How MAI trains leaders for technological excellence: 5 questions for the Rector

5 May 2021

How MAI trains leaders for technological excellence: 5 questions for the Rector
Moscow Aviation Institute is one of the leading high-tech universities in Russia. Educational and scientific projects in the field of integrated design and mathematical modelling, unmanned aerial vehicles, propulsion and power plants, electrification of engineering systems, artificial intelligence, Big Data, internet of things, service of high-tech products, additive technologies and composite materials, as well as robotics, etc. are implemented at the university. Mikhail Pogosyan, rector of MAI, academician of Russian Academy of Sciences, told in his interview for Forbes Education about how the training of engineers of the future is carried out here.

Technologies, as you know, are changing rapidly. How can technical higher education establishments keep up with these changes? Is it realistic to keep curricula up-to-date?

Firstly, to keep up with the changes, you need to be involved in promising real projects. Moreover, a modern university should be able to foresee the future and propose the concept of these changes. We cannot implement the model of catch-up development. Together with industry, we have to shape the image of the future and the areas that will be in demand tomorrow, and train people for new technologies and projects.

Secondly, we are paying a lot of attention to additional professional education programmes, which, without violating the regulatory framework of the higher education system, can be more flexible. These programmes are aimed not only at upgrading the qualifications of those already working in the industry but also at students, allowing us to more flexibly adjust the educational process to the real tasks that future specialists will have to solve tomorrow.

In addition, we are opening a number of new training areas together with our industrial partners. For example, a master's programme in supercomputer modelling of complex technical systems and digital production management. These are the areas that, from our point of view, will be especially in demand by high-tech industries in the near future.

I have to say that many of our educational programmes are not just focused on the aerospace industry. For example, we work closely with leading IT companies and the United Shipbuilding Corporation on staff training. In addition, MAI is involved in training personnel for joint Russian-Chinese projects, such as the CR929 long-range wide-body aircraft, and other international projects.

Generally speaking, as someone who is not a typical member of the university community and who has spent most of his career in industry, I am a clear advocate of the integration of science and education. I believe that it is impossible to train people for future technologies without their participation in real R&D projects. And such integration is one of the strengths of the Moscow Aviation Institute.

How are students involved in these projects?

Students are directly involved in them. The educational process at MAI is practice-oriented. Our students take part both in the research work that is carried out within the university and in the workplaces at the enterprises where they plan to start working after graduation. I believe this is a very important mechanism. In addition, diploma projects and master's theses of students, as well as postgraduate theses, are aimed at solving specific tasks within the framework of these projects. Middle- and senior-year students also undergo internships and practical training at the MAI competence centres and high-tech enterprises.

There is often a debate on the subject of "How long does it take to retrain a student after graduation? Our goal is to reduce this time to zero. The initial stages of adaptation to the tasks that the student will face in the future should take place in parallel with the training. A graduate coming to work should find himself/herself in an environment with which he/she is already very familiar.

What competencies do students need to develop in order to meet the requirements of the market?

Today, these competences are very broad. On the one hand, a student should master not only basic technologies and skills, but also new directions in engineering training: mathematical modelling, additive technologies, composite structures, electrification of engineering systems.

Secondly, of course, students must be able to work with big data and modern information systems.

The third necessary component is soft skills: entrepreneurial thinking, the ability to organise work, the ability to listen and be heard, the ability to structure your work clearly, even if you are dealing with relatively small projects.

And, of course, an equally important requirement is proficiency in English.

If we imagine a high school student who wants to go into a technical field but does not yet have any experience other than school, what would you advise him/her? How should one approach the question of choosing a field of study? What should one pay attention to? How would one know if it is the right or the wrong field of study?

Today, choosing your future life trajectory is quite a complex task, because digital transformation is leading to a very large number of professions changing their face, and some will leave the labour market. Forecasts of industry and technology development are of great importance.

Secondly, I am sure that you cannot just think about the future and not try to do something with your own hands. It is important to understand what you are interested in and what you are not. For example, on the site of the MAI Children's Technology Park "Takeoff Trajectory", children have the opportunity to acquire practical skills in the design of drones, robotics, manufacturing of units using additive technology, programming of complex tasks in parallel with their school studies.

When we opened a school within the university, the MAI Pre-University, two years ago, we thought about which grade to attract children there. In the end, we came to the unequivocal conclusion that we should start as early as possible. For now, we have decided on the eighth grade, because at this age pupils already have a certain vision of their future and some skills in working with modern information systems. Our task is to help them form their image as a future specialist and build a trajectory for professional development.

Can you name some specialties that, in your opinion, will definitely be in demand in 10 years' time?

I would name supercomputer modelling of complex technical systems. The profession will require a very high level of skills, combining engineering education with knowledge of information technology. Digital technology has now reached such a level that almost any process can be modelled. Our forecast is that a large number of such specialists will be required.

In addition, additive technology, composite structures, energy storage, and electrification of engineering systems will definitely be in demand in 10 years' time. Global information-satellite systems based on constellations of small spacecraft are in a world of their own and their market is forecast to grow for many years to come, and the growth rate will only increase. Services via unmanned aircraft or unmanned transport, digital production management, cybersecurity of info-communications... These are just a small fraction of the technologies that will define the shape of the near future. The development of everything I have just listed is being handled by the Moscow Aviation Institute - we are creating unique centres of competence and launching new educational programmes.

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