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‘Joint PhD It Is One of the Best Ways to Get Research Projects Going’

On October 19th a delegation from the University of Groningen (the Netherlands) visited the Higher School of Economics. The head of the delegation, Prof. Sibrand Poppema, President of the University of Groningen, told us about his university and the purpose of his visit to the HSE.

— Dr. Poppema, what is the purpose of your trip to Russia?

— We are here because tomorrow I am going to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Skolkovo. And the timing of my trip is because Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, is also here in Moscow, so he and Alexander Zhukov, Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, will witness the signing. It is considered a very important contract by both sides. In addition to this, we visited the Lomonosov Moscow State University this morning to sign another MOU.

— What is your agenda at the Higher School of Economics?

— Today I am at the Higher School of Economics because earlier this year I visited Moscow with a delegation of Dutch universities and we visited the Higher School of Economics then. I was very impressed by the dynamics here; I should not say ‘compared to some other universities’, but I have already said that. The HSE appeared to me to be a very modern, very dynamic university, particularly, of course, in economics and social sciences. So I think that it would be a very good partner for us in those areas of research and education. That’s why I returned here today.

I am here with my colleagues, Prof. Henk Kiers, Dean of the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences, and Dr. Frans Rutten, Vice Dean for International Affairs at the Faculty of Economics and Business, who will be dealing with joint master’s and PhD programmes within that faculty. As we speak, they are holding negotiations with the staff and administration of the Higher School of Economics on two topical areas – namely Behavioural and Social Sciences and Economics and Business. Earlier, our HSE colleagues told us about their university and we made a presentation about the University of Groningen.

I believe we have a lot to offer each other and perhaps we shall make a decision to sign in the near future a memorandum of understanding. An MOU is a sort of an umbrella which makes it possible to develop some specified plans.

— The University of Groningen is one of the oldest research universities in Europe, and the Higher School of Economics, as you know, is a rather young research university. Could you share with us the secret of your success?

At the meeting with the delegation from the University of Groningen
At the meeting with the delegation from the University of Groningen
— The University of Groningen was established by the province and the city of Groningen, in 1614, when the north of the Netherlands declared themselves independent from the Spanish and were therefore able to establish their own university. The University of Groningen is very much the university of the people and the region of Groningen. And today when I gave my presentation I emphasized that we are an international research university with strong and vital regional roots. I was talking about some of the focus areas of our university, including  ageing healthily, energy and sustainable society. These are all areas where we get people from different faculties to work together and we have created a very strong interaction between the university and other estblishments in the region (there are three universities of applied sciences that have chosen the same subjects) as well as with regional business. If we look at our work on healthy ageing, the food industry is very actively involved, and there’s a lot of this activity near us because we are an agricultural region. But also businesses connected with health are very involved. So we also try to improve the economics of the region., and I think that is why we get a lot of support from the region. For instance, in recent years there has been a lot of funding for this healthy ageing initiative: we’ve received a total of 100 million Euros from the European Union, our national government and our regional government. But only we got it from the EU and from the national government because our regional government supported us. The same is true for energy and other initiatives. There is a very close relationship  between the regional government, provinces, cities, the university, and then the national government and the EU.

— Your university is active on the international scene. Where do you see the potential areas and forms of cooperation with the HSE?

— I think that the best way of doing it is through joint PhD studies, meaning that a student will do two years of his PhD, for instance, here, at the Higher School of Economics, and two years at the University of Groningen. He will have two supervisors – one here and one in Groningen, one subject, and then defense here and then in Groningen. So it will be a double PhD degree programme. The next step could be a double master’s programme, which is also quite possible: people doing part of their master’s study here and part of the master’s study in the Netherlands. We have many English-language master’s studies, so students can join us and take part very easily.

— And what about joint research projects?

— I think that a joint PhD it is one of the easiest ways to get research projects going. Because when there are two supervisors they need to talk to each other and supervise the students, so they have to meet regularly and discuss progress. And then they can go and apply for, for example, European funding of Russian government funding. So I think the mechanism of doing a joint or double PhD is a very good way of getting joint research projects started.

Maria Pustovoyt, specially for the HSE News Service

Photos by Nikita Benzoruk


Some facts about the University of Groningen:

  • Founded in 1614
  • Over 27,600 students, 5,000 staff
  • Annual turnover € 576 million 
  • Faculties: Arts, Behavioural and Social Sciences, Economics & Business, Law, Mathematics & Natural Sciences, Medical Sciences, Philosophy, Spatial Sciences, Theology & Religious Studies
  • The University of Groningen is tated as one of the top 200 in the world. The University of Groningen is in the top 25 European universities. According to the German Centre for Higher Education Development (CHE), the University of Groningen is a member of the ‘Excellence Group’, consisting of the best universities in Europe.

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