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ITMO University: Our Students Are Six Times World Programming Champions

ITMO University: Our Students Are Six Times World Programming Champions
© ITMO University

ITMO National Research University is a modern higher education institution well known for its cutting-edge IT specialists training. Alvina Kiseleva, Head of International Admission Office tells why international students find the university so appealing.

– How many international students study at the university?

– We have 1,500 foreign students at present and plan to increase their number to 1,700 in 2017-2018. They make up 12.5 percent of the student body. Increasing it to 21.9 percent by 2020 is in our plans. We open many new Master’s programmes in English which increases the inflow of international students.

– Where do the bulk of international students come from?

– We have students from 70 countries, mostly from former Soviet Republics, China and other Asian-Pacific Region countries. We also have many students from Europe (Germany, France, Estonia and Finland) coming on exchange or double degree programmes which we keep well-developed. Sometimes, students come on academic mobility programmes for Bachelor’s degree and then take on Master’s programmes as they like it here so much. As a rule, students from Pakistan, Indonesia, Nigeria and India study with state scholarships.

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– How many quota places did you have this year?

– One hundred and fifty. It’s the international student quota not counting supplementary vocation education and internships. We had teachers from various departments help us carry out tough competitive selection; we counted in the school certificate grade point average choosing candidates carefully.

– Do you conduct online interviews?

– Yes, if necessary. Last year, the applications for Master’s programmes exceeded the number of places, so department staff and programme supervisors conducted interviews. For example, we cannot admit programmers without interviewing them first; we have to know what computer languages they can use, as a certain basic level of knowledge is essential for commencing ITMO Master’s studies.

– Which study directions are popular with foreigners?

– We have a reputation of the university whose students won six world programming championships, so computer technology is the most popular direction of course. We also have many applications for optics, photonics and robotics.

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– What Master’s programmes in English are available?

– We recently launched new programmes in chemistry direction (chemoinformatics and bioengineering). ITMO also has mechatronics, robotics and nanotechnology programmes. The subject matters are quite diverse. These are full English programmes, there are about 30 Master’s programmes overall: Bachelor’s programmes are still in the works.

– What do you do to attract prospective students?

– We participate in large education exhibitions; our staff travels to schools in former Soviet republics and Asia for our university presentations. We post information on different website and hold Open Days with live streaming to secure “virtual” presence of prospective students located in any corner of the world. In addition, we practice individual approach to applicants. We take care of each applicant, arranging their interaction with staffers of various faculties so that they could get more information and choose their specialty.

– Do you have a preparatory department for foreigners?

– Not as a specialized training unit; we have courses that can help prepare for enrolment. For example, we have a Russian language course both for applicants and students lasting several weeks to ten months. We also offer various Russian language and culture schools. ITMO plans to launch a full-fledged preparatory department in the nearest future.

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– Do you have summer schools?

– Update Your Summer at ITMO starts in June. It comprises three blocks: research, Russian language and culture and IT and programming. Each block has three schools; the programmes are in English; application deadline is 13 May. We have very interesting schools on programming and video game development and, of course, photonics. Our tuition fees start from 250 euros. The most expensive programme, summer school on programming, is priced at 450 euros. It lasts a month and includes training, sightseeing tours (a highlight tour of the city and a tour of the Hermitage) and visa support. The tuition does not cover travelling expenses, housing and food; the students have to pay extra for them.

– Is submitting an application sufficient for enrolling in these programmes or, perhaps, certain proficiency tests are required?

– There is a special form on our website to be filled out, it goes to the admissions office for review; if necessary we request additional documents or clear up some points.

– You mentioned double degree programmes. Could you elaborate?

– These are Master’s programmes: students get two diplomas after completing two years of study. Of all our programmes in English, some 80 percent are double-degree programmes. Our partners include University of Rochester, USA, Lappeenranta University of Technology in eastern Finland, University of Amsterdam and two universities in Kazakhstan: L.N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University and Al-Farabi Kazakh National University.
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– Do you arrange academic competitions?

– Yes, we do: we have academic competition ITMO Vkontakte in Russian; it is intended for prospective students from former Soviet republics. It has several stages and provides up to 10 additional points to university entrants. We’re now designing an academic competition for international prospective students in English in IT and mathematics.

– Do you send welcome teams to meet students arriving in the city to study at your university?

– Sometimes our volunteers go to the airport or the railway station to collect the new arrivals, but as a rule, they come on their own; we’ve designed a Student Guide for them. Every quarter of an hour buses run from the Pulkovo airport to Petersburg; once you are in the city finding your way around is quite easy. Railway stations are located in the centre of the city, you can’t possibly get lost there. However, we do provide them with info on English-speaking taxi drivers and city maps. We have an adaptation programme for new arrivals. A student buddy is always on hand to keep in touch with the students, answer their questions and give a hand.

– What can you tell about international students’ living conditions? Where do they live?

– ITMO has two types of halls of residence: blocks (two-room, with a shower room and a lavatory per block accommodating three people) and corridor-style (three-bed rooms with communal facilities on the floor). ITMO has two newly-renovated halls of residence for international students; repairs are being completed in two other buildings. The halls of residence are equipped with house appliances and kitchen utensils.

– Are teaching blocks a long way from the halls of residence?

– It’s a 15 minutes’ walk to the main academic building, others are a bit farther. All the halls of residence are located in central Petersburg, in quiet and greenspace areas next to a metro station. The buildings are guarded; we take security issues seriously.

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– What about university sports?

– We have ITMO University Sports Club "Kron Bars” comprising the football, basketball, track and field and swimming teams. Students can pursue nearly all kinds of sports; a sport ground, gyms and a swimming pool are available.

– Do you prepare cultural program for international students?

– Of course, we arrange Peterhof, Tsarskoye Selo and the Hermitage tours. As a rule, a group of volunteers and students wishing to visit a museum builds up and then they go for cultural experience together. Recently, students went to the Mariinsky Theatre. We also have ITMO International Students Council that arranges various events, contests, exhibitions, and national dishes presentations. International students perform their national songs and dances and set up language study groups. All these initiatives come from students and have our support. We have meetings with students every two or three months to answer their questions and discuss problems. Any student is welcome to come to our office; we’ll talk with them, have some tea and solve all issues; they can contact us anytime.

– What’s your advice to international prospective students wishing to enter ITMO?

– The most important thing is to choose the future specialty, at least the study direction or priority directions. We advise to contact the Admission Office or Faculties directly for details. Online registration opens in February, but prospective students begin to show interest from November, we’re happy to answer their questions; documents can be sent from February. We check them; if the package is not complete, we tell the student what is missing (for example apostille or consular certification).

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– What are ITMO advantages?

– We present ITMO as the First Non-Classical University. It is small, which allows us to be individually focused paying attention to each applicant and student. We have a fascinating training process offering not only lectures and seminars but also other formats. Institute of Design and Urban Studies Faculty students regularly travel to the Kronstadt Dam for field classes. We have an interesting and modern approach to education enabling students to not only gain knowledge in mathematics and physics but also fully immerse in the process and the programme they have selected.

As for computer technologies, training together with well-known ITMO programmers, winners of international contests, gives us an edge. All students are friendly and sociable, easily sharing their knowledge, connecting, communicating and giving advice. Prospective students are aware that they study under the teachers who have trained those champions. There is always a chance that you might become the next champion, which is a powerful motivation. 
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