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Graduation event

2021 01 20 Graduation event900x342

On the 3rd of February at 10 a.m. there will be a graduation event for graduates of the Bachelor of Information Technology and Master of Modeling and Data Analysis, Computer Modeling, Financial and Actuarial Mathematics.

Graduates will be greeted by University representatives, guests, lecturers and classmates.

We invite everyone to watch the live broadcast via Vilnius University's Facebook

! As we will not be able to provide diplomas during the remote broadcast, we invite graduates to choose the most appropriate option for collecting the diploma.

!! We also invite all graduates to contribute to the joy of creating a festive mood and submit your photo to display during a virtual event until the 31st of January.

Information about settlement with Vilnius University can be found here.

We invite you to celebrate together with the graduates!

Experts in Cyber Security say that it is too late to worry about the security in the event of a hack

2020 12 30 saugumas

Often, both in companies and in everyday life, cyber security is only a concern only after cyber incidents. What do cyber-attacks look like? What is the most important thing to know about cyber security? What are the competencies of cyber security professionals?

All the answers to these questions are from Giedrius Markevičius, a representative of “Check Point Software Technologies”, Marijus Briedis, a representative of “Nord Security”, Eduardas Kutka, a lecturer at Vilnius University Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics (VU MIF), and the head of the Cyber Security Laboratory Assoc. Prof. Dr Linas Bukauskas.

Most often cases are where ransoms are demanded

Cyber security is a set of actions and technologies that needed to protect the data and ensure the stability of services. It is all technological tools used by the experts protect not only the data but also the legal aspects of the organization.

“Businesses are increasingly noticing that they are being spied on their plans or strategies. Data leakage is an everyday problem that exists internationally. Without following and controlling where the information goes, there is a high risk that the information will end up where it really should not be,” G. Markevičius says.

The expert says that businesses are most often faced with cyber-attacks - data leakage - and demand of ransom.

“Malicious people using e-mails send electronic files that are not only able to encrypt data on the recipient's computer, but also access other devices on the network. A message is then received stating that the data is encrypted and a ransom is required to recover it. Usually this amount is from 300 to several hundred thousand euros,” G. Markevičius says.

Marijus Briedis, Nord Security's NordVPN technology manager, also confirms that. According to him, the biggest damage to companies is caused by data theft (ransomware) attacks, which often cause not only financial losses - but also the reputation of companies and the relationship based on trust with customers.

“Often, cyber-attacks start when an employee clicks on the wrong link or opens a phishing e-mail. Therefore, employees need to be constantly informed and trained to recognize various threats and how to respond to them,” M. Briedis is convinced.

Cyber security requires constant attention

VU MIF lecturer E. Kutka points out that in order to protect one‘s data, it is necessary to pay attention not only to the electronic, but also to the physical environment.

“Many people are well aware of cases where e-mail systems fail due to physical damage to equipment or the environment. Then people can’t access certain data or perform certain actions. This is usually due to poor maintenance of equipment, but it is important to understand that cybersecurity is not possible without proper physical security,” E. Kutka says, who emphasizes that cybersecurity is quite expensive - for example, it can take up to € 1,000,000 a year investments.

VU MIF Institute of Informatics Head of Cyber Security Laboratory Assoc. Prof. Dr L. Bukauskas notes that although these investments may seem to be expensive, questioning their importance might bring inevitable losses.

“It is important to understand that it is too late to start taking care of security in the event of a cyber-attack. Therefore, the focus on it should be constant. I recommend not to forget about cyber security to talk within the organization, to allocate funds for the prevention of incidents, as well as for the development of specialist competencies,” - Assoc. Prof. Dr L. Bukauskas advises.

Ethical hackers enhance the security of systems

VU MIF researcher emphasizes that not all cyber-attacks are carried out in order to harm the organization or profit from it. For example, thanks to ethical hackers, the defense of Lithuanian cyberspace is constantly being strengthened.

“Ethical hackers are cyber security experts who do not maliciously damage systems. On the contrary, they test publicly available system functions and report their shortcomings to both the system operator and the National Cyber Security Center,” L. Bukauskas says.

