In 2011, MIT, the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech), and the Skolkovo Foundation engaged in joint activities to launch and develop Skoltech, a private graduate research university in Russia. MIT engaged along six major tracks to assist in Skoltech's development: the five academic areas of students, education, faculty, research, and entrepreneurship and innovation (E&I), as well as a sixth area covering Skoltech administration, facilities, and operations.
This engagement has created the foundations of the new Institute in terms of establishing policies and processes for all aspects of university operations, including faculty hiring and promotions, student recruitment, degree programs and requirements, design principles for the academic courses of instruction, research focus areas and directions, research operations, the handling and management of intellectual property, the major elements of an entrepreneurship ecosystem and interactions with industry, the roles and functions of administrative offices and structures, and much more.
During phase I of this joint effort, which spanned October 2011 through February 2016, the engagement and combined efforts amongst the three parties resulted in the tangible implementation and growth not only of startup and pilot activities, but also of all of the major operations of Skoltech as a new academic institution.
Highlights from this period include:
- Engagement with students and education resulted in recruitment, evaluation, and admission of four successive cohorts of Skoltech students, with more than 100 Skoltech students hosted at MIT for at least one semester, 24 MIT instructors teaching in Skoltech classes in 2014 and 2015, six degree programs at the master's or PhD level, and 33 courses developed at MIT and transferred for use at Skoltech. The inaugural class of about 50 master's students graduated in June 2015.
- A joint faculty hiring effort resulted in over 1,200 applicants, 140 interviews at MIT, and 83 recommended candidates for applicants applying directly. In addition, from an outreach process for senior faculty and Centers for Research, Education, and Innovation (CREIs) director hiring, over 1,000 potential candidates were identified; 250 candidates were evaluated in more detail and 61 priority candidates were recommended.
- Collaborative activity in research engagement produced a strong, high-profile, international competition for large-scale, international, multiparty, collaborative CREIs, resulting in the initial selection of 10 CREIs consistent with Russian Federation priorities and Skoltech principles. Research activity also produced a comprehensive and functional Grants and Contracts Office with the ability to support internal and international collaborative research and submit research proposals to Russian, European, and international granting agencies. Learn more about the CREIs.
- Engagement in E&I is central to Skoltech's mission. Parties teamed up to design an E&I program comprising an educational curriculum, translational research program, core faculty and staff, Knowledge Transfer Office managing intellectual property, and other elements of an innovation ecosystem. A highlight is the Innovation Workshop, a one-month-long, immersive, project-based experience in all aspects of innovation for incoming graduate students.
- Engagement in Skoltech operations resulted in the selection of architectural and laboratory design firms, development of building plans, training for key Skoltech administrative personnel at MIT, and input into Skoltech's administrative strategy and operations, including HR and other Skoltech policies, communications strategy and brand management plans, IT infrastructure, and governance.
MIT actively participated in the development of innovative educational programs for Skoltech based on stakeholder input identifying knowledge, skills, and attributes desired by Russian industry in master's and PhD graduates. Based on this and other input, a set of intended learning outcomes was created as a framework for the development of graduate programs at Skoltech. Programs in biomedicine, energy, IT, product design and manufacturing, and space were designed to optimize the achievement of the intended learning outcomes by Skoltech master's students. MIT then developed a large number of courses for the programs, adapted to Skoltech's eight-week academic terms, and transferred 33 of them to Skoltech through February 2016. In addition, MIT supported and complemented the teaching of courses at Skoltech by providing its own instructional staff when such help was crucially needed for Skoltech's ongoing operations and continued development.
MIT was instrumental in ensuring that the highest-quality and most innovative students were attracted and recruited to Skoltech and then actively engaged to create an exceptional educational experience. MIT developed with Skoltech a recruiting, application, and selection system in which students are invited to Skoltech to interview. The usual metrics of test scores and transcripts are augmented by personal interviews, team-based activities, and project-based problem-solving assessments that help distinguish students capable of thriving in an innovation environment like Skoltech. MIT and Skoltech faculty regularly attended these selection events to assess candidates and assist with student attraction. MIT also hosted a large number of Skoltech students at MIT, where some focused on coursework and others on research opportunities. Hosted students had access to a comprehensive set of curricular elements to ensure they had well-rounded degrees at a time when Skoltech was still in ramp-up mode and not yet able to offer all course subjects needed. At MIT, students had access to course experiences and other unique MIT opportunities. This helped instill in them the sense of innovation and excitement that pervades the MIT campus and which they were able to bring back to Skoltech.
