Mikhail Balykhin: Education is a foundation for sustainable development of humankind
— What are the university's most prominent achievements that make you feel proud in the year of its 90th anniversary?
It is difficult to tell our achievements; therefore, I will mention only those that have been recognized by third parties and can be considered undeniable. I want to start by saying that we are proud to have the First Food Production University's unofficial status. Our colleagues recognize this title thanks to our current level of development. We feel like the segment leader, and we try to set the trends for other universities promoting food processing and production education.

Our first achievement is that we improved our status this year. Very soon we will have a new name — Moscow University of Biotechnologies. We will keep our historical name — MSUFP (Moscow State University of Food Production), but it will get an addition — MUB (Moscow University of Biotechnologies). We applied to the Ministry of Science and Higher Education with this initiative, and it was supported by the Government, the Federation Council, and the State Duma. I think it gives us the recognition that the university is an academic leader and a very strong research center. This is a really new opportunity for the university to train specialists of a completely new level. We used to train classic specialists like cooks, chefs, etc. But now, we are switching to functional and specialized food and further to food security. Our approach helps us secure the leadership in Russia and globally from the perspectives of sustainable development goals that are actively promoted by the United Nations.

Our second achievement is that we saw ourselves as a university of three missions where a social role accompanies education and research. Our social role is oriented to both inwards and outwards. For example, we are oriented towards Moscow city as currently we are developing a new project that has received support from the Moscow Municipality. The project is being developed at the premises of the university. It will be dedicated to healthy food and technologies that help to produce it. We will give the highest priority to outreach events allocating required space for the museum and expo area. And the social role is also oriented outside of the university since this project will be a part of Moscow's identity. Everyone will get an opportunity to improve personal, cultural and educational levels by participating in master classes, vocational training, and higher education programs. The university also possesses a unique laboratory (there are only three labs of this level in Russia) to deliver quality control of any raw material of organic origin, including pesticide control and forgery detection. On top of this, we have become the first research and education center that will deal with the quality control of water that we consume.

Our third achievement lies in the improvement of our international status. The university made it to the leading world rankings — THE, QS, and Green Metric — in 2019. The Green Metric ranking is a young but very fast developing ranking system that perfectly describes our transformation's nature. Only so-called green universities that work in agrarian and food production technologies, biotechnologies, organic food, and are basically considered healthy lifestyle universities are included in Green Metric. The university has made it to the Top-20 Green Metric world leaders on food security, recycling, waste-free production, smart packing, and some other categories. This is clear evidence that education and research are accompanied by each other at our university.

— What is the university's contribution to the Education Export federal project?
From the first day of our team's work at the university, the international component has been the backbone. We would not be able to appear in the world ranking at all if we would not nurture the international dimension of our operations.

Education export is the top-priority program for the university. We have implemented an international student recruitment system and managed to double the number of our international students. Today, there are around 1,000 international degree students at our university making it around 10% of the overall student population. On top of this, 400 international students annually join our foundation program and get trained to work as interpreters and translators in the food production industry or proceed to their degree studies.

The number of international students from the so-called far abroad representing the countries and regions like China, the Middle East, Egypt, Syria, and many African countries prevails over the number of students from the CIS countries. Honestly, it is not quite accurate to consider the CIS students as international ones because they are very close to us as brothers. Anyway, we have made a giant leap from just 2.5–3% of international students in 2018 and exceeded the recommended share of international students of 6%. However, we are going to continue growing in terms of our international student recruitment.

Besides, we have significantly intensified communications with international universities and research centers. Universities need to develop their volumes of scientific publications to improve positions in world rankings. To achieve this, we have implemented our internal project by adopting the federal 5–100 Project parameters though we have customized them for our scope and capabilities. Using this approach, we have increased the volume of research publications in Scopus and Web of Science systems by ten times! Nowadays, we publish 300– 400 articles in international journals and other sources every year. This is an important part of education export, research development, and technology exchange.

Finally, we are very proud that our university has taken the lead of the Council on Science and Continuing Education of Eurasian People's Assembly. This is a very serious and strong platform that brings together rectors of the leading world universities and allows us to explore opportunities for new ways of academic cooperation. We think that universities' new configurations will allow international students to take vocational training programs at different universities across the world, thus composing their professional portfolio that meets their career aspirations while providing extra language training and giving cultural and historical background, which is important for our Council.
— The university has selected a difficult path of noble service to the goals of sustainable development. Have you managed to embed this approach to routine operations of the university? Do you get support from personnel and students?