According to the researcher, the Ministry of National Defense of the Republic of Lithuania has already prepared amendments to the Law on Cyber Security, which would define what ethical hackers can and cannot do, how an ethical hacker should report found system gaps without possible prosecution.

“I believe that these changes will help strengthen the security of the public sector and business systems. An ethical researcher who finds critical errors left by programmers or administrators will feel safe and will not face any inconveniences when reporting it,” he is positive.

Cyber security professionals need quality studies

Speaking about the competencies of cyber security specialists, Assoc. Prof. Dr L. Bukauskas emphasizes that working in this field requires good knowledge of informatics and understanding of programming languages. It is also necessary to know how different information systems work, to understand their interfaces. According to the interviewee, these competencies can be acquired by choosing an information technology study program, and a master's study program in computer modeling would help to improve it.

“IT students gain the necessary knowledge about cyber security, good network and IT management practices, risk assessment, network security and vulnerabilities. It is this important knowledge that allows to connect one‘s future with cyber security,”  said Assoc. Prof. Dr  L. Bukauskas.

Master's study program in Computer Modeling deals with the topic of cyber security in a slightly different way - students delve into general security, cloud operation by modeling algorithms and analyzing results, learn how to properly use the possibilities of machine learning and artificial intelligence.

VU MIF Informatics Institute also has a Cyber Security Laboratory, the aim of which is to create and develop a technological, virtual training platform for research on cyber security breaches and attack and defense actions. In a science lab, students can do professional internships, test software, or consult on a variety of cyber security issues.

“The scientific laboratory gives priority to practical results and solutions that can contribute to scientific and technological progress. We recommend that bachelor's students start preparing coursework together from the second year, and during them we examine the latest (state-of-the-art) aspects of cyber security. The laboratory acquires extremely important and valuable practical experience,” says the head of the laboratory, Assoc. Prof. Dr  L. Bukauskas.

Jaroslava’s Arsenjeva’s Erasmus+ staff exchange trip to Latvia

Erasmus+ is a great program that allows both University students and employees visit institutions abroad and acquire new experiences and contacts. Jaroslava is a 3rd year PhD student of Vilnius Univercity and works half-time in Vilnius University's Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics at the Institute of Data Science and Digital Technologies. Jaroslava mentions being an exchange student before but recently her position allowed her to explore the other side of the spectrum.

She started thinking about this opportunity in the summer of this year when her acquaintance Patriks Morevs from Liepoja’s University came with a staff exchange trip to VGTU. He, being the head of International Affairs department, motivated Jaroslava to visit the University is Liepoja. At first, she was a little bit unsure because of the pandemic going on however everyone involved was very encouraging and surprisingly the work trip finally happened in November 2020. Luckily in the case of a work trip self-isolation upon arriving to Latvia is not necessary.

2021 01 04 Liepaja university600x450Jaroslava (right) shadowing Marija Šnaidere (left) 

Since Jaroslava was going with a visit to the International Affairs department the purpose of the visit was to get acquainted with internalization strategies of the receiving institution and how their personnel manage the situation in the current pandemic. At the time Jaroslava arrived all students and most employees have been suggested to work from home however Marija Šnaidere and Partiks Morevs showed her around, introduced their colleagues present at the University and filled Jaroslava in on their duties.

Turned out that the International Affairs department of Liepoja University has done a very good job so far establishing international mobility projects not only with European countries but also with Philippines, Russia, Dominican Republic and others. After the project is made between two countries a double-degree program is developed so participating students can have 2 diplomas and study in any of the two countries. In the current situation students have the opportunity to get enrolled and finish the first semester online from their home country and only then travel to the other institution in Latvia. Also opportunities for international internships are being actively sought out by employees of the department and an agreement established between the University and the company providing the internship.

2021 01 04 Liepaja university600x450 2Jaroslava in Liepoja University International Affairs department

Overall this was a very pleasant experience and Jaroslava definitely can recommend it to everyone. Visiting another institution not only can provide valuable insight on how thing are handled in another place but also provide valuable work contacts. Although it might have been easier for Jaroslava because she already knew someone from the receiving University, in case someone has a will to go to a specific institution they can email the person responsible for staff mobility from that institution and things can be arranged.

