Open Doors Competition for Tuition-Free Master’s Studies in Russia: ITMO to Coordinate Computer & Data Science Track

The organizing committee of the Open Doors international competition has announced the start of the qualification round, which is a portfolio contest, for international prospective Master’s students wanting to study in Russia. 2019 will be the third year that the competition has been hosted. ITMO.NEWS met with Polina Petrusha, Advisor to First Vice Rector, to find out how many winners of last year’s Open Doors enrolled at ITMO, what is needed to pass the portfolio round, and how this year’s competition will differ from the previous ones.

2019 marks the third anniversary of the international competition Open Doors, which gives talented prospective Master’s students from all over the world the opportunity to study at Russia’s leading universities for free. All that is needed for participation is to submit your portfolio on the competition’s website in one or several tracks you want to study at one of Russia’s universities. These include Biology, Computer & Data Science, Mathematics & Artificial intelligence, Business & Management, Politics & International Studies, Psychology, Physics, Linguistics & Modern Languages, Chemistry, Economics, as well as Engineering & Technology. 

For the third year in a row, ITMO University acts as the coordinator of the Computer & Data Science track. The staff of the methodological committee and the track’s judges conduct the evaluation of the participants’ portfolios, as well as develop and check the results of the test tasks of the second round.  

“For us, it’s more of a social action project, we feel a connection to the cause of enabling talented young people from all over the world, regardless of their financial situation, to study Master’s programs at Russia’s leading universities on a tuition-free basis,” says Polina Petrusha, Advisor to First Vice Rector. “The competition is open to citizens of other countries as well as Russian citizens permanently residing abroad, which should be confirmed by information from a Russian consulate. Graduates of Bachelor’s, Specialist and Master’s programs, are eligible to participate as well as those completing these studies in 2020. All rounds of the competition are held online, all you need is a computer, internet access, documents confirming your completed education, and a desire to study in Russia.”

The competition’s winners will be granted tuition-free study at any of Russia’s 500 universities, including the country’s leading universities forming part of Project 5-100. In case a non-Russian-speaking winner chooses a program that is taught in Russian, they will be provided with an opportunity to take part in a foundation program that includes Russian language training. 

The competition’s format 

The competition is carried out in two rounds. In the first one, the judges will evaluate the participants’ portfolios. Traditionally, this is the round with the toughest selection; last year, more than half of the candidates were laid off.

“Many candidates of last year’s competition didn’t seem to take the portfolio submission process seriously, with some even failing to include their official education documents,” continues Polina Petrusha. “This year, with active participation of ITMO University, the organizers introduced necessary additions to the competition’s website: now, all participants will have to provide all necessary information about their education, as well as a motivation letter and English or Russian language certificates, which, I hope, will result in a decrease in the number of excluded participants. These are minimal requirements, but to move through to the second round, you’ll have to submit your other achievements such as conference presentations, SCOPUS-indexed articles, certificates from online courses in your track, everything that shows that a person didn’t just happen upon the competition by chance.”

Polina Petrusha
Polina Petrusha

The second round consists of test tasks which participants will have three hours to solve. Those who score the most points based on the results of the first and second rounds will get the opportunity to enroll in a Russian university of their choice on a tuition-free basis. 

“The tasks depend on the track chosen by a participant,” explains Polina Petrusha. “Demo-versions of this year’s tests have already been published on the official website of the competition. In the case of Computer & Data Science, participants will have to solve various programming tasks. This year, we have made the decision to abandon the academic-contest-level tasks, which demand special skills and training. Nevertheless, the tasks won’t be easy, because the main goal of our competition is to select talents and not just check participants’ knowledge.”

New elements of 2019 Open Doors 

The 2019 Open Doors international competition has seen an expansion in the number of the tracks, with the addition of a new one, Engineering & Technology. According to Polina Petrusha, this is very important for ITMO University as last year, many of the programs logically belonging to the field of Engineering were considered part of the Physics track. 

“This left many participants disoriented and trying to apply for Computer Science though objectively lacking the knowledge to solve this track’s tasks. The introduction of a separate Engineering and Technology track has allowed to solve this problem, and I hope that this will open new opportunities for international prospective students to enroll at ITMO,” notes Polina Petrusha.

Another of the new measures was to leave it to the universities themselves to decide which programs and majors are open for the competition’s winners to enroll in. 

“There were a couple of situations last year where we couldn’t accept a Computer Science track winner into a program on Big Data because this major was considered part of the Mathematics track. Now, though, we have allocated our Master’s programs and majors in such a way that winners will get the broadest choice possible,” says Polina Petrusha.  

The 2019/2020 competition will also see an increase in the number of study quotas covered from the Russian Federation budget, which will allow the organizers to attract even more talented students. 

Previous years’ competitions 

A grand total of 8,600 international prospective students took part in the first Open Doors competition. Last year, this number soared to 22,000. This time, the organizers have set the goal of attracting 40,000 participants. Even from its first days, the competition has seen a big interest from different parts of the world: America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. The Computer Science track has traditionally been among the top-3 tracks in terms of their popularity among participants. 

“Last year, we had a lot of applications from Pakistan and India, the countries with a traditionally high interest in computer sciences,” shares Polina Petrusha. “This is only natural because Russian education in the field of IT is now a fully fledged brand. We’d be very interested to see the winners not only enrolling in ITMO University’s Master’s programs, but also staying with us as part of their PhD studies and participating in various scientific and research projects. For example, one of the first-ever winners of the competition has already joined a research project here. This is a young man from Palestine whose story could easily be made into an adventure novel. Because Palestine doesn’t have its own Russian consulate, he seized the moment when the borders between Palestine and Egypt were open, which isn’t always the case, crossed over to Egypt to get a Russian visa, waiting for a total of three months and practically camping near the Russian consulate there not to miss this opportunity, and then finally was able to come to Russia.”

As highlighted by Polina Petrusha, the previous competitions’ winners tend to show really high results during their studies, with their average grade ranging from 4.7 to 5. This, notes Advisor to First Vice Rector, allows to state that the Open Doors competition is an effective tool for attracting talented international prospective students.

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