MIT led the design and implementation of multiple streams of activity for faculty hiring, including an application-based procedure for junior and mid-career faculty along with an outreach-based procedure using search firms for senior faculty and CREI directors. MIT faculty comprised the bulk of the membership of the search committees (12 different committees were formed over the span of the collaboration) to review and evaluate candidates. This included search committee chairs. This set of processes led to the identification of well over 100 faculty candidates qualified for hiring. The application-based search process was transferred to Skoltech in 2015 as part of a gradual shift of management and leadership, so that the processes and expertise built up over the previous four years could continue to benefit Skoltech's faculty hiring efforts and take root in Moscow. MIT also hosted newly hired Skoltech faculty on campus for up to one year and created a faculty development program that featured leadership, innovation, education, and research activities to facilitate their transition to becoming Skoltech faculty members. Key elements of this faculty development program were transferred to Skoltech for its use in its own faculty development and mentorship program.
MIT created mechanisms, including a series of targeted expert roundtables, to provide input on the establishment of Skoltech's research agenda and portfolio, and also supported follow-on research strategy reviews in selected areas. The dominant and most important activity was the development and implementation of the CREI selection process, which created an international proposal submission and evaluation system that garnered over 250 applications from several hundred institutions internationally and involved approximately 80 international expert reviewers who participated in the peer-review processes. Two CREI proposal rounds resulted in the initial selection of 10 CREIs across Skoltech's primary focus areas (biomedicine, energy, IT, product design and manufacturing, and space). Furthermore, MIT assisted Skoltech with all aspects of establishing a research administration organization, including working with Skoltech to develop its Grants and Contracts Office; joint development of additional research offices, policies, and procedures for research administration, CREI establishment, and industry engagement; and working with Skoltech and potential CREI partners as a facilitator in pre-negotiation discussions. In the second half of the collaboration, MIT support had a greater focus on operationalizing research and CREIs at Skoltech. Accordingly, MIT worked with Skoltech on the development and implementation of research, staff training, and identification of funding opportunities for Skoltech researchers.
One of the unique features of Skoltech is the culture of E&I that infuses the institution. The original concept for Skoltech focused on creating a place where advances in science, engineering, and technology would be rapidly and efficiently translated into solutions to problems in the world, products in the marketplace, and impact in society and on the economy. One of the key reasons MIT was chosen as the principal international partner was its track record in startup creation and industrial impact. MIT worked with Skoltech to design the E&I program, which consists of an educational curriculum, a translational research program, core faculty and staff, a Knowledge Transfer Office (KTO) managing intellectual property, and other elements of an innovation ecosystem. The new Innovation Workshop course was designed, developed, and piloted by MIT, and then transferred to Skoltech. The course as originally implemented is a one-month long, fully immersive, project-based, introductory experience in all aspects of innovation, presented to all incoming Skoltech graduate students. Its creation for Skoltech and integration into the curriculum helped make Skoltech a unique and distinctively innovative institution from inception. MIT also designed, piloted, and transferred courses that help students foster the ability to find, evaluate, and develop technological ideas into commercially viable products, and train students in the practice of raising institutional money and negotiating with finance professionals. MIT helped design and build Skoltech's KTO based on the policies and practices of its own very successful Technology Licensing Office. Moreover, MIT helped hire and train KTO staff and provided continuing support in the handling of intellectual property cases.
MIT contributed significantly to much of the institutional and operational planning for Skoltech in its early phases. MIT's Campus Planning and Design group was instrumental in working with Skoltech to plan its early and permanent campuses, helping to select and then working closely with architects and laboratory designers to ensure the best possible physical spaces consistent with MIT's standards for research, teaching, and innovation. MIT offices and consultants were instrumental in the planning and setting up of many of Skoltech's corresponding offices and activities, including Information Technology, Resource Development, Human Resources, and Communications. MIT led or assisted search committees and search efforts to hire key initial administrative personnel for Skoltech—including the executive vice president, senior vice president of research and innovation, provost, and chief information officer—and provided guidance to define roles and responsibilities and identify initial members for both the Board of Trustees and the International Advisory Committee. A key element of MIT's operations support was the Administrator Capacity Enhancement Program, whereby Skoltech administrators came to MIT for a hosted visit of up to a few weeks. During their stay, the administrators met with MIT administrators in corresponding and related activities to absorb processes, policies, and working models from MIT and transfer them back to Skoltech. This mechanism also generated lasting relationships through which additional assistance and advice could be solicited over the years.