Algimantas Markauskas: top-level research requires knowledge, motivation and infrastructure

2020 12 02 Algimantas Markauskas380x250With the rapid growth of research potential in various fields, the need for modern tools and convenient infrastructure inevitably grows. In order to meet this need, it is planned to expand the largest and most modern research base in Lithuania in Saulėtekis - by investing in modern Faculties of Chemistry and Geosciences and Mathematics and Informatics of Vilnius University (VU), the largest nucleus of life, physical and technological sciences would form here.

Algimantas Markauskas, a scientist, biochemist and CEO of Thermo Fisher Scientific Baltics, is also convinced of the need and importance of this investment. According to him, the right infrastructure and concentration of science in various fields in one place will not only motivate researchers, create better conditions for cooperation between science and business, but also will create opportunities for research of global significance.

Appropriate infrastructure - new opportunities and motivation

A. Markauskas claims that investment in science and knowledge and investment in infrastructure are directly related processes that are equally important in achieving strategic goals relevant to the whole of Lithuania, i.e. a closer cooperation between science, studies and business.

“I am surprised by the statement that in the case of the Faculties of Chemistry or Mathematics, it is not necessary to invest in bricks, but only in knowledge. In my opinion, knowledge is content and first of all, you need to have a container to put that content in. Anyone involved in chemical science has probably visited the VU Faculty of Chemistry and knows that it is an extremely old building that can hardly attract young people to study there. This is just one of the examples that draw attention to the impact of bricks and buildings,” says the biochemist.

According to the CEO of Thermo Fisher Scientific Baltics, the VU Life Sciences Centre (LSC) is the best example of how the right infrastructure is crucial for creating a motivating and competitive environment and achieving the goals of international cooperation. According to Mr. Markauskas, it was the modern LSC of VU that determined the decision of EMBL (European Molecular Biotechnology Laboratory) to establish as many as six scientific groups in Vilnius.

“Neither in the former building of the Institute of Biotechnology nor in the Faculty of Chemistry would they have been established, and the general change before and after the establishment of LSC can be compared not by hearsay - students’ motivation differs as day and night. Therefore, it is obvious that it is not investing in bricks only - if we want to motivate young, talented people not to go to study abroad, but to stay in Lithuania, we must create conditions for that. In my mind, this project is not gaining the right momentum for too long,” Mr. Markauskas says.

Interdisciplinarity in science centres leads to the greatest achievements

A. Markauskas believes that observing the perspectives in the field of science, interdisciplinarity between various fields of science has been a clear priority for more than a decade, because this is where the biggest breakthroughs take place. “For example, without chemistry, there are no fields for application of biotechnology, physics and new lasers, and there is no nanotechnology or food industry. Therefore, the mere inclusion of chemistry in that nucleus of science ensures closer interdisciplinary links and is a top priority.”

According to the head of Thermo Fisher Scientific Baltics, businesses often look for scientists from various disciplines themselves and team them up to carry out various projects. Therefore, a single joint centre and pool of researchers would not only stimulate and simplify the processes of scientific and business cooperation, but also contribute to a smoother interaction between different disciplines.

“It is also important to include the science of mathematics, which has been thought to be ahead for hundreds of years and to have far surpassed all others. With the transition of biology to digital format, with the advent of vast amounts of genetic information, it has become clear that mathematicians have room to develop further in order to process that information properly. Therefore, it is obvious that we need to create a modern joint infrastructure, which we could fill with knowledge, because bad conditions will not guarantee results of global significance,” says Algimantas Markauskas.

According to the biochemist, potential and highly applicable research areas in the business, such as lasers in physics, biotechnology, show good results in the international market due to well-organized focus and broad vision, strategically developed visions.
“When we look at the neighbouring countries, i.e. Latvia, Estonia, Poland, none of them has a company like Thermo Fisher Scientific. Although there are many reasons for this, one of the most important is that we have been able to mobilize a critical mass of competent scientists and knowledge in biotechnology in Lithuania, which have become such a combination. Professors, who saw the prospects for future top-level research in the deep Soviet era, made a significant contribution to this,” says the head of the company.

Accumulated experience and knowledge lead forward

When it comes to the relationship between science and business, investment in science is often misunderstood as a necessary guarantee of success, with a financial return in a short period of several years, and if this goal is not achieved, the accumulated knowledge is considered worthless. According to A. Markauskas, not only knowledge but also competencies acquired by people should be considered a value.

