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The goal of Project 5-100 is to maximize the competitive position of a group of leading Russian universities in the global research and education market.

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Russian Universities Go after World’s Best Scholars to Build Talent Pool

May 31, 2019

Russia’s leading universities are running a large-scale campaign to recruit teaching and research staff worldwide via social media and dedicated job-hunting portals. To become more competitive in the global marketplace and emerge as local and international research powerhouses, universities must infuse a lot of new blood into their faculties, experts warn.

International academic talent is being attracted under such initiatives as the National Project for Science, which seeks to make Russia a top-five country in terms of R&D, and Project 5-100, which is aimed at rendering this country’s higher education institutions more competitive globally.

Since Project 5-100 was launched in 2012, there has been a dramatic increase in the international teaching and research staff count at Russian universities. As a percentage of total staff, it has on average more than quintupled.
This year, universities have taken their talent hunt a step further. For instance, one Project 5-100 participant, ITMO University, has been soliciting applications for as many as 468 positions. The reason behind this move is a desire to get ahead of other universities in the employment marketplace rather than any staff shortage. To make sure that it secures the best talent around, ITMO has deployed several innovative hiring techniques. Thus, it has posted all job openings on a purpose-built Internet site, placed social media ads targeting the faculty and staff of top-tier global universities and pooled all relevant data when launching its annual competition for academic positions.

Evgeniya Fedorovskaya, Deputy Head of the ITMO Recruiting Department, says that, with a fast-changing world calling for new ways of attracting talent, the university has opted for modern digital marketing tools, such as social media, Telegram channels and dedicated online career resources.

At the close of the competition, the various techniques used will be appraised for effectiveness and, if reaching out to teachers and professors via universities’ social media groups is deemed to have paid off, this approach will be used in future recruitment.

As ITMO Rector Vladimir Vasilyev notes, universities worldwide are fiercely vying for superior students, faculty and research staff. As a global player, ITMO is involved in this tug-of-war, and, with competition heating up, it is looking to win over talent from both inside and outside Russia.

Apart from the annual competition for academic positions, ITMO runs a separate program designed specifically to attract outstanding foreign researchers (or Russians working for leading global universities). This initiative, called ITMO University Fellowship & Professorship Program, is supported by Project 5-100. The competition is open for applications all year round at the program’s official website; the applications are reviewed by a Program Committee that consists of ITMO’s leading researchers six times a year and the approved candidates are invited to collaborate with the university. The program offers six tracks, three long-term options, with the contract period of one to three years (Postdoc for young researchers, Fellowship for experienced scientists, and Research Professorship for professors), and three short-term tracks, lasting two weeks to one month (Visiting Lecturer, Global Academics (both are for teachers), and Micro Fellowship (a short-term research appointment). Short-term tracks are a good way to establish initial contact and get a sense of what working for ITMO is like – sort of a test-drive, the university’s press officers say. 

The ITMO administration sees an active staff rotation as a means to promote faculty mobility which has emerged as a major trend in the international education market. For this reason, many of those who have made it through the competition are offered a fixed-term contract, a practice that conforms to Russian labor laws. As their contracts expire, employees can apply for faculty and staff positions alongside other candidates. Sometimes, to prevent an interruption in the learning process, a non-competitive appointment can be made but, otherwise, a competition is almost always mandatory.

Similar HR policies have been put in place at other Russian universities. According to Andrey Latyshev, University of Tyumen (UTMN) Vice-Rector for HR Management, almost 15 years ago Edward Michaels, a director of McKinsey & Company, who had spent decades devising strategies for developing and potentiating teams of talented employees, co-authored a book called “The War for Talent”, then a newly coined term. The best companies have since learnt by experience that, to come on top, they must build a good employer brand and do their best to develop human capital. Russian business, let alone academia, has yet to take this on board.

The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), one of Russia’s leading technological universities, has this year advertised 111 faculty and teaching job openings (it accepts applications for such positions twice a year). MIPT Vice Rector for Economy and Finances Elena Anokhova explains that, as the university is expanding its offer of educational programs, and as its national and international admissions are trending up, it is obliged to look for new energetic, ambitious staff to help it carry out its plans. With an increasing number of overseas undergraduate and graduate students enrolling in its programs, the university needs more professors who have a good command of English in their specialist fields.

MIPT makes a point of engaging students in research, often supervised by eminent scientists, while its teaching staff have an opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research in state-of-the-art laboratory blocks and a shared-use facility that houses unique equipment. Project 5-100 officers stress that each participating university is entitled to use whatever tools and techniques it thinks best suited to attract teaching and research staff, there being no universally approved ‘toolkit’, but recommends harnessing all available resources.

Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University (IKBFU), for one, has been making an ingenious use of them, hiring entire scientific teams rather than individual professors and researchers. In this way, it has renewed about 70% of its research staff.

IKBFU is not the only one of Project 5-100 participants whose recruiting activities have had significant impact on the university’s internationalization. Since joining Project 5-100, National University of Science and Technology MISiS has hired more than 200 staff with experience teaching at Russian and foreign universities. To enhance competence and improve efficiency, it has earlier this year set up a school for teaching excellence, says MISiS First Vice-Rector Sergey Salikhov.