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    Summer Schools at Mining University: Belarusian and Armenian Students share their experiences

    Mining University has resumed summer school programmes following the last year’s break caused by the pandemic. Upon completing the studies, some of the participants have already left for home. What is their opinion on the educational programmes, practical training opportunities, and the organisation of the learning process as a whole? Summer schools have been delivered by Saint Petersburg Mining University together with the International Competence Centre for Mining-Engineering Education under the auspices of UNESCO.

    The number of foreigners admitted to state-funded higher education programmes within the RF Government quota will double in the coming years, the Ministry of Education and Science notes. Over 13,000 international students enrolled in Russian universities in the last academic year, compared to this year’s figure of 15,000. In comparison, the 2021/22 quota is equal to 18,000.

    Foreign youth are also interested in short-term programmes. They are available in many universities across Russia, and their length typically ranges between 1 to 4 weeks. Such courses help improve the competency in the chosen area of study and give a chance to plunge into the country’s history and culture, see the city highlights.

    As for St. Petersburg Mining University, in 2018, it received more than 200 applications from four countries, with the number rising to 450 in 2019. That year delegations from 17 countries came to the university. There were no summer schools last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but there was a great deal of interest in them. Students from Australia, Germany, Norway, Estonia, Iraq, and Iran contacted the first higher technical university in Russia to ask whether they could participate online.

    It was decided to reintroduce the international intensive courses this year but in the format of blended learning since many countries are still keeping their borders shut. Over 40 participants from Kazakhstan studied remotely to improve their skills in preparing the mining-engineering documentation and designing the equipment using field-specific software. The majority of the programmes were, however, held on-site. Some 100 undergraduate and postgraduate students – from Armenia, Belarus, and institutions being part of the Nedra University Consortium – arrived in St. Petersburg to take the courses.

    Mikayel Martirosyan, a PhD student at the National Polytechnic University of Armenia, is studying renewable energy and researching the conversion of solar radiation energy to other forms suitable for practical use. He is also working alongside his studies as an engineer of a turbine hall in a nuclear power plant. Amongst the programmes offered by Mining University, he chose the one in digital mining.

    “Armenia is now focusing on mining and energy as drivers of its economic growth. And Mining University is one of the top educational institutions that offer programmes in these fields. The summer school I participated in provided me with a more profound knowledge of digitalisation. Only students in IT are studying it at my university, but technologies are becoming more sophisticated regardless of the field,” says Mikayel.

    The only way to move forward for the mineral, fuel and energy sectors is, as I got convinced here, to introduce modern digital solutions and software applications. This should be on the agenda globally, not just seen as a privilege of certain companies. Therefore we need versatile engineers who understand business processes and how they work. They also need to have skills in programming and digital analytics. We are yet in the very beginning in Armenia, so our specialists end up seeking knowledge and skills elsewhere, outside of the country,” adds  Mikayel.

    According to the PhD researcher, he was deeply impressed by the university’s laboratory facilities and the scientific opportunities provided therein.

    “At Mining University, I got acquainted with technologies which, for now, we don’t have access to at higher educational institutions of Armenia. At the Centre for Digital Technologies, I had a chance to work with the equipment provided by Schneider Electric, one of the world’s largest companies offering energy and digital automation solutions,” explains Mikayel.

    “We also visited a few local companies where we studied how digital technologies affect specific performance indicators. An example would be a visit to the training base of Rosseti, one of the largest operators of energy grids in the world. There we saw with our own eyes the state-of-the-art equipment enabling the ongoing transition to smart grids,” adds Mikayel.

    After the course coming to an end, the postgrad chose a few topics he plans to address in his research. In particular, Mikayel expresses interest in the software-based forecasting of the impact of natural phenomena and climate change on his home country’s energy sector.

    Participants from Russian universities came to St. Petersburg as part of a partnership agreement between the members of the Nedra Consortium. The association of universities is working on creating a shared academic environment enabling effective transfer of knowledge and scientific progress within it. Each university individually selected the most talented undergraduates and postgraduates from amongst its students.

    Adele Shalyapina, a PhD student at the Industrial University of Tyumen, took part in the summer school programme named Oil & Gas Business.

    “Living far from the big cities, working and studying there, is like being confined to a place where nothing happens. All major industrywide forums and conferences are organised in Moscow and St. Petersburg. And aside from the facts that one can read in scientific journals, any new information on up-to-date technologies and recent trends is coming in with much delay,” recalls Adele.

    “This explains why short-term programmes at leading universities and research centres are of such importance to us. By enrolling in them, we get an opportunity to broaden our experience. This is also a great chance to meet the top-level experts in oil & gas who can share their insights on the current global trends and promising areas. It was by no means less exciting to work with cutting-edge equipment, too. We even did some lab work using VR tools,” she adds.

    The summer school participants took advantage of VR technology to run a pumpjack on the simulation model of the Samotlor field. They also used it to switch between the operating modes of wells at the subsea production system of the Kirinsky field.

    “I am an assistant in the Department of Well Drilling at my university. And the knowledge I have gained here will be mainly used in preparing lessons for students and writing a PhD thesis. Hopefully, I’ll be able to combine a job at Lukoil with teaching activities in the future. This will allow me to be engaged both in theoretical and practical work. And I’ll be able to pass on to students the up-to-date information I’ll be getting either at my workplace or whilst participating in various professional conferences,” she summarises.

    Most of the course participants had never visited St. Petersburg or Mining University before. Nadezhda Tyapova, a fourth-year student of the Belarusian National Technical University (BNTU), is more of an exception.

    In early June, she took part in the Topical Issues of Rational Use of Natural Resources, an international conference in which she earned the top spot in one of the nominations. Since the contest was held at the venues of Mining University, she had a chance to get familiar with the university that celebrates its 250th anniversary in 2023.

    Nadezhda’s research was dedicated to upgrading flight conveyors that are specifically tailored for use in mining systems. The win secured her a place in a summer school.

    “There’s an exceptional atmosphere here, as well as the quality of student life, academic environment, top-level infrastructure, loads of partner companies. All in all, this is absolutely fantastic,” says Nadezhda.

    “I participated in the programme called Mining Machinery and Equipment. As part of my studies, I, for example, was able to get hands-on experience with Caterpillar simulators. Moreover, numerous field workshops were organised specially for us. We visited the Zeppelin Russland service centre, the official dealer of CAT products in Russia, and IZ-KARTEX, Russia’s largest manufacturer of electric-powered shovels and drilling rigs. So at first, we learnt how to run machines on a simulator, the next day, we went to see how they work in real-life conditions. And finally, we were shown the process of manufacturing the machines. This was as informative as it could be,” she describes.

    “By the way, we have no practical training at BNTU during the first three years of study at all, so the approach taken by Mining University really amazed us. To my knowledge, BelAZ, a Belarusian manufacturer of large and extra-large dump trucks, has signed an agreement with Mining University on the establishment of the innovative Competence Centre. This means a brand new opportunity for students. Whilst studying, they’ll be able to gain experience in operating mining and quarry machinery produced by the sector’s two most leading companies,” notes Nadezhda.

    After completing summer school programmes, their participants received their assessments and were awarded certificates attesting they had acquired additional competencies. Along with degree certificates, they will help their owners stand out against their competitors in the labour market.