“A half-year project that has not earned a million is an investment in a person who, having accumulated new knowledge, will apply it in another project and earn that million and more. In addition, it is important to understand that there are also unsuccessful projects – sometimes ideas simply do not come true. In science, a negative result is also a result that has value - how else to know that there is no need to choose that path or that the idea does not make sense. Just as bankruptcy in business – it is not a tragedy, it is a lesson learned, after which it is possible to start again with new energy,” says Mr. Markauskas.

A. Markauskas names long-term and permanent projects of Thermo Fisher Scientific Baltics and VU LSC as an example of successful cooperation. One of them is the Mobile Bio class, when VU students and company specialists visit regional Lithuanian schools and allow students to perform scientific experiments with real scientific equipment. In addition, Thermo Fisher Scientific Science Days are held annually at VU LSC and are usually attended by an exhibition of the latest scientific equipment.

“During these events, a very wide cycle of scientific reports on the latest technological platforms and products is organised. It is a synergy, when we get a place and an audience from VU, and we organise a scientific conference, which allows bringing together scientists from all over Lithuania.

In addition, we have established special scholarships, we provide about 30-40 VU students with the opportunity to complete their final theses in our laboratories, where they use the most modern equipment, the necessary reagents, have very professional supervisors, so the performed work becomes very relevant and necessary,” says A. Markauskas.

Thermo Fisher Scientific also contributes to the activities of the VU student team, which has won the largest international competition in synthetic biology contest iGEM. This year, for the second time, this team has won the award for the absolute best team, bearing in mind that teams from almost 240 universities around the world participate in the competition. The company provides the team with the necessary reagents for experiments, produced in Vilnius, and helps to implement other team projects for public education.

“I am overwhelmed with this year’s winning as well, this is the highest achievement, our students are overtaking universities like Harvard, Oxford and others. And again, they are successful because they have excellent mentors – Prof Rolandas Meškys, Prof Virginijus Šikšnys, they receive the necessary financial support, and finally - the necessary competencies and motivation from previous achievements. And when there are all these components - everything is possible even in such a small country as Lithuania,” claims Mr. Markauskas.

The Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence was established at Vilnius University

More and more often we encounter with automated solutions which create dynamic and constantly evolving science and technology environment, with new challenges searching for more accurate and effective artificial intelligence (AI) solutions. In order to solve these tasks, deeper theoretical and practical knowledge together with special equipment are required. Therefore, by the decision of the Council of the Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics of Vilnius University (VU), the Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence was established at the Institute of Data Science and Digital Technologies.

2020 11 20 Laboratorija380x250"Companies working in the IT sector are constantly competing for skilled workers. Artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics are technologies that are now actively contributing to the development of new and existing products and processes,” says the Head of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Dr. Virginijus Marcinkevičius.

The aim of the laboratory established in cooperation with UAB "Neurotechnology” is the practical use of knowledge in solving relevant problems of application of science and technology related to artificial intelligence, machine learning, automation and robotics technologies. The Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence is expected to become international level applied computer science center, uniting the interests of science and business in the development of artificial intelligence methods and technologies, training international level specialists for work in the field of artificial intelligence research and applications.

"Students will be able to contribute to the development and improvement of these products and services through internships, bachelor's or master's theses led by the scientists from the Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics, applied research using artificial intelligence, machine learning methods, automation and robotics technologies, to continue research in doctoral studies,” says Dr. Marcinkevičius.

The work of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory will be focused on the development of competencies in the field of artificial intelligence inside and outside the Faculty, in collaboration with business and governmental organizations. Researchers working in the artificial intelligence laboratory will seek to carry out projects with business organizations that are relevant to science and promote innovation in business.

According to the Head of the Laboratory, the topic of artificial intelligence is vast: systems and software are being developed that are able to perform learning, decision-making or assessment tasks, analyze images and natural human language, help automate standard processes.

"Every major university has a lab or even several that work with a variety of artificial intelligence issues, e.g. “MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory“, “Oxford Machine Learning Research Group“, “Berkeley AI Research Lab“. In order to be a leader in the region, Vilnius University will also actively contribute to the development of this field,” says Dr. Marcinkevičius.

