Faculty of Computer Science: an Impressive Start

The Faculty of Computer Science is only one year old – it was founded March 28, 2014 – but it already has a rich history and ambitious plans. This new 'big faculty’ brings together the departments of applied mathematics and informatics, of software engineering, and Yandex’s department, which were previously part of the Faculty of Business Informatics. The restructured faculty now consists of the School of Software Engineering, the School of Data Analysis and Artificial Intelligence, the School of Big Data and Information Retrieval, and the Department of Technologies for Complex System Modelling.

Ivan Arzhantsev, the dean of the Faculty of Computer Science, spoke to The HSE Look about highlights from the past year, current research focuses, and the faculty’s plans for the future.

Students – a highly competitive enrollment

The Computer Science Faculty offers two undergraduate programs (Software Engineering and Applied Mathematics & Information Science) and three programs for graduate students: Data Science, System and Software Engineering, and Mathematical Methods of Optimization and Stochastics. 

The first enrollment in 2014 was crucial, and the faculty had unprecedentedly good results. The initial enrollment quota of 180 state-funded places was raised because nearly double that number of Science Olympiads winners applied to study in the faculty. A total of 216 students were accepted for state-funded places and they are already showing impressive results in their studies.

Naturally, such an advanced and diverse group of students requires sufficient challenges so that they do not lose momentum.

“We started a pilot group for those who already had introductory programming or mathematical analysis at school,” said Prof. Arzhantsev. “We tested the first-years in late August and offered that they join an advanced group. After screening all those who expressed such a wish, we selected 25 students. The pilot group follows the regular study track with one exception: advanced electives on programming and math are obligatory for them. Teachers are very happy with them, as it is rare to have one group with such a high level and motivation. After the winter exam session I met with the students and offered a chance to quit the pilot group if they found it too hard to keep up with but nobody opted out.”

A team of three first-year students was short-listed for the World Finals of the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest and will compete in the final round this May. Two second-year students have won scholarships to attend the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC).

A shared research environment

“We very much wanted to have a research seminar without a rigid specialization, and that is how our colloquium was initiated.  From my experience in Europe and at German universities in particular, it is a university-wide or faculty-wide seminar,” Prof. Arzhantsev said.  Over 20 seminars have been held since September 2014, and all of them were recorded and uploaded to the faculty’s YouTube channels in Russian and English. These videos have proven to be quite popular.

“Computer science deals with theoretical informatics and certain fields in mathematics, such as computational complexity. But, of course, only about 10-20% of students are interested in science per se, and the majority wants a deeper understanding of how to apply the knowledge they receive rather than look for solutions to theoretical problems,” explained Prof. Arzhantsev. He also discussed the format of the IT Lectorium: faculty-wide lectures, where specialists from IT companies and research labs share know-how and analyze existing projects, and also present to students opportunities for internships.

Because lectures are not the optimal format for all topics, sometimes the faculty organizes smaller-scale, interactive workshops as a part of its Tutoring Centre. Colleagues and students from other universities sometimes participate in these events. The trio of colloquium, IT-Lectorium and Tutoring Centre is augmented by more specialized seminars held by laboratories and departments.

Research topics

The departments that make up the newly created ‘big faculty’ have been working since 2006, and have their own research strengths.

The first research direction is data analysis, machine learning, and big data.The two departments that focus on this are the School of Data Analysis and Artificial Intelligenceand the School of Big Data and Information Retrieval.  The Laboratory of Methods for Big Data Analysis (LAMBDA)wascreated jointly with Yandex. The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) has a project with Yandex’s School of Data Analysis, and they decided to relegate some of their research needs to the Faculty of Computer Science’s laboratory, which will help in analyzing data generated by the Large Hadron Collider.

The second major direction for the Faculty of Computer Science is computer linguistics.In this sphere, the focus is on the analysis of natural languages and on the algorithms of working with symbol sequences. The student research group "Methods for the analysis and visualization of web corpora" is led by tenured Professor Boris Mirkin and supported by HSE’s Academic Fund program.

The Faculty of Computer Science is considering bioinformatics as one of the possible areas for further development. Bioinformatics deals with data from genome research, deciphering symbolic sequences and analyzing big datasets gathered through experiments or observations. An idea for a graduate program in bioinformatics is currently in the works.

Theoretical informaticsis another very important research direction for the HSE’s Faculty of Computer Science. It covers such topics as computational complexity, Kolmogorov complexity, and the analysis of algorithms.

In the sphere of software engineering, the two major directions are software developmentand process mining.The Laboratory of Process-Aware Information Systems (PAIS Lab)is headed by Wil van der Aalst, one of the best computer science specialists in in Europe. For his contributions to research at the HSE, van der Aalst was awarded the status of HSE Honorary Professor

Cooperation: abroad and at home

Different departments within the faculty have their own international partnerships. The School of Software Engineering closely cooperates with the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Led by Prof. Sergey Avdoshin, the school is likely to become the basis for the Vietnamese-Russian Technological University, formed together with Le Quy Don University of Science and Technology (Vietnam). A new agreement with the Vietnamese Engineering and Technology University provides ground for student and staff exchanges as well as joint conferences.  

Despite its recent creation, the faculty already has a strong team and many distinguished scholars who bring their international academic connections to the table. Prof. Boris Mirkin used to work at University College of London (UCL), and with his help the faculty will hold a workshop with UCL this autumn.

The Faculty of Computer Science cooperates on joint projects with other HSE faculties. Students from the Faculty of Mathematics work as teaching assistants in computer science courses. The School of Linguistics is interested in maintaining and further developing the Corpus of Russian language together with one of Computer Science laboratories. The study-research Laboratory of Input-output Analysis headed by Prof. Baranov at the Faculty of Economics has many computer science students. There are also strong contacts with the Department of Psychology, and students have a chance to do internship projects working with the results of neuroscience research.


End of the academic year and the start of a new cycle

The Faculty of Computer Science is working hard to build interest among both Russian and international students in enrolling for Fall 2015 and has high expectations for the new students.

Days of Computer Science were held in early April to celebrate the faculty’s birthday and the achievements of the strongest students, as well as to present the programs to prospective students. The Ilya Segalovich Scholarship, which was founded by Yandex to commemorate its late founder, was awarded to 16 HSE Computer Science students for outstanding academic achievements (10 for undergraduate students, 3 for graduate students, 3 for post-graduate students).

In order to work more closely with international students, five computer science courses are offered to HSE Summer University students in 2015. There will also be a summer school on mobile development for iOS, based on a similar elective course that is very popular among students from HSE and other universities.

One of the ideas for the 2015 enrollment campaign is to attract talented graduates and winners of nation-wide competitions in mathematics and informatics from Latvia, Ukraine and other CIS and Eastern European countries. There is a chance for them to apply for a full-tuition scholarship at HSE through the quota for foreign students funded by the state, and this is a good opportunity both for motivated students and for the university, as it can attract international students with strong backgrounds on favourable conditions.  

Ivan Arzhantsev is a Doctor of Science in Mathematical Logic, Algebra and Number Theory, a member of the HSE Academic Council, and the Dean of the Faculty of Computer Science.  He was born in Kiev and graduated with honors from Moscow State University’s Department of Mechanics and Mathematics. Prof. Arzhantsev has close academic ties with Université Joseph Fourier (Grenoble, France) and Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen (Germany). He has worked with the IT company Yandex on the development of academic programs. 

The full text of the issue can be found in  The HSE LooK 5 (22), May 2015.  If you are not on our regular mailing list yet, please  subscribe  and get fresh issues of our bulletin every month!