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‘Be Part of the Elements, but Follow Your Goals’

Anna Tyshetskaya speaks about HSE University in St. Petersburg, academic freedom and professional managers at the university

Photo by Daniil Prokofyev

Anna Tyshetskaya was appointed Director of HSE University in St. Petersburg in October 2021, and before that, the geographical range of her activities stretched from the eastern borders of Russia (Far Eastern Federal University ) to the western (Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University ). In an interview for HSE Life, she spoke about plans for developing the campus.

— Your biography includes Tomsk, Moscow, Vladivostok, Kaliningrad and now St. Petersburg. Is this peripatetic lifestyle serendipity or a deliberate decision? And which city do you consider to be your hometown?

— For every person, the place where they spent their childhood and youth is their hometown. I can name two places like that. The first is a military base about 180 km from Vladivostok, where my father served and where our family lived until 1993, and the second is Tomsk, the city where I spent my youth, where I chose my career path, and where my children were born. Tomsk State University is my alma mater.

Speaking about mobility, it is both an accident and a conscious decision. I worked at Tomsk State University for 11 years. I started studying at the Journalism Department of TSU Faculty of Philology, and graduated from the Faculty of Journalism. This new faculty actively recruited teachers from their own graduates, and I was offered a position. And I immediately realized that I wanted to build my career at the university as both teacher and researcher. I have also kept up my journalistic practice, but I have never considered this path as a separate career option.

Photo by Daniil Prokofyev

Things might have continued along this course if Tomsk State University had not entered the 5-100 Project in 2013.

— Did university life become more intense?  

— It did. After all, this programme is not just about university development. It focused, especially at the start, on the development of people and the search for new leaders in the university environment. At one point, TSU opened up a large number of opportunities to implement projects aimed at the developing the university. This is how I got involved in the professional development programme for administrative staff. I realized that I was interested in management and that administration could become the trajectory of my career development at the university. After all, before the launch of the 5-100 Project, the academic community believed that the only way to build a career was to carry out research. An administrative career was just the status, influence, and "added value" to the reputation of an already renowned scholar. The new ideology of the 5-100 Project was to form a pool of professional managers within universities, to gather people from the academic environment who understood and appreciated the university. And their key competence is to create systemic conditions for the university's constant development.

— So, you decided to get involved in administrative activity…

— Yes, I made that decision. I quit teaching and research. I also made this decision due to greater mobility and the desire to work on interesting and extraordinary tasks. My family supported me: my husband is an engineer, he does shift work in a large oil company, and we decided that he would come to the place where our children  and I reside. Thus, first I accepted an invitation to join the team of the Moscow Polytechnic University, then the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok. And for the last two years, without leaving my work at FEFU, some of my team and I have been working at the I. Kant Baltic Federal University in Kaliningrad.

— Tell us more about the projects that you have implemented at Far Eastern Federal University and I. Kant Baltic Federal University.

— My team is particularly good at implementing data-based educational process management, organising online educational programmes and, in general, creating management systems that allow the launch of new educational products within three months from the initial moment of project discussion.

Today it is impossible to imagine the implementation of personalized learning without digitalization. But digitalization is not about IT, it is about a deep restructuring of all educational organization processes, including the fundamental ones. In FEFU, for example, today there is no concept of the ‘dean's office’ or ‘faculty study office’. 20,000 students are fully administered and serviced via a single window system- a student office similar to the government’s multifunctional centres. The digital core created at I. Kant Baltic Federal University will allow the university to switch to fully personalized education in the near future.

During our work at FEFU and I. Kant BFU, we created and launched about 20 network educational programmes with Russian universities and large businesses, including, for example, one of the first HSE network programmes with a regional university – the FEFU and HSE Bachelor's programme in Economics. In 2022, the first students will graduate from this programme and will receive two degrees: one from FEFU, and another from HSE University.