Prof. Šikšnys: scientific breakthrough occurs in places where talented scientists are concentrated and infrastructure necessary for their work is created

Based in the Saulėtekis Valley, the largest and most modern research base in Lithuania is going to expand - in three years it will accommodate the modern faculties of Chemistry and Geosciences as well as Mathematics and Informatics of Vilnius University (VU). In this way, the Saulėtekis Valley will be home to the largest centre of life, physical and technological sciences in Lithuania and the Baltic States.

In response to the doubts expressed in the public sphere regarding the expediency of investments in this infrastructure, VU researchers talk about the breakthrough of artificial intelligence, nanotechnologies, multidimensional data transformation, and digital medicine in Lithuania.

2020 11 26 DNR molekule380x250Nanomaterials – for the industries of the future

Nanotechnology is a new level of chemical engineering that enables to achieve amazing results in the sectors of energy, manufacturing, health, and consumer goods. Nanomaterials are used for medical and technical purposes - in tumour therapy, solar panels, lithium-ion batteries that can power electric cars.

Scientific work on the development and application of such nanomaterials and new multifunctional compounds in various technologies is carried out at the VU Faculty of Chemistry and Geosciences. The scientists of the faculty have created new methods and also developed methods for the synthesis of known oxide, nanostructured inorganic and hybrid organic-inorganic materials with specific physical properties (electrical, magnetic, optical, mechanical, catalytic, biocompatibility).

Professor of the VU Faculty of Chemistry and Geosciences Aivaras Kareiva, together with colleagues from Japan, recently studied a material that is fully adaptable to the human body and can be used to create artificial bone tissue. In the near future this discovery could be used by physicians to treat bone injuries, stimulate the regrowth of the jaw, or applied in implantology.

"We have researched in detail calcium hydroxyapatite, a synthetic bone material with a molecular composition very similar to that found in human bone tissue. Its powder and coatings are suitable for use in implantology, because the created artificial bone tissue fully matches natural human bone by its molecular structure. We have also synthesized new ceramic pigments that can be used to preserve cultural heritage objects,” says Prof. Kareiva.

Artificial intelligence to drive medical progress

Digitization, artificial intelligence, and the analysis of large biological data, which helps to develop new methods and technologies for diagnosing, monitoring, and treating diseases, are more and more widely used in in the fields of medicine and healthcare.

Professor Gintautas Dzemyda of the VU Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics calls the Institute of Data Science and Digital Technologies, where he works, the flagship of informatics and artificial intelligence in Lithuania. In October, the institute became a home of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, which was established in cooperation with one of the world’s largest companies for artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions Neurotechnology.

“The institute is currently developing artificial intelligence solutions for the analysis of medical images, including computed tomography, maritime navigation, and cyber security. Recently, with the help of artificial intelligence, together with the researchers of Santara clinics, we have been conducting research to select the most effective treatment strategy for pancreatic cancer diagnosis and decision-making, as well as evaluation of abdominal aortic changes,” points out Prof.  Dzemyda, adding that, apart from artificial intelligence, other areas of great importance are blockchain technologies, cognitive computing, and cyber-social systems, which are interrelated. So, no one should doubt the necessity of investments in these areas.

According to Prof. Dzemyda, there is a shortage of about 12,000 informatics and information technology specialists Lithuania. The demand is going to grow as society is moving towards a digital space which encompasses the whole world.

Science needs more investment

The researcher of nanomaterials is convinced that a high level of research in chemistry can only be achieved in close collaboration with physicists, materials scientists, biotechnologists and physicians, and that this level of research requires modern equipment and modern, accessible infrastructure for the commercialization of science.

Informatics specialists are lacking personal computer equipment with good graphical and computational capacities, as well as specialized general-purpose hardware equipment for more efficient work with artificial neural networks.

Both VU researchers agree that scientific work is complicated by the current situation when the researchers of some fields and the infrastructure they use are in different places. As a result they waste a lot of time traveling from one place where lectures are given to another (for example, the Saulėtekis Valley), where there are laboratories for their research.

