Nizhny Novgorod: Reaching Out Locally and Globally

As the second-oldest HSE campus after Moscow, HSE Nizhny Novgorod has over 2,700 students, over 300 faculty members, and offers 9 BA programmes and 11 MA programmes, as well as several double-degree tracks. In addition to its educational activities and research, the university also serves as a forum for the city’s cultural life and carries out several projects aimed at ensuring the public good. In 2014, Valery Zusman, Doctor of Sciences in Literature of Western Europe, America and Australia, and the then Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at HSE Nizhny Novgorod, became the director of the campus. Professor Zusman talked to The HSE Look about the challenges and successes of global outreach projects at HSE Nizhny Novgorod and its proactive approach.
What makes HSE Nizhny Novgorod special?
I would say that a lot of our interesting projects are the result of balancing the local, interregional and international dimensions of our activities. Concerning the city itself, Nizhny Novgorod has a complex history, and is quite a modern city with its own challenges. It is one of the two cities in the world with such a large presence of old wooden architecture and HSE is actively involved in initiatives to protect this heritage from deterioration and find ways of revitalizing the city’s Old Town.
The multi-campus nature of HSE is a great asset for our interregional involvement, as we can learn from each other, while our shared reputation helps to attract students and partners. At present, over 30% of our undergraduate students come from other regions in Russia and around 7% of our students are international, including exchange students from HSE’s partner universities.
International partnerships and projects are, in a way, a continuation of our inter-regional outreach. There are various challenges in terms of attracting students, but similar benefits in terms of enriching the learning experience, research activities, and our involvement in resolving the practical challenges now faced by today’s society.
Are there any other unique features which help the university stand out in the current academic landscape?
We are fortunate to be home to the Austrian Library at HSE Nizhny Novgorod, as there are only a few of them in other Russian cities – in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Ekaterinburg, out of a total 60 worldwide. The library has a unique collection of over 6,000 books, covering such subjects as cultural and literary studies, history, art and fiction in different languages, but predominantly in German, English and French. We are doing our best to enlarge the collection by procuring quality books on mathematics, computer science, international law and economics.
The library is open to the public, not just to HSE students, and has also become a community-building space for those studying German and discussions on various cultural issues, as well as meetings with writers and artists.
What is the major motivation for international students to come to HSE Nizhny Novgorod?
Obviously, we offer interesting courses and degree programmes, but typically Moscow or St. Petersburg would be the first options that cross the students’ minds. So, we are doing our best to shape Nizhny Novgorod as a potential study destination.
Firstly, there is the appeal of learning what the country is like beyond its two largest metropolises, and the region of Nizhny Novgorod offers many small towns to visit, which is a unique experience, as well as a chance to explore the architecture and culture of the city itself.
Secondly, the natural beauty of the region is another way to appeal to our international visitors in addition to purely academic matters. In Nizhny Novgorod, visitors can take advantage of the difference between the low and high banks of the city and enjoy a view unhindered by tall buildings in the very heart of the city, overlooking the Volga River, and the confluence of Volga and Oka.
Naturally, we do our best to ensure more opportunities for international students to attend our programmes, as well as carry out joint research projects with international scholars. We offer a unique Master’s programme in Global Business, which is taught entirely in English and brings together in one classroom students from HSE, University of Bergamo and Johannes Kepler University Linz. This programme features a jointly coordinated study plan between the three universities, and the first year is completely devoted to students spending one trimester in each country, taking classes and doing internships at local companies, as well as preparing and defending projects as participants on international teams.
Could you tell us more about how the university is involved in the life of the city and the region?
It’s really important for us to be perceived not just as a branch of a Moscow university, but as an intrinsic part of the city. We have been consistently working with schools in the city and the region, including professional development workshops for teachers, as well as in cooperation with other academic institutions. Nizhny Novgorod State Conservatory was the first of our partners, and currently one of our exchange students from Italy is actively involved in its choir programme. There are also quite close ties with other universities - Nizhny Novgorod State University of Architecture and Civil Engineering (NNSUACE), Nizhny Novgorod State Technical University (NNSTU) and with Privolzhsky Research Medical University.
At present, we are engaged in two active projects together with NNSUACE, with the first one focused on environmental protection, while the second is devoted to preserving cultural heritage. As in many cities, Nizhny Novgorod has an outdated waste disposal system, and there’s plenty of room for action. So, our Green HSE student club is helping with clearing lakes of plastic, as well as planting flowers and trees. Furthermore, we are looking for ways to use our proficiency in IT to develop sustainable solutions to the city’s and the region’s environmental issues. Regarding the preservation of cultural heritage, there are six engineering structures in the region which were designed by the Vladimir Shukhov, who is famous for his pioneering works, including hyperboloid towers. There used to be two towers over 125 meters high in the vicinity of the industrial town Dzerzhinsky, but unfortunately one of them was disassembled for scrap metal. Nizhny Novgorod State University of Architecture and Civil Engineering and HSE intervened just in time to spare the second tower a similar fate. Many architects and professors were involved in supporting the preservation of this building, and we are now trying to include the tower on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
You’ve also mentioned cooperation with a medical university. How does that fit with the research profile of the campus?
This seems like an unusual partnership, but in fact, it is quite a natural one, especially if you think of HSE as a whole. The Center for Language and Brain at HSE in Moscow specializes in neurolinguistics, and together with my colleague Natalya Gronskaya, Professor at the School of Applied Linguistics and Foreign Languages, as well as a Deputy Director of the HSE campus in Nizhny Novgorod, they cooperate with neurosurgeons at the Privolzhsky Research Medical University. Our colleagues are mapping speech centres in patients’ brains during so-called awake brain surgery, which vastly increases the chances of retaining one’s speech after such treatment. These advancements have helped not only to save the lives of patients, but also to avoid or mitigate the loss of quality of life after surgery.
I believe that it’s a very important part of our social mission, to use the research and innovations we produce in order to do things which impact people’s lives in a positive way. To my mind, this is the only substantial way to ‘promote’ the campus as a potential partner and destination for research, be it locally or globally, as it helps to attract like-minded people with whom we can work.
Speaking of making an impact, HSE is a very strong analytical think tank. Could you name any examples of policy projects in Nizhny Novgorod that your campus is involved in?
Earlier this year, the newly appointed city administration reached out to us about an urban planning issue, specifically – transportation development. According to the estimates, in 7-10 years, around 80% of buses in Nizhny Novgorod should be driverless. However, this change requires that the city reconfigure its traffic system, improve the quality of roads and so on. In order to justify the potential investment, the city would like to have some quality analysis regarding bus-passenger traffic, peak flows at different locations, etc. This is where we come in: our Laboratory of Algorithms and Technologies for Networks Analysis, headed by Panos Pardalos, Distinguished Professor from the University of Florida, and Valery Kalyagin, Professor and Head of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Informatics, is uniquely equipped to deal with designing such complex algorithms, as they already have had a similar experience with an applied project for a logistics company.

Read more in The HSE Look July 2018 issue