The Role of Universities in the Spatial Development of Cities: Digital Twins and Labour Force

The Role of Universities in the Spatial Development of Cities: Digital Twins and Labour Force

The Roscongress Foundation Innovation Space hosted the “Digital Twins: Innovative Technologies in Urban Studies” panel discussion as part of its business programme at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF). The discussion, organized at the initiative of Moscow State University of Geodesy and Cartography Rector Nadezda Kamynina, was dedicated to one of the main trends in the management of urban agglomerations today – namely, the creation of digital twins, including AI-based decision support systems (DSS).

The event was attended by representatives of the federal authorities, universities, and businesses, who engaged in a lively discussion on various topics, including: the creation of digital twins through the collection, storage, processing and analysis of spatial data; the technologies needed for data harmonization and storage; appropriate tools for processing spatiotemporal data streams; DSS; regional development issues; and the role of universities in training personnel to ensure technological sovereignty in urban development. 

Moscow State University of Geodesy and Cartography Rector Nadezda Kamynina:

“We exist in the ideology of the digital economy. All government processes today are digitalized. And urban studies is no exception. The discussion was devoted to digital twins and the role of digitalization in spatial development. And since the basis of spatial development is the society that shapes it, I was truly inspired by the serious conversation about how the digital city attracts young people, how it creates a comfortable ecosystem for them, how the digital capabilities of small cities ensure the safety of the younger generation and prevent the outflow of young people from these cities.”

Deputy Minister of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation Olga Petrova, Director General of the Project Support Fund of the National Technology Initiative Vadim Medvedev, Deputy General Director of Russia – Land of Opportunity autonomous non-profit organization Dmitry Guzhelya, Director of Sociocenter Andrey Keller, Rector of St. Petersburg State University of Economics Igor Maksimtsev, Rector of Don State Technical University Besarion Meskhi, Deputy General Director of AGM Systems Vladimir Brusilo, and First Deputy General Director of the State Unitary Enterprise Vodokanal of St. Petersburg Anastasia Zhukova all took part in the panel discussion.

According to Deputy Minister of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation Olga Petrova, the ubiquity of digitalization means that we cannot ignore the fact that a generation of young people has emerged who have grown up in the digital world. “The digital city is, among other things, a powerful tool for fundamental educational policy, which, when used correctly, allows us to create and strengthen the value framework of the younger generation, as young people start to see things they haven’t seen before, to recognize the opportunities of the urban space that surrounds them, even if this is only expressed in digital technology. This is why they can appreciate what has been created even more, and it is what inspires them to create newer and better things based on the knowledge accumulated in their home cities.” 

Vadim Medvedev pointed out that solutions for the creation of digital twins of cities should be comprehensive and take the economic dimension into account. National Technology Initiative Foundation actively works with universities in this area, supporting research efforts. “This is very important, but it requires a great deal of work on a massive scale, which the government will, of course, launch, given that one of its national projects will be devoted specifically to the digital economy – the data economy,” Vadim Medvedev added.

“The Competence Centres project, which will assess and develop the soft skills of Russian university students, allows us to create digital twins – psychometric portraits of people. With the information obtained, we can create individualized learning pathways for students and help them choose the right career,” said Dmitry Guzhelya, Deputy General Director of Russia – Land of Opportunity autonomous non-profit organization. “These digital twins fit perfectly into the general digitalization paradigm, which makes it possible to predict people’s behaviour and train professionals for carrying out regional and national tasks. In this sense, it is important that the entire system works in a clear and coordinated manner. The Russia – Land of Opportunity presidential platform serves as a venue for communication that promotes interaction between universities, employers, and the authorities.”

Touching on the role and mission of universities, Andrey Keller noted the importance of the Priority 2030 programme, a one-of-a-kind initiative currently being implemented to support the higher education system. A total of 142 universities – mostly regional educational institutions – involved in the project. One of the goals of the programme is to create and develop the necessary conditions for receiving a quality education outside of the big cities. “The most important factor in keeping students in their home territory is a strong university,” Andrey Keller noted. He went on to explain that universities are actively involved in digitalization processes – from culture and medicine to the development of digital models of the transport infrastructure. All this directly affects the development of cities and ensures the connectedness of territories, when transport accessibility allows residents of small towns to enjoy the advantages and benefits of a big city. Without digital technologies, it will be impossible to develop unmanned technologies for the intracity transport infrastructure. By developing these technologies, universities are preparing experts that are sorely needed on today’s labour market.

Igor Maksimtsev expressed confidence that AI and digital technologies are what give Russia the edge moving forward. “We have long since surpassed most countries, and it’s not even close. I know this for sure, and I know that we can continue to move forward despite the sanctions.” 

Vladimir Brusilo noted that businesses are actively involved in the creation of digital twins. However, he did identify a major stumbling block here, namely, that not all cities are ready to use such technologies. “Objectively, of course, there are cities that have been using them for some time now. It only becomes a problem with small towns, where there is a shortage of qualified personnel,” Vladimir Brusilo clarified. “The solution is to have experts, recent graduates of specialized universities – for example, the Moscow State University of Geodesy and Cartography – go to businesses and subsidiary companies in these towns to teach the employees there how to use the new technologies, create new understandings and set new development goals. They are essentially rewriting the technical specifications of municipalities.”

Rector of Don State Technical University Besarion Meskhi congratulated the Moscow State University of Geodesy and Cartography on its 245th anniversary and expressed his confidence that digital twins of cities will help keep young people in developing regions.


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