What are soft skills?

Soft skills are competencies not connected to one specific profession. These are the skills that help students solve various tasks and communicate with others, work in teams, negotiate, speak in front of an audience, think creatively, quickly adapt to changes, and more (you can learn more about soft skills in our previous article). 

These days, soft skills are often referred to as the competencies of the future that will be in-demand regardless of any changes in the economy or technological advances. The importance of developing such skills is also mentioned in university educational standards. However, currently there are no unified textbooks, educational programs, or training methods for these sought-after competencies. 

Purpose of the consortium

Five Russian universities decided to found a consortium that will create a holistic program focused on developing soft skills, as well as how best to measure and evaluate their development. Prior to launching the new organization, each participating university had already introduced major soft skills development methods for their students. 

ITMO was one of the first universities in the country to make soft skills an integral part of its Bachelor’s and Master’s programs. Courses in relevant disciplines, such as Communication and Teamwork Skills, Public Speaking and Presentation Techniques, and Emotional Intelligence, are integrated into the curriculum starting from the first year of Bachelor’s studies. As for Master’s students, they get to acquire more advanced skills – with courses taught in both English and Russian (you can learn more about soft skills training at ITMO here). 

Modules on communication, logic, and argumentation were implemented at the Ural Federal University, while Tomsk State University introduced a core pool of relevant courses for Bachelor’s students. The Institute of Education at HSE conducts research connected to soft skills and the institute’s Center for Psychometrics and Education Evaluation has developed several tools for measuring students’ critical thinking, digital competencies, as well as legal and economic literacy. 

Maria Didkovskaia. Credit: ITMO.NEWS

Maria Didkovskaia. Credit: ITMO.NEWS

Maria Didkovskaia, head of the university’s Internationalization Department and the Soft Skills module, says: 

“ITMO is one of the initiators of the consortium. We’ve been collaborating with our colleagues at the other four universities for a while now, discussing educational products and results. At the Russia – Land of Opportunity event, together we talked about the best practices of integrating soft skills into university curriculum. There, we realized that what we lacked were universal standards and that it’s important to share our insights with other universities, because it will be a win for everyone involved. The consortium is designed as a hub that has already come up with many important elements that will soon come together: HSE does great research, Ural Federal University and Tomsk State University host regular events, and ITMO has introduced soft skills courses into the curriculum. Experts from other universities turn to the consortium to learn from our experience and see where to start. One of ITMO’s values is openness and it truly resonates with our plans for the consortium: we will openly share our experience and create new opportunities for Russian universities and beyond.”

The consortium’s mission

There are five key objectives for the consortium, including organization of joint research and development of new measuring tools and a pool of useful teaching approaches. Moreover, at the consortium lecturers will get professional development opportunities, while students will participate in various workshops and national events, such as the soft skills tournament that piloted in Ural Federal University and Tomsk State University. 

“Our team at the consortium is close-knit, here everyone is treated equally, can speak their mind or propose an idea. For instance, Taras Pascheko from HSE suggested we write a book on soft skills, which is an exciting idea that we’re planning to make happen within a year. At the same time, we are doing research and publishing the results in scientific journals and business media. Moreover, in the coming months each of the participating universities will host its own competitions for finding the best soft skills team and after the May holidays the winners will hopefully be able to safely meet for an interuniversity soft skills battle,” adds Maria Didkovskaia.