Photo by Daniil Prokofyev

But the main thing I would like to emphasise is that my team and I have never worked on separate projects. I am sure that education is the key element of the university, capable of creating colossal momentum that drives forward all other processes - science and innovations. Therefore, the goal of transformation is not to create a separate artifact – a degree programme, a digital service, a new faculty - but to create a system that can produce innovative products without the participation of administrators.

— What do you think of St. Petersburg? What connects you to this city?

— Of course, for me St. Petersburg is an iconic city. It’s the city of great Russian writers. not only from the 19th century, but also contemporary ones. When we lived in Kaliningrad, we often spent weekends in St. Petersburg. In general, I have my own strategy formed by my experience of numerous relocations. I never compare a new city with the previous one. And I love all the cities I've lived in. Any move is an exit from my comfort zone. But any move is also the opening of new comfort zones. Therefore, I accept St. Petersburg as it is.

— What are your impressions of HSE University in St. Petersburg? What makes it different from other campuses?

— HSE University in St. Petersburg combines the audacity of the HSE University and the academism of a classical university at the same time. HSE University in St. Petersburg has the soul of St. Petersburg, it naturally blends with the city. From the first minute I felt very comfortable within the campus. Its atmosphere resembles the campus of Tomsk State University, where the essence and spirit is more important than everyday issues. Today, many very impressive professors work at HSE University in St. Petersburg. Of course, this is our key capital. Another point is how we can increase this capital in connection with new emerging tasks and new realities.

— What tasks are we talking about?

— First of all, the government has approved a new HSE University Development Programme until 2030. In this regard, we have launched a significant project at the St. Petersburg campus aimed at forming our own development programme as part of a larger university. Today HSE University in St. Petersburg is focusing on keeping its role of one of the cores of HSE development and on strengthening the role of St. Petersburg as one of the key platforms for the introduction of new products in science and education.

— These are broad strategy points. Can you identify specific areas on which you plan to focus?

— Currently, we are discussing the following aspects of development: firstly, everything concerning creative industries and urbanism. Today, these topics are actively developing at the city level and are supported by the governor's team. A large number of cultural institutions and related businesses need new products and innovations, people and expertise. Many of them are based in St. Petersburg, and the campus has competencies that are in demand by our partners and the city in these areas. 

In addition, we are actively developing topics related to sustainable development. At HSE University in St. Petersburg, unlike other campuses, economics and management have not been divided into two separate schools. Perhaps it’s a controversial decision. However, we see here new opportunities for the development of interdisciplinary topics in these areas. And of course, we’ll focus on research in social and computer sciences.

— What management approaches do you find effective? What changes in the team are you planning?

— The current organizational reform was initiated before my appointment. In fact, I'm just finishing it. Therefore, there will be no drastic changes in the team. However, we plan to move toward with the formation of greater autonomy of deans within the campus. This is likely to lead to some process restructuring. And as for the management approaches that I find effective, I will quote the Nobel Prize laureate Pyotr Kapitsa: 'To lead means not to hinder good people’s work'.

— In your point of view, how should academic freedoms coexist with administrative reforms, where is the line?

— The administrator and the dean are two different visions of the university. The Dean is responsible for the development of certain disciplinary topics within the university, as well as for staff recruitment and content quality. While administrators are responsible for the system as a whole, they set certain rules that, by default, ensure the achievement of necessary quality standards of education and science products. A properly structured management system always helps create the conditions for the development of academic freedom, but not vice versa.

— What is on your personal wish list for the coming year?

— My wish list is very simple. I’d like to spend more time with family and friends, walking with my lovely dogs, and enjoying the sea. As for wishes for myself for the whole of next year — as the sailors say, ‘don’t let the wave hit me’. Last year I went sailing for the first time. This is a completely different experience, because the yacht does not have a motor. The essence of controlling a yacht is to feel the movement of the wave and the wind, to be part of the elements, but to follow your goals.

Author: Ekaterina Drankina, January 10, 2022