Within Five Years of the Faculty’s Creation, the HSE Has Become the Leading Russian Institution of Higher Learning in Pure Mathematics
Several experts from the world’s leading universities make up the International Advisory Board at the HSE Faculty of Mathematics. They have inspected various aspects of the Faculty’s activity and summarized their findings in a recent report.
The International Advisory Board at the HSE Faculty of Mathematics was founded in 2011 to provide academic expertise for the Faculty’s development programme. Its responsibilities include evaluation of curriculums, research activity, staff policy, the quality of undergraduate and postgraduate education, as well as the Faculty’s infrastructure. The Board includes six professors: Pierre Deligne(Institute for Advanced Study, USA), Sergey Fomin (University of Michigan, USA), Sergei Lando (HSE, Dean of the Faculty, ex officio), Tetsuji Miwa (Kyoto University, Japan), Andrei Okounkov (Columbia University, USA), and Chairman of the Board Stanislav Smirnov (University of Geneva, Switzerland, and St. Petersburg State University, Russia).
Members of the Board visited the Faculty during the winter of 2013. They met with faculty members, both junior and senior, and with undergraduate as well as postgraduate students. During these meetings, which were conducted in the absence of departmental administration, the students and professors were able to freely express their opinions regarding the current state of affairs in the Department, commenting on its achievements, its goals, and the most pressing needs and problems.
The visiting members of the Board met key members of the departmental leadership team, including the Dean, several Associate Deans, and representatives of the main graduate programs. Several members of the Board also had a meeting with the leadership of the HSE, including the Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov, Academic Supervisor Evgeny Yasin, First Vice-Rector Vadim Radaev, and Vice-Rectors Sergey Roshchin and Maria Yudkevich.
During the visit, several members of the Board gave lectures at the Faculty. These talks attracted large audiences of students and professors.
The International Advisory Board has prepared a report, which summarizes their overall impressions from the visit, provides a general assessment of the current situation within the Faculty, and makes several recommendations for the future.
The Board was impressed by the current state of academic affairs at the Faculty and called the HSE a ‘leading Russian institution of higher learning in pure mathematics’. The Board recognises the Faculty’s undergraduate programme as one of the best ones in the world: ‘It currently attracts the strongest pool of mathematics students in Russia, offering them a challenging and thoughtfully designed curriculum’.
With regard to the Faculty’s research activity, the Board emphasized that both the scientific quality and quantity of the research produced by the members of the faculty is excellent, and the equal of some of the best mathematics departments in Europe. The Faculty is particularly strong in algebraic geometry, representation theory, and mathematical physics. At the same time, there are some research areas which are underrepresented at the Faculty, including applied mathematics, number theory and probability.
The experts evaluated the academic level of undergraduate students as ‘remarkable, on a par with the very best undergraduate programs in mathematics worldwide, such as Ecole Normale Superieure (France), Harvard and MIT (USA), Peking University (China), University of Cambridge (UK), and University of Tokyo (Japan)’, and ‘clearly at the very top among all maths departments in Russia’.
In terms of the Faculty’s graduate programmes, the Board admits that they are ‘still in their infancy, and are yet to achieve comparable status’.
The Board has identified several major problem areas within the Faculty and developed recommendations for their solution.
Speaking about academic personnel, the experts said that, while the process of hiring Assistant and Associate Professors is quite open, Professors are hired through an opaque process that can rely on personal connections. Another problem is the lack of postdoctoral positions.
While there are no issues related to the faculty’s infrastructure quality, the faculty has dramatically outgrown the space it currently occupies: classrooms are frequently filled to capacity, and beyond. Very probably, there will soon be no physical space to accommodate the classes.
In terms of funding, the salary scheme at the Faculty involves large bonuses awarded to those professors who regularly publish in foreign ISI reviewed journals. While this reward system does benefit the Faculty, it may discourage mathematicians from pursuing ambitious long-term projects which could result in gaps in their publication records. This system also undervalues publication in Russian mathematical journals. The Board also recommends attracting more private sponsorship for research and educational pursuits.Download the report
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