“Currently, our equipment is geographically located on Naugarduko, Čiurlionio and Saulėtekio streets, and this is very inconvenient. Teachers and students have to rush from one end of the city to the other, as the lectures take place in Naugarduko street and part of the scientific work can be performed only in the Physical Sciences and Technologies Research Centre in the Saulėtekis Valley, where there are no training laboratories and auditoriums,” notes Prof. Kareiva with regret.

Prof. Kareiva says that one of the biggest barriers in conducting first-class research in Lithuania is low budget funding for science. It amounts to only 1% of GDP per year. “In other words, you can say that it does not exist at all. There is only competitive funding for projects, where the success rate of the submitted applications is unacceptably low.”

According to Prof. Dzemyda, it is necessary to invest in high-level basic research. Even though research results are difficult to predict and measure, it often happens that they lead to applied research that can be commercialized. This is not only high-tech products, but also businesses which are developed using science knowledge. Such businesses are both more sustainable and more competitive.

“Every scientist dreams and strives to commercialize their scientific achievements. It is the implementation of scientific results that makes the work done meaningful and is an incentive for further research. The synergy of science and business is the engine of progress of any country,” suggests Prof. Kareiva.

World-class scientific discoveries are possible only in modern laboratories

Lithuania is already visible in the global scientific community. Speaking about the field of artificial intelligence, our country seeks to become a regional leader and increase its competitiveness among European Union countries and successfully integrate into the global artificial intelligence ecosystem. Our country is also known in the field of nanobiotechnology, biosensors, and research in the field of physical chemistry makes our country famous all over the world.
“The nanocoating technologies developed at our faculty have been implemented in Mexico, Spain and Germany,” says Prof. Kareiva.

This year Lithuania has been especially recognised in the world of science. This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to the gene editing technology CRISPR-Cas9. Alongside the winners of the Nobel Prize, this technology was discovered and developed by professor of the VU Life Sciences Centre Virginijus Šikšnys. The VU Life Sciences Centre opened four years ago. Such honour and success in the world of science should not be viewed as accidental.

“A breakthrough in science usually takes place in areas where brilliant researchers are concentrated and infrastructure needed for their work is created. In my opinion, the VU Life Sciences Centre is a great example of this. In modern science, the most interesting discoveries are born at the cross-roads of sciences, therefore concentrating informatics, chemists, physicists and life sciences researchers in one space, the Saulėtekis Valley, will help create a cluster of scientists and infrastructure similar to the research and development centres of leading European universities,” says Prof. Šikšnys.

Nobel Prize-winning technologies and other advanced inventions are born only in the most modern laboratories, in the minds of the most brilliant scientists.

Erasmus+ traineeship: The supervisors at VU MIF are very good

Erasmus+ traineeship is a traineeship (work placement) abroad in an enterprise or any other relevant organization in the Erasmus+ programme country.

Piciu Florin-Alexandru, a student from Romania (University of Pitęsti) done Erasmus+ traineeship at Vilnius university Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics Cyber Security Lab. He share with us experience about Erasmus+ traineeship.

2020 11 19 Erasmus praktika380x250Traineeship experience and supervisors at VU MIF

The thing I liked most about this internship was the professionalism: it was well organized, the coordinators were very well trained and understanding. The supervisors at VU MIF are very good, the try to keep the subject they teach as actual as they can.

The atmosphere at labs is very pleasant, you can always ask whatever you want regarding the subject and you’ll get help and explanations.

Erasmus+ traineeship at VU MIF – why?

I was an Erasmus student at VU MIF for the whole academic year 2019-2020, I enjoyed the courses at VU MIF, I liked the experience at this university and after that I found the opportunity to take part of this internship. I didn’t have any experience with Cyber Security and I considered that this is a great chance to get in this new field, already knowing that the teaching staff of the faculty is very well trained.

Living in Lithuania – wonderful experience

Living in Lithuania is a wonderful experience. I’m not talking just only about Vilnius because during this year I traveled also to another cities: Kaunas, Trakai, Klaipeda, Palanga, Nida and of course Vilnius. Even if not all the cities have the infrastructure of Vilnius, they are still very clean and nice organized.

People are very polite. About prices I can say that, in Lithuania the prices are not so high. Living in Vilnius is very nice, the city is very big, you have a lot of places to visit. I’ll always recommend to people to visit Lithuania at least once.

