MIT and Skolkovo Foundation announce collaboration

Joint effort to establish graduate research university in Russia as part of new innovation city of Skolkovo


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Patti Richards
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Today, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Skolkovo Foundation announce the signing of a preliminary agreement to create the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (SIST) in Skolkovo, Russia. MIT and the Skolkovo Foundation are signing the document in St. Petersburg, Russia during the St. Petersburg Economic Forum.

The agreement plans a three-year collaboration between MIT and the Skolkovo Foundation. It is a preliminary statement of shared intention: MIT and Skolkovo Foundation will next prepare a definitive agreement that they anticipate signing in early fall.

Under the proposed collaboration, MIT will assist the Skolkovo Foundation in building SIST as a unique, world-class graduate research university. MIT faculty will assist in defining the structure and organization of SIST and its educational and research programs, with a strong emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship. SIST is envisioned to connect international scientists to their peers in Russia, in an effort to help make SIST a global, collaborative project. The university, which is to be funded by the Russian government with support from the Russian and international business community, is designed to:

  • Integrate education, advanced research, and entrepreneurship, based on academic excellence and innovation
  • Attract outstanding faculty, researchers, students and industrial participants from Russia and around the world to collaborate in Skolkovo
  • Organize education and research around multidisciplinary technological challenges, rather than traditional academic disciplines
  • Couple education, research, and practice in entrepreneurship and innovation with each of several multidisciplinary, multi-university research centers

Today’s announcement comes one year after MIT and the Skolkovo Foundation announced an agreement to evaluate options for collaboration in education and research in Russia. In that time, the two parties have worked together to explore what might be possible.

“MIT is challenged and excited by the opportunity to help create in Russia a new model for graduate education and research in science and technology,” said MIT Provost L. Rafael Reif, who signed today for MIT. “SIST’s educational and research activities are envisioned to offer new avenues for MIT and other research universities outside of Russia to collaborate in discovery and innovation with the world-class scientific and engineering talent of Russia’s universities and research institutes. MIT hopes through SIST to help plant the seeds of an innovation ecosystem in Skolkovo that will benefit the participating institutions—and the rest of the world.”

“We are sincerely happy that the world’s best technological-engineering university is becoming Skolkovo’s partner,” said Victor Vekselberg, President of the Skolkovo Foundation. “We analyzed a number of opportunities before concluding that MIT is particularly well suited to helping us create a joint base of talent, and that it offers us the best opportunities for graduate research and education in line with the requirements of the modern Russian economy. MIT also demonstrated an appreciation of the Russia of the future as well as its willingness to become an equal partner to the Foundation in accomplishing its mission of integrating Russian science and technology into the world economy.”

Mutual benefits, shared vision

SIST is meant to advance the missions of both MIT and the Skolkovo Foundation, a nonprofit organization in Russia charged by Russian President Medvedev with creating a new science and technology city in the Moscow suburb of Skolkovo (see below). The collaboration would expand active relationships that already exist between individual MIT researchers and researchers in Russia’s universities and research institutes. And at an institutional level, the MIT Sloan School of Management is already cooperating with the recently founded Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO.

MIT’s assessment of the opportunity presented by the creation of SIST was conducted by members of the MIT faculty: Duane Boning, Associate Department Head and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; Charles Cooney, Robert T. Haslam Professor of Chemical Engineering; Alexander Klibanov, Novartis Professor of Chemistry and Bioengineering; and Robert Silbey, Class of 1942 Professor of Chemistry.  They worked closely with Provost Rafael Reif, Associate Provost and Vice President for Research Claude Canizares, Dean of Science Marc Kastner and Associate Dean of Engineering Cynthia Barnhart.

These faculty members concluded that the creation of SIST and MIT’s role in that endeavor would strengthen MIT’s global outreach, connect MIT to top-level talent and cutting-edge research and expose MIT faculty, researchers and students to new ideas, collaborations and problems in an important country. Given Russia’s long history of outstanding research and breakthrough achievements in science and engineering and other fields, MIT faculty are particularly excited by the reciprocity of intellectual exchange that the establishment of SIST can engender. They also note that both SIST and the larger Skolkovo initiative offer MIT an “anchor” engagement that can connect MIT faculty, researchers and students not just to a new set of international academic peers, but also to innovative companies, large and small, drawn to this new innovation cluster.

