Under federal wing: Innopolis University gets access to government procurement in circumvention of tenders

According to experts, a new co-founder gave the Tatarstan university such a chance – the Russian Federation

Innopolis University has become “half-governmental”: the Russian Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media became one of the founders on an equal footing in late April. The new co-founder “invested” 97,46% of shares of Innopolis JSC in authorised capital – the operator of the construction of the smart city owning all its buildings and authorised capital of over 4,85bn rubles. As Realnoe Vremya found out, expanding the circle of proprietors will be a weighty bonus to the educational organisation – access to government procurement and public money in circumvention of competitive procedures. More is in our report.

Five years without owner

Innopolis University has got new founders – the university partly became federal property in the person of the Russian Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media that had been the republic’s property on 26 April. The Federal Agency for State Property Management provided the transfer of 47,324,672 shares of Innopolis JSC to Innopolis University NCO, which is 97,46% of the total number of shares of the company. Innopolis JSC is the operator of the construction of the Tatarstan IT town, it owns all its buildings, including the one the university is located in. The company’s authorised capital is over 4,85bn rubles. About 4,000 people live in Innopolis now.

Innopolis University Autonomous Non-Commercial Educational Institution of Higher Education had been an example of public and private partnership for five years since its foundation in December 2012. Innopolis City JSC was its founder whose shares by the moment of the university’s creation were equally divided between the Tatarstan Ministry of Land and Property, Tatarstan Central Depositary and Prominvest MC PLC.

However, on 26 June 2018, Tatarstan Prime Minister Aleksey Pesoshin signed a decree of the Cabinet of Ministers No. 518 On Integration of the Republic of Tatarstan in the person of the Ministry of Informatisation and Communications of the Republic of Tatarstan to the panel of founders of Innopolis University ANO HE. On 30 July, the Cabinet of Ministers’ decision also defined Innopolis University as an institution specialised in training of specialists in high technologies within the flagship project Innopolis – City of High Technologies and Innovations, while the corresponding changes were registered on 31 Julye, and the private firm disappeared from the list of founders.

A year later, the new proprietor and the transfer of Innopolis University under the republican communications ministry’s wing, at first sight, was quite logical and completely complying with the goals set in the Informatisation and Communcations Development Strategy in 2016-2021 by the above-mentioned ministry. However, Realnoe Vremya’s expert, Director of Institute for Education Development at HSE NRU, Professor Irina Abankina pointed out an interesting aspect of this swap:

“Public and private partnership in education is quite legal and allowed. Most importantly, it must be mutually beneficial. But an agreement in such partnership is signed for a certain period, when it expires there might be changes in the composition of founders. This term is usually no less than 10 years. Otherwise, such cooperation doesn’t pay back for private companies. Since the duration of a course at university with one graduation is five years.”

It’s all about staff and founders

As it turned out, if the recent expansion of the circle of Innopolis University founders also had a strategic meaning, now we are talking about a strategy on the Russian scale.

“The changes in the management of Innopolis University are made in accordance with the order of the president of Russia and regulation of the government of the Russian Federation,” Press Secretary of the Ministry Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media Yevgeny Novikov told Realnoe Vremya.

President Putin’s order No. 65 on asset contribution of the Russian Federation to Innopolis University ANO HE appeared in February 2019. According to this document, “for further development of separate innovation centre Innopolis, to provide the activity of Innopolis University Autonomous Non-Commercial Educational Institution of Higher Education, provide, the government of Russia added 97,46% of Innopolis JSC shares to its authorised capital as asset contribution, which is in federal ownership.” And the Russian government’s regulation as of 6 April defined that the Ministry Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media will perform functions and authority of the founder Innopolis University ANO HE on behalf of the Russian Federation.

At the same time, representatives of the Russian Federation in Innopolis University’s supervisory board were appointed – Deputy Chairman of the Russian Government Maksim Akimov, Minister of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media Konstantin Noskov and Deputy Minister of Economic Development Ilya Torosov.

“The Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass joined the number of the ANO founders to have a chance of having a greater influence on the university’s management effectiveness,” Yevgeny Novikov explained. “In the end, we hope its development in order to train highly professional staff for digital economy among other things.

Realnoe Vremya asked Director General of Innopolis JSC Yevgeny Danilov about the company’s plans and prospects regarding the transfer of shares to Innopolis University’s authorised capital. He replied he wasn’t ready to answer such questions:

“At the moment we are working as usual, while future plans depend on the new shareholder. What he decides goes.”

Bonus for participation

“The university’s founder remains the owner of the property, he just gives the university this property for statutory activities,” noted Director of Institute for Education Development at HSE NRU, Professor Irina Abankina. “The communications ministry participates in Innopolis University’s authorised capital because goals in staff training might have changed. Today digitalisation is given pride of place, it’s a general federal policy. And a very serious vector in the policy is linked with digital universities, digitalisation of universities. It’s not only online education but also the use of up-to-date digital management technologies in universities. And the participation of the communications ministry, as I think, is explained by the fact that’s it is the key ministry responsible for digitalisation.”

In Realnoe Vremya’s expert’s opinion, this will enable Innopolis University to provide a certain breakthrough in this area. Irina Abankina gave to understand that, from her point of view, the university certainly benefits from the arrival of the new co-founder:

“Digitalisation is Akimov’s programme, the communications ministry’s programme. And the staff for the digital economy are inside this programme, though they are linked with Education national project.”

The coming of the new founder, Abankina supposes, can provide, firstly, a change in personnel training areas where new, digital technologies will be introduced. Moreover, it’s not only training of IT specialists but also specialists in other areas whose programmes will have courses allowing getting qualifications and skills in this sphere. Secondly, the university can become a participant of the programmes the Russian communications ministry implements.

“Moreover, the scheme of participation in such programmes gets simpler for the university because the founder has the right to give a state task not only in education but also in science and applied development without a competition,” Realnoe Vremya’s interlocutor stressed. “The government task’s mechanism is easier to do that competitive procedures, which are labour-intensive, long and have high dumping risks, moreover, not quality plays the key role when choosing a supplier. The simpler participation on the communications ministry’s programmes will become a certain bonus for the university.”

Thirdly, she supposes that now Innopolis University will be able to help the communications ministry and other its subordinate agencies more to train and retrain staff:

“And not only this ministry. The tasks are very large, while there is no staff. 30,000 specialists only in IT are needed every year.”

Possible reshuffle?

Innopolis University itself is positive about the appearance of the new founder.

“According to the regulation, the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass is among the founders of Innopolis University ANO. And this emphasises again the key role of our university in training of staff and fulfilment of projects for the digital economy,” Director of the university Kirill Semenikhin stated to Realnoe Vremya.

“Together with the updated supervisory council, which will be announced later, we get much more attention from the federal government and correspondingly growing requirements for the quality of our work.”

The Tatarstan Ministry of Informatisation and Communications called the new co-founder a new development level of the university and said that they have completely complied with the regulation of the Russian Government No. 648-r as of 6 April 2019.

The Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass thinks that “the change in the composition of founders and the transfer of shares is one of the development stages of the university proving its creditworthiness at the federal level.” But the university anyway remains one of the most expensive ones in Russia where tuition fees are 1,2m rubles a year.

“The university’s successes are mainly the merit of its officials, this is why a reshuffle at Innopolis University isn’t on the agenda nowadays,” head of the ministry’s press service Anna Yakovleva expressed the position of the administration about personnel policy.

By Inna Serova

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