Would you recommend Erasmus+ traineeship in Lithuanian to your friends?

Of course, I’ll recommend Erasmus+ traineeship in Lithuania. The main reason is that the internship subjects that are available here are not so common but Cyber Security is a current field. Choosing a traineeship here you’ll have a mix of learning new things, live in another country, socialize, meet people and travel in at least 2 months.

#OpenVU: new habits must be formed seeking cultural variety in the university

2020 11 17 VU baznycia380x250According to the analysis of diversity and equal opportunities, in 2018, Vilnius University (VU) had 113 employees from 30 countries (which accounted for 2.3% of all VU employees), and more than 1 000 students who chose to study at VU were citizens of 70 countries. However, according to the interlocutors, VU community members should be given even more opportunities to gain experiences of otherness and diversity, therefore, there could be more both foreign employees and students in the VU.

When asked what caused such a current situation at VU, Vice-Rector for Studies Assoc. Prof. Valdas Jaskūnas says that it is necessary to take into account the society and historical environment we come from. For many years we lived in a relatively closed society with little ethnic diversity, in a society that was not open in terms of attitudes and ideas.

“Social and cultural openness came to Lithuania with independence, we experienced many influences that did not exist before, and our cultural horizon began to expand intensively. However, for a long period during the years of independence, perhaps the most urgent issue on our cultural agenda was our identity, the preservation and reconstruction of our identity. I would even say that the dominance of (identity) preservation of Lithuanian identity was very strong. We were able to construct our Lithuanian identity in the Soviet era to a very limited extent, so naturally this impulse was very strong after regaining freedom,” notes Assoc. Prof. Valdas Jaskūnas.

According to the associate professor, VU did not aspire to be the centre of attraction for other cultures, teachers or students from other countries for a long time. This explains why there is not so much diversity in our university. “For a long time, it was in these processes that we saw more threats than opportunities. But over the last 10 years, attitudes have changed. There has been a realization that opening up to different experiences is much more beneficial and it is not a threat, as it was perceived before,” explains Assoc. Prof. Valdas Jaskūnas.

The new generation, born in the years of independence, inevitably brought change. They do not always recognize the concept of previous identity, they look at the world differently, perceive it differently; they grew up surrounded by greater diversity and it is simply natural for them. This generation, which has been coming to VU for more than a decade, must employ more effort to find out how it was before. What the older generation experienced as a transformation, for those born in the years of independence, is the environment in which they grew up.

Diversity is inseparable from the challenge

Accordant to the Vice-rector, diversity is a challenge for every generation. It is a human feeling. Any novelty brings confusion and if we do not turn that confusion into an opportunity, the reactions can be various. “Change creates a feeling of insecurity,” says the interlocutor, adding that the loss of security and comfort naturally leads to resistance.

“Science is often perceived as universal field, which is not culturally determined. However, a closer look at the development of each scientific discipline would see how the scientific approach is affected in terms of culture. That cultural determination is self-evident, so it may seem that science is identical in different cultural contexts, in different geographical locations, in different European and Asian academies, but this is not the case. In the experimental sciences, content is less sensitive to cultural forms of cognition, but representatives of the social and human sciences of different academies, although they are from the same discipline, need to put much more effort into communicating. Cultural differences and academic practices are quite significant. Imagine studying geography in Lithuania, Peru and Taiwan. It would be three different geographies. And we all call it geography,” shares his insights the Vice-Rector for Studies.

The associate professor notes that sciences require a reflective approach to ourselves, we need to raise and answer the question as to why we cognize the way we cognize, why we choose certain cognitive instruments and make the assumptions we make. This reflection on one’s cognitive system is very important and inevitable in such a global world.

The vice-rector illustrated the thoughts with his memories of a really interesting situation. A scientist from Japan came to Vilnius to give lectures. During their conversation, they found out that they were both born in the same year, and the dates of birth differ by only a few days.

“Imagine meeting a person who lived at the same time as you, only in a different place, so you have very different experiences.
When we began to share the memories of what was our life when we were seven or fifteen, we realised that our childhoods were completely different: one of us grew up in Japan, the other in Soviet Lithuania. And here we met as scientists seeking to solve the same scientific problems. Naturally, our approach to problems is very different, but it is an integral part of this challenge and it would be naive to ignore this difference. It is a completely natural difference.

