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Building Research Excellence in Russian and East European Studies at the Universities of Tartu, Uppsala and Kent

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - UPTAKE (Building Research Excellence in Russian and East European Studies at the Universities of Tartu, Uppsala and Kent)

Reporting period: 2017-05-01 to 2019-01-31

The overall objective of the project was to increase research productivity and excellence and to promote international visibility and integration of three universities – Tartu in Estonia, Uppsala in Sweden, and Kent in the United Kingdom -- in the field of Russian and East European Studies (with an emphasis on contemporary political, social, economic, and international affairs). The work plan envisioned the launch of an ambitious new academic conference series, the organization of four international summer and winter schools, extensive inter-institutional mobility, joint supervision of doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows, coordinated promotion of research outputs, joint conceptualization and launch of new collaborative research projects, as well as extensive dissemination and communication measures. The expected impact of the project was a significant improvement in the overall scientific capacity of the University of Tartu in the field of Russian and East European Studies, measured in terms of high-impact publications, external research funding, and integration into relevant international research networks.
"During the 36 months of the project, the three universities carried out an extensive program of joint activities in the field of Russian and Eastern European Studies.

Three large multi-disciplinary academic conferences, each attended by about 200 scholars and experts, were jointly organized by the three institutions. The First Annual Tartu Conference ""Europe under Stress: The End of a Common Dream?"" took place on 12-14 June, 2016. The second conference “The Russian Revolution and Its Legacies: Taking Stock a Century Later” was held on June 4–6, 2017. The third annual conference “Reflecting on Nation-Statehood in Eastern Europe, Russia and Eurasia” took place on June 10-12, 2018.The UPTAKE team has been successful in ensuring the sustainability of the conference series beyond the lifetime of the project. The Fourth Annual Tartu Conference “Communities in Flux: Rethinking Sovereignty and Identity in an Era of Change” will be held on June 9-11, 2019.

Four training schools for PhD students and postdoctoral researchers were organized over the lifetime of the project, each involving between 20 and 25 participants, including young scholars from within and beyond the consortium. The first school, entitled “Post-communist transformations, models of development and implications for an emerging multi-order world” was held January 15-22, 2017 at the University of Kent (Canterbury). The second school, entitled “Scrutinizing the Story of Good and Bad Institutions: Post-Communism and Beyond” was held August 20-27, 2017 at the University of Tartu. The third school “Dividing Lines in Wider Europe: Political and security challenges three decades after the fall of the Iron Curtain” was held January 9-13, 2018, at the Brussels School of International Studies. The final school, entitled “Straight Talk about Russia: Internal Developments, External Conflicts and Outside Perceptions” was held from August 26 to September 1, 2018, at the University of Uppsala. The schools made a major contribution to the integration of young scholars in the work of the consortium, strengthened networking between PhD students and postdocs from the three institutions, and gave rise to new joint initiatives led by young scholars such as joint publications, conference panels, and the organization of a research workshop.

Nine research workshops were held in order to stimulate research productivity, promote international networking, and facilitate the preparation of applications for research funding on selected themes. With between 10 and 50 participants each, the workshops have focused on diverse topics, ranging from Russophone minorities around the world to the fate of the liberal world order, from ethnopolitics in CEE to patters of autocratization and to the concept of resilience.

The project has made a major contribution to international networking by supporting mobility of both senior and junior scholars at the three consortium institutions. Over the lifetime of the project, more than 150 international trips have been funded. These have included intra-consortium mobility, as well as travel to major international conferences in the field. Twenty three UPTAKE guest lectures have been held. The activities described above have been accompanied by active communication and dissemination efforts in order to maximize impact."
Overall, the project has attained its specific objectives, which were defined in terms of research productivity and excellence, as well as ability to attract competitive research and development funding. Thus, the number of high-impact publications in the field of Russian and East European Studies, produced by the staff of the main beneficiary (University of Tartu), increased by 76% compared to the number of publications produced during the three years preceding the project. The number of high-impact publications co-authored with foreign colleagues during the project period increased by 125%. The increase of R&I funding from international sources compared to three years preceding the project amounts to an impressive 451% compared to the reference period. This increase reflects the launch of several thematically relevant new Horizon 2020 projects at the University of Tartu, as well as the increased attractiveness of the main beneficiary as a host organization for doctoral and post-doctoral training -- an activity supported by several international grants.

These developments have occurred in the context of broader improvements in the international competitiveness of the University of Tartu, which continues to rise in world university rankings. According to the QS World University ranking, the UT was ranked 379th in the world in 2015; it appears on the 321st place in the 2019 ranking. In 2018, the University of Tartu was, for the first time, ranked as the best research university in the New Europe (i.e. countries that joined the EU after 2004) by Times Higher Education. A highly notable development in the context of UPTAKE is the rapid rise of the Politics and International Relations at the University of Tartu in the QS World University Rankings by Subject: according to the 2019 ranking, it ranks 101-150 in the world and among top 10 in the Nordic-Baltic region. Furthermore, according to the QS ranking, Politics and International Relations has become the highest-ranked subject among all research fields at the University of Tartu. While this success cannot be attributed to the UPTAKE project alone, it is beyond doubt that activities supported by UPTAKE have contributed to the main beneficiary's rise in international rankings by boosting research performance and supporting international connectedness and visibility.

In terms of the wider socioeconomic impact, recent developments in international politics have generated intense interest in Russian and Eastern European politics in the academia, among policy makers, various stakeholder groups and the general public. Responding to the continued and growing demand for expertise on this topic, the project team has launched new research and training programs, and has been successful in securing funding for continuing key activities of the UPTAKE consortium -- including the conference series and training schools -- beyond the end of the project.
Roundtable at the Second Annual Tartu Conference on Russian and East European Studies, 2017
Participants of the First UPTAKE Training school, January 2017
image used to promote the First Annual Conference of the UPTAKE Consortium