Prof. Dr. Krasimir Ivanov, Medical University - Varna :
We Create Persons of the 21st CenturyWe invest in the professional development of our staff, which is an ongoing process for doctors
- Prof. Dr. Krasimir Ivanov, Medical University - Varna has celebrated its 55th Anniversary. Can you outline your achievements at this mature age?
- Medical University - Varna is among the most dynamically developing educational institutions in Bulgaria and holds a firm place in the prestigious international rating agencies. The University has excellent facilities, with a fully developed digital structure, with new academic and clinical bases in Sliven, Shumen, Veliko Tarnovo and Burgas and has partnered with more than 80 universities.
- The lack of prospective students has been a significant issue recently. Do you encounter a similar problem?
- This is not a problem of the higher schools but of the government policy in the field of higher education. 8-10 people apply for one place in the regulated professions at MU-Varna, which is an indirect criterion. Nevertheless, it is the most objective one for the rating of the University. I think that the National Evaluation and Accreditation Agency (NEAA) must assess the capacity of the medical schools objectively and above all very quickly and operatively, and enable them to admit the required number of students in these specialties. The number of doctors and medical specialists is critically low, and we need to take emergency measures. Everybody should realize clearly that the numbers of students we have planned today will obtain their diplomas in six years' time, specialization after another four years, and the inertia cannot be overcome. When you add to that the ageing of the profession and the shortage of more than 1 million doctors in the European Union, which makes young people seek career opportunities in these countries, it becomes evident why we are worried so much, because no matter what decision has been made now, it is already too late and not enough. Тhe government should invest in the medical universities in Bulgaria, and if it does not have the financial resources required, it must eliminate all regulatory barriers to the development of the potential within the actual capacity in compliance with the uncompromising quality of education. Currently, medical universities bring foreign direct investment both to the educational institutions and the economies of the local regions and to the country itself.
- How many students study at the University?
- This year we admitted 1217 first year students at MU-Varna. All places under the state quota and paid tuition were taken, accompanied by great interest and extremely high competition among prospective students. At present more than 5000 students study at the University in 23 Bachelor's and Master's and 56 Doctoral programmes.
Currently about 1 200 international students from 40 countries are trained at Medical University - Varna. Their number has increased several times over the past five years. The interest is growing permanently. This year their number has increased by approximately 300 international students, 245 of whom are studying in the English-Language Programmes of Medicine and Dental Medicine.
- Why do young people choose your University? Do you encourage the involvement of students in research teams at the University?
- Young people choose MU-Varna because of the high quality of training that is commensurate with the European standards. We use modern and high tech methods of training, and we have created conditions and organization for active and fulfilling student life.
We encourage the involvement of young people in research teams, right from the student's bench, and the results are obvious. Students from Medical University - Varna have won awards for their scientific contributions not only in the city and the country, but also at international scientific congresses. The Mayor of Varna awarded two of our students with personal awards for scientific achievements. The renowned European scientific journal The Journal of Laryngology & Otology published the results of research done by the medical students at MU-Varna Georgi Stoyanov and Klementina Moneva, with mentors Prof. Dr. Anton Gorchev - Head of the Department of Anatomy, Histology and Embryology and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nikolay Sapundzhiev from the Department of Neurosurgery and Otorhinolaryngology. Bulgarian and international students at the medical universities throughout the country work on topics and issues in the field of Medicine, Dental Medicine and Public Health at the Black sea Symposium for Young Scientists in Biomedicine (BSYSB), which is organized and hosted by MU-Varna.
- How do you keep up the quality of the academic staff, and how does the change of generations occur in it?
- In order to be provocative and attractive to the faculty, especially to the young staff, the University needs to provide adequate high-tech, modern working environment and development. A very important prerequisite for the generation change in the academic staff are the conditions provided for specialization and continuing training.
Graduates, who during their studies have participated as demonstrators and have been actively involved in research activities and presented the University at international scientific forums, are offered an opportunity for development as Assistant Professors. The prospects for successful fulfillment of young people include not only decent remuneration, in terms of the financial aspect, but also modern environment, high-tech equipment, opportunities for scientific work and career development. As a University, we invest in their professional development, which is an ongoing process for doctors. MU-Varna supports the regular participation of young Assistant Professors at international scientific forums and specializations, and we invite foreign specialists - world leaders in their field as lecturers and demonstrators. The excellent cooperation we have with the University Hospital helps us to create these conditions.
- What innovations in the training process have you introduced or do you intend to introduce?
- We continue to invest in the renovation of the training facilities. You can see the changes in the educational infrastructure and in our clinical bases. There are funds allocated for the new Faculty of Pharmacy, its equipment and the new opportunities for innovation and science it offers.
The innovations in the training process are related to the opening of the Centre for Clinical Stimulation and the Laparoscopic Surgery Simulator. Currently we are expanding the opportunities of the electronic platform in terms of improving distant and e-learning. The platform providing electronic administrative services to students Web Student is underway as well.