These experiences are not only very enriching, but are also important for scientific cognition. If we are or we want to be a global university, we need to be able to accumulate these experiences, because without them, our cognition can quickly become deceptive and biased. That is why we need foreign students and teachers. They do not have the power to change our past, but they will definitely enrich the future,” says the associate professor.

According to the interlocutor, it is very important at the university to encourage students to gain experiences of otherness and diversity for these to become the essence of their functioning and thinking. One way to achieve this goal is to create a diversity ecosystem where there are no more fears or where the student has the opportunity to overcome his/her fears with the help of the university. Students must work in mixed groups together with foreign students, perform tasks and projects together, not be afraid to make mistakes, because in the work environment there may be no conditions for making mistakes and learning from mistakes.

Mixed student groups, according to Assoc. Prof. Valdas Jaskūnas, are like social and cultural laboratories, where lack of understanding, different imaginations, different experiences, different uncertainty or lack of certainty play an important role. Skills are needed to transform this uncertainty into a definition. Therefore, the university encourages to form as many mixed groups of students as possible so that students have more international study experience. “We need to turn the experience of otherness into an educational system, strive to make it a part of teaching and learning process,” says the Vice-Rector for Studies.

It is necessary to form new habits

Equal Opportunities Coordinator Dr. Rūta Ruolytė-Verschoore says that in order to change the situation and attract more foreign students and lecturers to VU, new habits must be formed, i.e. bilingualism in communication, possibility for foreigners to receive help and self-expression services.

“One of the objectives of the Diversity and Equal Opportunities Strategy is to foster cultural diversity at the university and to strive for the equal inclusion of students and employees from abroad in the university community,” reminds Dr. Rūta Ruolytė-Verschoore and adds that in order to more actively involve foreigners in the community, it is not necessary to create new systems, but just to adapt the existing structure and infrastructure. As an example, she referred to the initiative of the Community Development Department to adapt the VU intranet to English speakers (since the autumn of this year, the VU intranet is available in English as well).

The interlocutor also draws attention to the events organized by VU: are they organised in two languages, what are the languages information about them is announced in, which languages are used to send messages after the event? It is not difficult to notice that many activities at VU are communicated only in Lithuanian. The situation is similar with services provided to foreign employees or students.

“A very similar approach once prevailed with regard to the adaptation of the environment for people with disabilities: why adapt it if we do not have 'those disabled people'? However, after creating opportunities to study, there were also those who wanted to use them. When it comes to involving foreigners, we need to change our attitudes, to form new habits. We have to constantly think about how we can encourage citizens of other countries to become members of our community, because otherwise many incoming foreigners will remain in foreign communities,” says the equal opportunities coordinator.

According to Dr. Rūta Ruolytė-Verschoore, in order to achieve changes, it is planned to publish information about events and other VU activities in Lithuanian and English in the future, and, if possible, to ensure interpretation services at the events. Non-academic units will also be encouraged to disseminate information in both languages. Before 2022, it is planned to further develop the mentoring system for foreign students from partial and all studies, to increase the availability of help and self-expression services.

The changes are already being implemented by the International Relations Division, which is improving one-stop-shop recruitment and counselling for researchers and lecturers from abroad. Foreigners coming from third countries need the most attention and help. They are assisted in handling strict migration procedures, dealing with real estate leases, and accessing public medical services. These services are constantly being developed, and sometimes help is organized for family members of incoming teachers to find work in order to establish themselves in Lithuania.

“Probably many of us have studied or worked in foreign universities under various exchange programs and we remember how good it is to discover, to be part of another university’s life, community. Therefore, we must offer such an alternative to those who work and study with us,” says the equal opportunities coordinator concluding the interview.

#OpenVU is a series of articles about the university that seeks to be open not only to scientific ideas and a variety of disciplines, but also to the diversity of its community members. The persons interviewed in the articles will share future plans, initiatives to help create a study and work environment that fosters individual, social and cultural diversity, and ensures equal opportunities for members of the university community.

You can find out about the Diversity and Equal Opportunities Strategy here.

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