Why did you come to Russia?

Casey Sax: In the USA, I develop cooperation between business and universities in West Virginia, and study how universities should train students so that companies would want to hire them. We came to Moscow to speak at the "Student Employment: Business and University Cooperation" conference. I was really interested to know how business and industry collaborate with universities in Russia. Me and Inta, we've already visited Skoltech, the Polytechnical University, and are planning to go to the Higher School of Economics, as well.

Inta Morris: I work on similar things in Colorado. The organization I work in collaborates with all of the state's universities so as to train students who will comply with the market's demands. We develop and organize various internships, find job opportunities for young specialists, and adopt international practices, all of which allow us to train students specifically as business requires.

ITMO University. Casey Sax and Inta Morris

Are there any criteria which help define whether the student is ready for work?

Casey Sax: Let's say I work with students who are trained in three technical fields, and I know they can find work in three particular cities. My job is to find out which particular skills do their potential employers require. Then, with regard to this information, we try to correct the universities' curricula. The interesting thing is that there are no common skills that all of the graduates musthave to match a company's requirements. And I am talking about skills in general, not just the specific ones — soft skills as well. For example, some companies need staff members who can work in a team, while others want those who can do great presentations in English.

Inta Morris: Getting work experience before getting a diploma is most important. Surely, good education and grades are essential, too, as they reflect one's professional level. Yet, no one can work without experience. What is more, experience can give the necessary soft skills, and these skills are what define a professional. Only a professional knows how communications in his field work, how the work is organized, and the general rules to it. In universities, we train students to meet deadlines and write essays, but that's not what's required in the real world. Graduates have to know how to collaborate with other people, as they will have to work with other people as part of a team, not by themselves like they did at the university. There are many ways to get such experience: not necessary full-time jobs, but internships, as well.

Credit: depositphotos.com

So, how can a student understand which skills to develop so as to become successful?

Casey Sax: I don't think that students have to choose what to focus on. Yet, they must have a complete idea of their career as soon as their university years. This will help them to decide on what's important for them and what’s not.

Inta Morris: In Colorado, when we ask the business community which professionals they want, their managers often tell us: "Your graduates have a degree but they're not prepared to work". At the same time, no company is willing to teach them the necessary soft skills. So the question we are facing is who will teach them?

Do the business-university interaction strategies in the USA adjust to the requirements of international rankings?

Casey Sax: As far as I understand, positions in rankings that have to do with entrepreneurial environment are really important for many Russian universities. This is quite different from the situation in the USA. We pay no mind to whether a student graduated from a high-ranking university — we want him to comply with the market's demands, and find employment easily. Such indicators as the amount of endowment funds and the like which are crucial for international rankings are not so important to us.

Inta Morris: Surely, it all depends on a particular university's strategy. Some aim at attracting international investors and partners; for those, rankings are an important part of their strategy. Yet, this is still not a key factor. What's most important is to give students as many opportunities to interact with business as possible. Universities in Colorado understand that they are going to be successful if their students do well once they get out of the university.

If a student isn't going to work abroad, does he or she need international internships?

Casey Sax: I think it is most important. We live in the time of globalization. For instance, we have a Spanish plant in Charleston, where some of our students and graduates work. They have different culture and criteria, even in what has to do with soft skills, with what they expect of their workforce.

Inta Morris: I launched the "Study Colorado" program which specifically supports the international initiatives of all our colleges and universities. I believe that students have to get to know the international business not only at their home country, but also go abroad, travel.

Does the presence of foreign students contribute to development of practical skills?

Casey Sax: That really depends on the state's policy. For instance, in West Virginia there's a limit to the number of international students who can attend universities, as universities must teach local children in first place. And that's great, as it means that local universities focus on their state's economic welfare by supplying it with competent workforce.

Students at the Marshall University, West Vigninia. Credit: pinimg.com

Inta Morris: In Colorado, we pay more attention to foreign students, but training our local students is still the priority, and we have limitations, as well. There are several projects on attracting foreign students, some were initiated by me. We understand the advantages that a more internationalized environment can give to our students. And obviously, public and private universities have a different approach to it. Public universities aim at teaching USA citizens, whereas private institutions want to be more global and thus worry about their rankings.

Is there anything like the minimal amount of R&D a university has to do in the USA?

Inta Morris: Doing R&D for business is most important for our research establishments. They do it on order of particular companies, as well as for grants by federal foundations. Yet, even in common universities such activities play the defining role in technological transfer, spinning-off companies and startups, well, in everything that moves the market forward.

Though you haven't spent much time in Russia, can you tell whether Russia has much in common with the USA in terms of developing the entrepreneurial environment at universities, or not?

Inta Morris: As I was listening to the Russian experts at the conference, I understood that here, people are focused on the same problems as we are. Surely, the circumstances are different, each country has its own features, yet we both aspire to reach the same goals in what has to do with cooperation of universities and companies.