The United Nations have approved seventeen goals of sustainable development. If you analyze them, you will see that our university's parameters of operations significantly match them. In this sense, it was not difficult for us to accept them within the framework of the third mission of the university. However, when we first presented this concept to students, they did not understand us. We realized that we have to organize outreach activities for the students to involve them in this initiative. And the activities have already been launched to integrate the goals of sustainable development into the university's everyday life.

We have started to take the elements of sustainable development throughout all projects. Particularly, every department researches organic food, biotechnological approaches, functional and children food. We have rolled out a big infrastructure for entrepreneurs. We support anyone who wants to start a business in any field related to the university's subject area. The university provides them legal and accounting support, allocates premises if required, and brings in business elites. The entrepreneurship efforts resulted in the opening of labs that produce cheese, bread, sausages, and pastry, etc.

Provision of support to entrepreneurs is completely in line with poverty reduction allowing everyone to get a chance to a better life.

We have launched a healthy food café that is currently being scaled up to a shop that will sell products of our laboratories and our partners' products that we test. We will also introduce a social-oriented pricing policy in the shop so that anyone could afford to purchase any product during designated hours. I think this initiative — being an implemented social project — is a solid contribution to the fight against poverty.

Commitment to sustainable development goals allowed the university to transform its Development Program, including systematization of approaches and work methods in a very natural way. We started launching social shops, social, creative arts, and personal development centers. We have become one of the main sub-contractors on the municipal Moscow Longevity project delivering professional training to older citizens on becoming a cook, confectioner, baker, and sommelier, etc.

I want to stress that the transformed University Development Program matches the criteria of a world-class research and education center that aims at making it to the Top-100 universities in the world. It has already helped to realize our mission and positioning on the global market. There are already agrarian, food production, biotechnological universities present on the global scene. But our university identifies itself as a university of sustainable development, a university of a healthy lifestyle, and university of organic approach that comprehensively reflects our essence.

▶ You are one of the top visionaries in Russian education. How do you anticipate the international educational environment in the future?
I see two trends that will impact the educational environment: one good and one bad. I am going to start with the bad one.

Currently, only 40% of the Earth's population has access to good higher education, while there are regions where higher education is not available to the local population at all. So, the bad trend of facilitating higher education availability and delivering it like it is vocational training will roll out using this disproportion. I am absolutely against this approach because education is good, not service. Education is not selecting books and lectures but an instrument of knowledge transfer from master to an apprentice, a student. Even if we switch it completely online and reach the level of 70% educated population, this will not give a synergetic effect because there will be more diploma holders. Still, the quality of their knowledge will be questionable. We will probably not be able to escape this trend as most humanities move online. Technical majors have some chances to rescue, but we also get ready for digital twins and simulators' online developing technology. Still, they do not substitute the joint work of a master with an apprentice using real equipment.

The second trend that I consider to be positive is that education will be more customizable. We could not choose what to study and what we want to be (which is still the case). But in 20–30-year projection, everyone will be able to choose a personal educational track. Every student will be able to get skills and knowledge applicable to his/her future career while studying. Another advantage is that a student will be able to learn how to work in different teams with similar students who can choose and transform their educational tracks. It is important to mention that a frontier between school and university studies will disappear, probably, through the transitional state of a college education. Learning will become a continuous process — a university degree will not mean that studies are over. And at this point, online learning can make sense for an educated person who has already received the good of education to improve or refresh required knowledge.

Currently, only 40% of the Earth's population has access to good higher education, while there are regions where higher education is not available to the local population at all.

In the described future, the inevitable role will get institutes of coaching and mentoring as it will be the stage of knowledge transfer and professional training. And I am proud that Eurasian People's Assembly is an inexhaustible source of top-class professionals who need to take on the role of coaches for young specialists.
Mikhail Balykhin (pictured on the right) is the rector of the Moscow State University of Food Production and Dmitry Nersesyan (pictured on the left) is the director of the Education Export Center.