American experience of supporting the administration of universities (Hryhoriy Dmytriv about UASP training program from IREX)

The decision to participate in the competition for UASP training program (University Administration Support Program) from IREX appeared spontaneously in late summer when I accidentally went to their website. I was tempted by formulating the theme and focus group of this year’s program: “Research Management” for vice-rectors for research, deans, deputy deans for research and chairpersons. Telling the truth, I didn’t believe in the success of this venture: only 155 persons from 14 countries have participated in it since 2001 when the UASP program began to function. So, when I received the invitation in early October, I was again convinced that the status of the Deputy Dean for research of the faculty of chemistry of the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv was still of importance because if my Curriculum Vitae was weak, I would not fly to the USA definitely.

The first week of the program (January 30 – February 5) took place in Washington, Columbia District and it was extremely intense: from Monday till Friday from 9.00 till 17.30 lectures and seminars on topics related to the administration of university research (the system of higher education in the USA, the international cooperation in the context of globalization, the search for grants, the issue of intellectual property and more) took place. At the beginning of the training program we shared our vision of research at the modern university. I would like to note that my vision of the future development of our university is the following: each lecturer and scientist carries out his research within state budget themes or international grants or business contracts or projects with local financing. After defending the candidate’s dissertation everybody who wants to go on his research can do it within some of the grants. To achieve it, it is necessary to improve the system of searching grants and change the way of thinking of the university community. It is unknown if my vision will be implemented… The classes were conducted by both lecturers of IREX and the professors of leading U.S. universities who had been invited for this purpose; we discussed the realities of our university life with them in the context of the possible application of their experience. We – it’s 14 participants of the program from Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Moldova, Belarus, South Africa, Nigeria and Uganda (except for me, Ukraine was represented by Tetiana Yaroshenko – the Vice-Rector for research and informatization of the National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”). The most difficult was to tune in constant communication in English – the only outlet was the colleague from Ukraine; as for the usage of Russian in communication with the representatives of post-soviet countries (for them it was the norm for some reason), I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

The days off free from classes became the real holiday as Washington was the city of free museums of the Smithsonian Institution; two of them – the Museum of Natural History and National Air and Space Museum are the most visited museums in the world turning one after another in this rating. I admit that one day wasn’t enough for the National Air and Space Museum, so, I will not tell about it now, but I can say that it is the only place where I could see the turn of 100 or more people who wanted to explore its rich exposition.

But too much good does not happen and on Monday, February 6 we went to the universities of different states for four weeks: somebody who flew to Florida or California was luckier; somebody was less lucky, for example, me who had to go to Nebraska – the middle of the USA with sharply continental climate; it wasn’t very pleasant in February (as I found out later, not each American visited this state where 95 % of the territory was occupied by rancho and farms).

The University of Nebraska in Omaha does not belong to American university “gurus” but there was also something to learn. I underwent my training program at the Department of Research and Creative Activity under supervision of Dr. Scott Sneider – Associate Vice-rector for research and creative activity (I highly appreciate the friendship with this personality as I don’t think that there are a lot of scientists-biologists in the USA who read a very thick book “History of Ukraine” by Orest Subtelnyi; so, it was very comfortable for me to communicate with him – he was well oriented in the situation in which our country was).

I am convinced that the first thing we should implement at our university is MavGrants – a safe electronic system for administration of research grants. Due to this system there are no paper documents regardless of the type of grants at the University of Nebraska in Omaha. This system begins functioning from the start of preparing a request for funding, during administration of a received grant, in the course of its accomplishment and for preparation of a complete set of accounts.

Despite the small size of this university (about 12 thousand students), in 2016 its scientists received funding in the amount of 17 193 254 $ for accomplishment of different types of grants (fundamental research, applied research, STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), trainings, learning (beyond the basic educational process), analysis) from different sources of financing (federal budget, state budget, local government, foundations, industry, non-governmental organizations). A variety of funding can be easily explained by the active information policy of the university in local media and it helps to provide contacts between the territorial community of Omaha and university workers and, as a result, – a significant percentage of funding from the local government. I can also note the lobbying of the university interests in Washington resulted in receiving the state support from the US Ministry of Defense to train veterans of the armed forces.

The specific type of grants is Internal Grants. First of all, they focus on student grants which are of two types: student research grants in which students carry out scientific research under supervision of mentors (leading lecturers) in a wide range of disciplines and student grants for travelling with a variety of goals (conferences, contests, obtaining results in other places). There are also internal grants for lecturers aimed at initiating new ties and cooperation (national and international).

The next thing that can be implemented at our university is the format of the Student scientific conference (Student Research and Creative Activity Fair) in which the students of the University of Nebraska in Omaha of all faculties and all years of training take part. The preparation for their conference lasted for three months. At the Conference held at the scientific library of the university 76 oral and 162 stand reports were presented; they were estimated by the jury who had been instructed on the system of estimating reports (each member of the jury, both university and invited ones, was given a tablet with special software from which the information went to the central computer of the head of the jury). Except for official awards for the best reports, the winner of the “people’s choice” (People’s choice award) was determined. The reports were often supplemented by the demonstrations of test samples.

The influence of alumni associations on the university life in the USA is difficult to overestimate. The best illustration can be the investment in the amount of 13 million $ aimed at building of a new research corps for the department of biomechanics and providing it with the most advanced equipment in 2013. The result was not slow. The historical record grant from National Institute of Health for the UNO (10 million $ 5 years) was received by the scientific group from this department headed by Dr. Sarah Myers in 2015. In addition, the alumni association supports the best lecturers by individual scholarships. Unfortunately, our Alumni association has much to learn from Americans but it also takes the first steps at some faculties! Another example is a new building of the faculty of chemistry of the Iowa State University which is also the result of the Alumni association’s activity, namely Clifford and Catherine Hach who established the company Hach Company after graduating in 1947. And then, in 2007 this company built a new corps for students and scientists. I read this information directly from the memorial table installed in the premises of the faculty of chemistry.

At the Iowa State University one of the distinguished professors is our graduate, my former lecturer Vitaliy Pecherskyi who invited me to speak at the seminar at Ames Laboratory established as an integral part of Manhattan project. Apart from him, our graduates of 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2008 were present at the seminar; some of them were once my students. As I noted at the final seminar in IREX, if there was not such a difficult economic situation in Ukraine, it was quite possible that some part of them would have worked at our department of inorganic chemistry but not at the Iowa State University. On the other hand, the representatives of IREX saw how strong the scientific school of Crystal Chemistry of Intermetallic Compounds of our University was.

As for the last week of the program (March 4-10), all participants were gathered in Washington again where we shared the gained experience and discussed the perspectives of implementing changes at our domestic universities. Such aspects as an attentive attitude to patenting should be marked: first potential inventions for patenting are selected, but only the part is patented after a careful review of expediency; considerable attention is paid to digital means of training, libraries are less like ours; the biggest financial donor of scientific research National Scientific Fund (NSF) pays some attention to international cooperation, but only in one area – funding of foreign trips of American scientists;  a considerable percentage of overhead costs which is different for different universities (at some universities it is up to 90%) is invested in the development of scientific research directly at the universities.

I want to believe that even in our difficult realities the part of the gained experience will be implemented within the UASP program and our University will reach a higher level of research activity.

This publication was made possible by a grant from IREX (the International Research & Exchanges Board) with funds provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.