SIST is also meant to foster beneficial international engagement. “For MIT, Russia and members of the international scientific community,” said MIT Professor Duane Boning, “SIST represents an opportunity to educate future leaders in an institution based on international collaboration devoted to solving tough problems. Just as cooperation among diverse scientists and engineers often leads to breakthroughs in the laboratory, long-term and sustained cooperation among the scientific leadership of nations leads to lasting friendships and shared progress.”

Lawrence Bacow, President of Tufts University and former Chancellor of MIT, expressed support for the proposed collaboration. “I believe that the prospect of SIST is compelling,” he said. “An entrepreneurially minded university is a natural fit for a country as scientifically accomplished as Russia, and MIT has a history of coaxing world-changing ideas from the laboratory. I wish the Skolkovo Foundation and MIT a fruitful partnership.”

Mark Kamlet, Provost of Carnegie Mellon University, emphasized the value of SIST’s international focus. “Research universities around the world find great value in building relationships across borders,” he said. “SIST offers a new hub of international scholarship and innovation, so I am very excited by the concept that the Skolkovo Foundation and MIT are developing.”

The structure of SIST
Instead of being organized around traditional academic disciplines, education and research at SIST is to be organized around the following programs:

  • energy science and technology
  • biomedical science and technology
  • information science and technology
  • space science and technology

Nuclear science and technology may be included in the energy program or constitute a separate program.

Master’s and doctoral degree programs will be organized under these programs, with focused degree tracks in specialized research areas within each program.

Research centers under the SIST organizational umbrella will be multidisciplinary and multi-institutional. In each center, faculty, researchers and students from one or more Russian universities will collaborate with faculty, researchers and students from one or more universities outside Russia. As SIST is organized and grows, its faculty, researchers, and students will increasingly contribute to the work of the research centers. MIT will assist in defining the structure of the research centers and lead the research effort in a number of the initial centers. The intention is that SIST itself and other universities, from Russia or elsewhere in the world, will lead the research efforts in other centers once the structure and processes for the centers are established.

A defining component of SIST is envisioned to be its Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI), which will integrate education, research and practice in entrepreneurship and innovation, as applied to the research results of the SIST research centers. MIT will assist in creating the CEI organization and education program.

Next steps
Pending the definitive agreement, MIT and Skolkovo Foundation will consult broadly with their respective communities and interested parties. While implementation of the SIST vision is dependent on the negotiation and signing of the definitive agreement, MIT and the Skolkovo Foundation will soon begin the process of searching for the key academic and administrative leadership for the university.

A history of institution building
The  vision for SIST follows similar endeavors between MIT and governments from around the world. In the late 1950s, MIT helped create the Indian Institute of Technology (Kanpur).  More recently, in 2007, MIT and Abu Dhabi announced the creation of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, a graduate educational and research institute designed to be the centerpiece of a multifaceted, regional development program promoting advanced energy and sustainable technologies. And in 2008 and 2010, MIT and the government of Singapore announced two collaborative endeavors, respectively: the establishment of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology Centre and a formative collaboration between MIT and the new Singapore University of Technology and Design. Beyond engaging in these institution-building endeavors, MIT also maintains important engagements with governments, industries and leading research universities around the world.

About the Skolkovo Foundation
The Skolkovo Foundation is a nonprofit organization in Russia charged by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev with creating a new science and technology city in the Moscow suburb of Skolkovo. This city comprises a university, research institutions, centers of collective usage, business incubator, technology transfer and commercialization office, corporate offices and R&D centers, as well as residential space and social infrastructure. Skolkovo city is governed by a special law, which gives its residents special economic conditions for running their businesses.

About MIT
Founded in 1861, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a co-educational privately endowed research university, is dedicated to advancing knowledge and educating students in science, technology and other areas of scholarship to serve the nation and world. The Institute has more than 1,000 faculty and 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students.


Topics: Collaboration, Education, teaching, academics, Faculty, Global, MIT Administration, Research, Russia, Skolkovo, Provost

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