the most impressive representation of Russian academe in a decade – some of the biggest national research universities and a number of key federal universities. The itinerary was designed to enable the Russian group to familiarize themselves with U.S. universities’ best practices in innovation development, research commercialization and technology transfer, to put them in touch with key figures in U.S. education, research and business, to discuss possible lines of cooperation with major foundations and endowments and other institutions providing support to higher education under bilateral cooperation programs. 

The first meeting, on April 11, was devoted to discussing best practices in US university-business partnerships. The U.S. side included Eugene Krentsel, Assistant Vice President, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Partnerships, SUNY Binghamton, Scott M. Blacklin, Washington Representative, Russian Telecom Equipment Company (RTEC), Cynthia Bouthot, Co-Founder, Russia Innovation Collaborative, and W. Kogan, President of Mid-Atlantic US-Russia Business Council. Russian university chancellors, too, shared some of their thoughts and observations; G. S. Diakonov, chancellor of Kazan Technological University, commenting on the role of endowments in universities, said that in so far as business in Russia has no tradition yet to invest in the long-term development of universities, money making cannot be an end in itself and purpose-oriented contacts with business can be effective. A. O. Grudzinsky, vice-chancellor of Nizhni Novgorod University, noted the importance of shaping a business culture in the university at large, and N. R. Toivonen, vice-chancellor of St. Petersburg University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics (ITMO) stressed the importance of the transition from the innovation infrastructure to an innovation ecosystem.

On the same day, April 11, the Russian party visited the University of Maryland, a pilot partner of Nizhni Novgorod State University under the EURECA Program. There they took a close look at the university’s experience in partnering with business, attracting venture capitalists, launching start-ups, and promoting international cooperation, including the attraction of global companies in the fields of engineering, nanotechnologies, energy, materials research, etc.

An extended meeting of two representative delegations, the Association of American Universities and the Association of Leading Russian Universities, was held on April 12. For decades now, the Association of American Universities has been an important organization with a membership of over 60 of the more advanced universities in the United States and Canada. The Association of Leading Russian Universities is relatively young, and it is looking for innovative forms of Russian universities’ networking support. A partnership between the two associations was among the projects supported by the US-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission Education Sub-Group. The leaders of the sub-group, I. G. Protsenko, head of the Department for International Programs Integration at the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, on the Russian side, and A. Romanowski, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Academic Exchanges, on the US side, shared with the participants the two governments’ recent steps in support of universities’ innovation, research commercialization, and tech transfer efforts.

During an earnest dialog, the parties discussed the pros and cons of the existing forms of partnership and potential overlapping interests. A recurring message was, “We must combine our strengths to develop mutually beneficial projects.” University-business partnership was one of the key subjects discussed. Both U.S. and Russian universities presented case studies of successful partnering with a variety of businesses. The meeting resulted in the two associations’ representatives approving possible cooperation mechanisms. There was general agreement that their cooperation was in need of information support, which could include a bilateral web-site and a database to look up programs and lines of cooperation between universities in the two countries.

Joint working groups in topical areas, either thematic or functional, were acknowledged as a timely development. The University of Arizona put forward an interesting approach to cooperation: building upon an existing cooperation program or developing new projects in areas where partner universities are the most advanced. A working organ responsible for pooling information and coordinating the two associations’ efforts was also seen as important. The Arctic University, for example, drawing on its experience of inter-university cooperation under an international Arctic development program, proposed to use a networking approach to the management of the associations’ cooperation, with groups coordinating areas of cooperation hosted by different universities in Russia and the United States. During the meeting, some common fields of cooperation emerged, among them the management of innovation and intellectual property, the relations of higher education with business, climate change, biomedicine and the human genome, information technologies, energy efficiency and green technologies, commercialization of research results and technology transfer. Anna Derevnina, assistant secretary to the Russian minister of education and science, specifying lines of cooperation with business, said that we must keep in mind that business wants to gain access to universities’ retraining resources, is prepared to fund applied research, and is interested in scientific expertise and in establishing effective technology transfer.

Urals Federal University chancellor V. A. Koksharov, one of the leaders of the Association of Leading Russian Universities, and AAU president J. Voughn in summing up the discussion emphasized the importance of arranging for information interchange, pooling resources, setting up consortia and project between two or more universities in the two countries, and developing mobility programs, including through joint groups of students and young scientists. The two Associations can take upon themselves to accredit international programs and to develop internationally recognized criteria and mechanisms for evaluation of graduates. The two Associations can also initiate international scientific and other projects and joint events. The meeting proposed to set up working groups on joint research areas, university–business partnership, university governance, and research commercialization, as well as to form a coordinating committee for this cooperation.

A forum titled “Entrepreneurial University: Enhancing Social and Economic Innovation” held on April 13, 2011, proposed new focuses and concepts for furthering the dialog between the two associations. In particular, I. G. Protsenko, head of the Department for International Programs Integration at the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, stressed the topicality and novelty of the Russian government’s approach to university support: “The idea is this: now that we gave you a fishing rod, you learn to fish.” A U.S. – Russian university cooperation project supported by the bilateral Presidential Commission arose great interest as it demonstrates the cooperation potential of civil society institutes and the community outreach of our respective universities. The government will continue to support the gradual convergence of society, business, and academe. R. Bendis, President of Innovative America, a not-for-profit organization, described the experience of universities and businesses joining hands in bringing research results to U.S. and global markets. A. V. Kortunov, president of the New Eurasia Foundation, keynoted innovative approaches and the importance of new forms of university partnership emerging in the two countries, which rest on the relative strengths of each university. L.Blonder, a State Department Official, and М.Kukla, a program director at the Office of International Science, National Science Foundation, presented a broad spectrum of cooperation opportunities for U.S. and Russian universities, which included both ongoing and new initiatives. Subjects like regional innovation and global opportunities, experiences in combining policies and practice in shaping an innovation ecosystem, and the evaluation of the innovation infrastructure were covered by case studies described by members of leading Russian and American universities such as Kazan Technological University, ITMO, and Georgetown University, as well as by representatives of major organizations supporting science and higher education, e.g., the New York Academy of Sciences or the Open World Foundation.

On April 14-16, the Russian delegation got acquainted with research commercialization and tech transfer in the Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. This unique experience joins together the efforts of some of the largest U.S. universities such as Duke, North Carolina State, North Carolina Central, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the local administrations of the cities of Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Wake, nearly 160 companies and firms, which include, e.g., IBM, GlaxoSmithKline, Sony Ericsson, Microsoft, Bio Resource International, and many others.

Work algorithms and case studies of successful projects to promote research results were presented by the leaders of institutions like North Carolina State University, Centennial Campus, Office of Technology Transfer, Technological Incubator of Innovations and Startups, North Carolina, Center for Engineering and Materials Science, Research Triangle Park, Biotechnology Center, North Carolina, Office of Technological Development, Institute of Advanced Materials, and the departments of chemistry, biomedical engineering, pharmacology, the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.   


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