Digital Solutions Marketplace for Education in Russia

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Russian universities have come together to form the Digital Universities Consortium to create IT solutions market for higher education. Togliatti State University initiated the creation of this Consortium, 15 other universities intend to join it, including six industrial partners and one scientific partner – University Big Data Consortium.

The members of the Digital Universities Consortium believe that the lack of an organized market for digital solutions hinders the effective development of the higher education system in Russia as well as the achievement of the required level of competitiveness on the international education market.

Large budgets, allocated for digitalization, lead to the creation of poorly connected process architecture and solutions, which only exacerbate the problem with the transfer of digital innovations developed by leading digital universities.

“It is currently impossible to integrate the digital service that you like into your information infrastructure relatively easily,” says Mikhail Krishtal, the Rector of Togliatti State University.

“Back in the day, there was an exhibition of the national economy achievements. You walk down it, look at it, you want to buy what you liked, but you cannot because it is not sold. At the modern IT solutions “exhibition”, everything is sold but you cannot buy it too as embedding these services in your infrastructure is extremely expensive and time-consuming,” he explains.

“The reason is that there is no internal industry standard that is accepted by all market participants and that it can only be created as the result of grass-roots process.”

The first step in this direction was the Charter on Educational Space Digitalization adopted in the summer of 2019 in Skolkovo Innovation Centre and joined by more than 30 universities. The document was initiated by Togliatti State University, Omsk State Technical University, National Research University of Electronic Technology and Galaktika Corporation.

The document sets out the principles of forming the Russian market of IT solutions for universities with a set of rules that encourage cooperation and ensure its technical capability.

The one-page Charter has become the ideological basis for joint work of universities within the framework of the Digital Universities Consortium, which was created to develop technological standards for the IT infrastructure and services of the digital university.

In addition to Togliatti State University, fifteen other universities have already confirmed their desire to participate in this work.

The first thing all universities of the consortium expect is creating compatible digital products and reducing the cost of integration with external systems.

Alexey Anosov, the Vice-Rector for Digitalization of the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, believes , “University digital technologies always needed to standardize approaches to their implementation, that will increase their efficiency and reduce costs.”

“The standardization of processes and data in universities has become a problem. We spend a lot of effort and money on supporting and developing our individual solutions. We also waste our time doing someone else’s work and entering a lot of information manually into external systems,” says Evgeny Biryukov, the Head of IT Department at Cherepovets State University.

“Recognizing this, each of us continues to live in his individual digital world with its own laws and rules. By participating in the Digital Universities Consortium, we hope not only to develop practice in the application of digital services and solutions for building digital architecture but also to transform the digital space of the entire university in accordance with the general standards being developed.”

The Digital Universities Consortium also includes the University Big Data Consortium which unites 28 universities.

“We decided to join this Consortium because it is a “win-win” situation,” explains Mikhail Myagkov, the Chairman of Big Data Consortium, the Academic Adviser of the Center for Applied Big Data Analysis at Tomsk State University, Professor of Oregon State University (USA).

“The Digital Universities Consortium is all about digitalization, and big data is the foundation of any digitalization process. Our Consortium develops technologies, systems for collecting, analyzing and storing big data that serves as the basis for any tasks related to artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data-based decision-making. And this is a part of any digitalization process.”

Galaktika Corporation, TANDEM Corp, Altarix Ltd. and Business Management Systems Ltd. are the industrial partners of this Consortium. They all have a high level of competence in business analysis, development, implementation and refinement of integrated IT solutions for educational institutions.

The Consortium also includes the MMIS Laboratory (Laboratory of Mathematical modeling and information systems). MMIS Laboratory software for educational process management is used in more than a thousand higher and secondary education organizations in Russia and the CIS.

IPR Books, one of the largest electronic libraries (IPR Media LLC), has also joined the Consortium as an industrial partner. The main advantage of IPR tools is their connectivity with each other in the educational ecosystem, integrability into the most modern digital university environments and the data-driven approach at the heart of all services.

In accordance with the decision of the Consortium participants’ meeting, Togliatti State University will provide the Consortium management system organization and the interaction of its participants.

“Since the Charter was created, there was an obvious need to join forces for a qualitative leap in development. We have advanced our understanding on how to build IT infrastructure technologically,” says Roman Boyur, the Vice-Rector for Digitalization of Togliatti State University.

“We have developed the first versions of university data registers, processes, and services. In addition, a digital maturity matrix was developed, but it should be brought to a full-fledged system for evaluating the digitalization of the universities.”

One of the results of the Consortium’s work should be a set of criteria for an objective assessment of how digital the particular university is. This will allow the university not only to understand the level of digital maturity of its personnel, services, data, processes, and basic IT infrastructure, but also to make informed decisions.

It will also allow to decide where the university should focus the resources and efforts in further development. So far, there is no such set of criteria for the digital maturity matrix. The TPRL matrix can be considered as a counterpart with the checklists and national standards.

The Consortium members agreed to create a unified information model of the university, unified registers of processes, digital services and basic IT services, as well as a set of standards for interaction between university services and software products. Once the standard is ready, there will be the certification of the appropriate solutions and IT infrastructure to meet the standard requirements.

According to Mikhail Krishtal, this function could be assumed by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, if not directly, then through approved certification centers. Further, it is planned to create a marketplace, so that large-scale IT solutions can be integrated with each other and with individual services that can be made by independent developers, including students.

The Consortium formation was completed on November 30. The next step will be the formation of the Governing Board and Monitoring Board. The universities wishing to join the Consortium later will be offered associate membership with subsequent approval at the general meeting.

“This Consortium is not about how to take money from each other, we even refused membership fees. It is about how each member can invest money in the digitalization of their university. When each university invests resources in its own digitalization according to the rules agreed with the other members, we will all get a synergistic effect: we will increase the competitiveness of each Consortium member and the entire Russian university system on the international education market,” says Mikhail Krishtal, the Rector of Togliatti State University.

“We are at the forefront of the global agenda on this issue because the pandemic has shown that these problems have not been solved anywhere else,” he adds.

Vyatka State University, North-Eastern Federal University, Irkutsk National Research Technical University, Kabardino-Balkarian State University, Kostroma State University Kostroma State University, Samara State Agrarian University, Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, Omsk State Technical University, Cherepovets State University, Mari State University, Togliatti State University, K.G. Razumovsky Moscow State University of Technologies and Management, Yugra State University, Pacific National University, Penza State University, and Chuvash State University are the members of the Digital Universities Consortium.