Innovation-focused university from MIT and Russia continues to grow

A rendering of a section of the Skolkovo Innovation Center (courtesy image)
A rendering of a section of the Skolkovo Innovation Center (courtesy image)

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MIT Russia College

After the first full academic year of the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology near Moscow, the university—a collaboration between MIT and the Russian government—saw nearly half of its 80 students involved in a startup.

“That’s a phenomenal indicator if it holds up,” said Edward Crawley, an MIT engineering professor who serves as president of the Skolkovo university, which is nicknamed Skoltech.

MIT has been responsible for helping to develop the education, research, and entrepreneurship programs at Skoltech, and the university accepted its first students in 2012. Skoltech “has a lot of the DNA of MIT in it,” Crawley said.

Programs focus on biomedicine, energy, and technology; stem cell research, genomics, big data, and computer science are in their purview. The first full academic year completed in June, and the second year began Sept. 1.

On Tuesday, the board of Skoltech met at MIT in Cambridge to to discuss initiatives from the past year and look ahead to the future.

Crawley said Skoltech has grown to have nearly 50 faculty members with the help of MIT, and aims to grow to 200 faculty members by the end of the decade. Meanwhile, Skoltech now has 200 graduate students—80 percent of them from Russia—across three master’s programs and one doctoral program.

Skoltech is currently housed in a temporary space but will be moving into the first phase of its permanent campus in January. The university is planned as the centerpiece of the $2.7 billion Skolkovo Innovation Center, an “innovation city” of sorts that aims to give Russia’s high-tech industry a major boost.

Critics
The growth comes despite concerns from some critics of the Russian government (“MIT is lending legitimacy and a cloud of respectability to an undemocratic regime”) and even from the FBI’s Boston office, which in April issued a warning about the Skolkovo Foundation (the organization that enlisted MIT to help launch Skoltech).

“The foundation may be a means for the Russian government to access our nation’s sensitive or classified research development facilities and dual-use technologies with military and commercial application,” Lucia Ziobro, assistant special agent at the FBI’s Boston’s office, wrote in an op-ed piece for the Boston Business Journal.

Crawley dismissed the concerns. “This is a university like every university in the world. It educates students, generates new ideas,” he said. “That’s their role. Their role is not to be political actors.”

Kyle Alspach has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since 2005 and was one of the original staff writers at BetaBoston.
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