- How are the Affiliates of the University in Sliven, Shumen, Veliko Tarnovo developing?
- The first graduates of the specialties of Nursing and Midwifery at the Affiliate of MU-Varna in Sliven will complete their education in 2017. At present second year students in these specialties are trained at the Affiliates in Shumen and Veliko Tarnovo. The interest in the Affiliates in these three cities is great, and all the places under the state quota are occupied under the conditions of high competition.
- Do you have the ambition to introduce new Affiliates or external training abroad?
- Neither of the Affiliates has been opened as a result of an ambition on the part of the Rector or the University as an institution. It was a consequence of the request and the recognized demand of the society, the medical practitioners, regional and municipal authorities, supported by the Council of Ministers and approved by a decision the National Assembly.
We do not intend to introduce external training. I think this is inadequate and lacking prospects whatsoever. Moreover, we believe that the introduction of external training to Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the UK, etc. is absurd and devoid of logic.
- What Bulgarian and international projects and with what kind partners is the University involved in?
Our University has set as a priority the partnership cooperation – we work with more than 200 Bulgarian and 90 international partners from all the continents. We select and approve our partners professionally – in compliance with a well-developed procedure and a decision of the Academic Council. Several years ago we introduced a small innovation in the negotiations - we prepare an Annual Work Programme, and we know exactly what activities, what kind of resources and topics we will have to prepare together with our partners. And all this is consistent with the traditions and scientific priorities of MU-Varna. We also have a specially developed procedure for working on projects. Moreover, in a project under the European Commission our procedure was recommended as a model for the rest of the European partners. So thus we compare ourselves with our partners, and the conclusion is that we keep up a very good European and international level in our work. The outcomes of the projects have proved that. In 2015-2016 we won all the calls for projects under the Human Resources Programme - 11 altogether. They helped us to significantly improve the educational part of our work - curricula, plans, training and qualification of lecturers and employees, language courses, training projects, quality, pedagogy, IT, etc.
The projects we are working on at the moment are: Construction and Development of a Center of Excellence, Support to the development of PhD students, post-doctoral students, post-graduate students and young scientists, Student Scholarships and Student Internships under Operational Programme Science and Education for Smart Growth. We are also working on several projects under the Scientific Research Fund, Horizon 2020, the Health Programme under the European Commission, and the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area.
- Are you going to take part in the establishment and operation of the future 12 Centers of Excellence and Competence?
- Yes, we are preparing the concept for a Center of Excellence in the field of Personalised Medicine and Cellular Therapy. We have invited our traditional international partners to participate in this project, and we have found new Bulgarian and international research teams which would like to get involved. We are working actively, the whole University is fully committed to this, and everybody is absolutely motivated.
The reports show that we have the required number of scientific papers and citations, which is high evaluation of the level of performance and the scientific potential of MU - Varna.
- It is expected the funds for science for the universities to be allocated under a new formula from the beginning of 2017. How will that affect the University? What, according to you, has to be changed in the funding of science in our country in general?
- I support the funding of science to take place under the principle of programme, not budget financing. In this regard the University Ranking System and the criteria by which the various scientific organizations will be compared must be re-developed very precisely. For that purpose we should use leading good practices in the empirical comparison of the different research teams.
- The rules for funding the training process with an emphasis on quality are new as well.
- The medical specialties are regulated professions. The state applies for them much higher and specific training requirements, curriculum and workload. This requires the universities to invest very large resources, which is expressed in a large number of highly qualified, habilitated lecturers, working in small groups, expensive equipment, supplies and special training facilities. The reduction of these funds would cause deterioration in the quality of education, which is absolutely unacceptable for the medical standards and specialties. So are the European educational directives, criteria and requirements. Medical universities in Bulgaria do not compete with each other, they compete with the European universities.
The educational product we offer is of very high quality, and that is why students from Europe and around the world come to study in our country.
- Will the change in funding lead to optimization of the higher education system and to its higher quality?
- I strongly believe that the change in funding will lead to optimization, but the effect will be even greater if we update the regulatory framework so that the educational system may realize its full potential. In my opinion, the National Institute of Statistics and the Ministry of Education have to conduct a thorough and detailed study among secondary school students for their desires, their parents' ambitions in order to actually invest in these units where there will be a great demand and future students and to reduce the places of those for which there will be no demand. We need to preserve the lecturers and the potential and to purposefully invest in some units in order to meet the demands of the national economy. And of course, all this must be done within the perspective of the global educational market.
- What are your dreams for Medical University - Varna?
- My dreams have come true. The total investments in the educational infrastructure of MU-Varna have amounted to more than 40 ml lev over the last 5 years: the new building of the Faculty of Pharmacy, the only one in Bulgaria University Dental Centre, modern auditoriums and training rooms, digitized training process, simulators, high tech medical equipment, sports facilities ... We have created conditions for modern training, commensurate with the leading European and world medical universities.