Professor Ivaylo Koprev, PhD, Rector of MGU, on the importance of mining and raw materials industry and the future of young people in it
The University of Mining and Geology St Ivan Rilski, or MGU, has the deserved reputation of one of Bulgaria's finest higher education institutions. Since its foundation in 1953, it has created highly qualified specialists for the needs of the mineral and raw materials industry. From survey for raw materials to mine development and ore enrichment to recultivation of developed plots and specialised software for process management – the MGU educates a wide range of professionals in high demand both in the Bulgarian and global economy. Since 2019, at the helm of the university has been a young and ambitious rector, Professor Engineer Ivaylo Koprev, PhD. His goal is to make the MGU an educational leader not only in Bulgaria, but also in Europe; for 3 years now he has been confidently leading the university in this direction.
The MGU was established in time when Bulgaria was undergoing rapid industrialisation. Today the country's economy is different. Why does the MGU remain an integral part of the country's higher education and economy?
The life of civilisations depends on raw materials and today we are even more dependent on them. The challenge of the Green Deal and the circular economy cannot be met without quality raw materials. Materials that until 20-30 years ago were deemed not industrially important, such as lithium, are now crucial. Europe also has to become energy independent, and for that it needs its own resources and raw materials. This is why our university's role is so important. No-one is better prepared than engineers specialised in our field to understand raw materials and how to solve the environmental problems caused by their extraction. We focus on education on search, survey and proof for the presence of raw materials. Then we analyse whether the newly identified deposit is of economic importance, how to extract ore in the most environmentally sparing way and what added social value this will have on the local community.
A phone factory, for example, can be easily moved to a place with cheaper labour. But the mine and the raw materials are static, they cannot be moved. The MGU provides to its students the opportunity to plan for a long-term future in this industry. This is why the university is needed and is well positioned on the map of higher education in Bulgaria.
How do you win the attention of young Bulgarians?
For almost 3 years now we have been developing a targeted policy that searches for three main types of applicants: researchers, innovators and idea pursuers. We win them by presenting them a very interesting profession and then by teaching them to manage seemingly unmanageable processes, such as blasting something in a mine. We also reorganised the educational process. From Monday to Thursday, the students have lectures and seminars, and from Friday to Sunday they visit actual mines to see whether the profession is for them. Thanks to our excellent partnerships with private companies in our field we also have a lot of internships that start as early as the first year in university. Thus, in practice, the MGU students are immersed in the real life of business from Day One. As a result, in the past 2 years the percentage of first-year dropouts steeply decreased. On the other hand, for the great majority of first-year students the MGU is their first choice for a university, meaning that they have already realised what they want to study. We achieved this with a lot of work – visiting high schools, writing textbooks, active partnerships with schools in dual education programmes, etc. Each year we have an Open Door event not only to attract prospective students, but also to inspire interest in our profession from an young age
Which are the most popular programmes in the MGU today?
In the past few years, thanks to the themes inspired by the green transformation, the profession of the geologist has regained popularity. Increasingly popular are also programmes on ore enrichment, mine engineering and hydrogeology. Very interesting and in demand are Computer Technologies in Engineering, as mining was among the first industries that got digitalised. Also Biotechnology and Environmental Studies and Environment Protection – these are the specialists who restore and recultivate the terrain after it was developed. We aim at opening the range of specialities at MGU as wide as possible. Our students receive an encyclopedic education that allows them to easily fit in any business environment.
How does the MGU attract foreign students?
The MGU has a long tradition in this respect; from 1953 to 1990 the university was a pillar of education in the Middle East and Africa. Today, we are one of the three renowned specialised universities in Europe, together with the Freiberg University of Mining and Technology in Germany and the University of Leoben in Austria. The rest followed the fashion of amalgamation and shrank in their scope; today Poland, France and Finland do not educate mining engineers. This is why the MGU is actively working towards attracting such students, including with summer internships.
What goals as a manager did you set for yourself when you became the rector?
One of the main tasks I set for myself was to establish and lift up the dignity of the university and its professors, to show that we can be not only scientists, but also very successful company managers, designers, and experts. The mineral and raw material industry is flourishing in Bulgaria, this would be impossible without the expertise of our professors.
My other goal was to improve the quality of education. I am proud that 100% of graduates immediately start work in the mineral and raw materials industry. According to current official data, starting salaries in the extraction industry rank third in Bulgaria, after those in banking and the IT sector. This inevitably increases the requirements from us – to create well prepared specialists able to deal with the profession's challenges. This is why at the opening ceremony of the academic year we tell freshmen: "This university has just one little problem. In it, you have to study hard."
What does the MGU look like in your imagination after 5 years?
We are trained to manage unmanageable processes which has prepared us to react adequately to unexpected events. Last academic year, for example, we were among the few universities that stayed open during the Covid-19 pandemic. We achieved it by providing free tests for unvaccinated students and professors.
I dream that the MGU will become one of the leaders in symbiosis between the new digital world and the human mind. The digital world is a world of ones and zeroes, it sees the world in black and white and solves problems without taking the nuances into notice. The human mind has the capacity to change and upgrade. Our mission is to provoke our students to think. I dream that after 5 years our university will be the connection between the digital world and the human factor.
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