А Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Single Step. Part I
18.09.2017

А Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Single Step. Part I: International Students in Russia

- Professor Galazhinskiy, despite very complicated international situation and European and American sanctions against the Russian Federation, the number of international students who study at Russian universities has not changed. Over the past years, we have actually witnessed  a certain growth. How can you explain this phenomenon?

- You are right. The academic year of 2016-2017 showed a 10% growth. Obviously, the main distributors of international students are our close neighbors, countries of South and Eastern Asia and China. At the moment, there are only 2,500 students from Europe in all Russian universities. However, we have a positive dynamic and growth by 40%, comparing to the previous years. Every year, the Government provides scholarship for 15 000 international students. Last year, the total number of international students was 220 000. This is quite a number, considering that China and the USA have 265 000 and 700 000, accordingly. General number of those who enter universities outside their native countries is about 5 000 000 people. Therefore, education becomes not only global, but international as well.

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Development of the Internet is one of the key factors in these processes. It provides not only with any information about any university in the world, but also with the opportunity to enter many of them, using online services. As a result, freshmen come to study at a university after they have familiarized themselves with it on the Internet. They have fewer risks and save their family money. Development of transportation system played an important role here, too.  Another vital factor is the English language that is becoming a global means of communication.

- Of course, you are right. But those factors played equal roles in increasing the international academic mobility in all developed countries. In your opinion, what caused increasing in number of young people who want to study particularly in Russia?

- There are several possible explanations for that. First of all, I am talking about our improved rankings. In the QS ranking of 2017/18, there are 24 Russian universities and most of them have positive dynamic. Over the past four years, TSU has gone up by 200 points and at the moment occupies the 323 place on the international scale and the fifth place among the Russian universities that are on the list.

3.pngWe realize that rankings are just one way to evaluate universities. But it is the most clear and convenient way for our potential enrollees and their parents. Recognized experts have started promoting the idea of choosing Russian universities as places to study and to work. For example, a month and a half ago, David Reggio, Head of QS Consulting and expert in academic collaboration, spoke about the potential our universities have in research, pointing out at Tomsk State University. 

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Another thing that triggered this positive trend was improvement of quality in universities’ communication with outside audiences, systematic work with their reputation, and carrying about the system of Russian education.

- According to Zoya Zaytzeva, Regional Director of QS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, all globally recognized universities promote their countries’ culture and education, however, Russia was not engaged in that activity until recently.

- I cannot help agreeing with her. Until recently, most Russian universities used to act on the following principle: “We know that we are the best and it is enough for us. If somebody does not know that, it is their problem.” They considered spending more or less serious money on PR and advertising inappropriate. But things change at times of high competitiveness on both the external and internal education markets. Today, the government imposes an obligation to work with reputation and image and even helps to do that. For example, two official Russian websites for potential international students were launched some time ago.

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- The first website is «RUSSIA.STUDY» (https://russia.study/en). It is available in 4 languages (Russian, English, French, and Spanish) and administered by the federal agency Rossotrudnichestvo (rs.gov.ru/en) and the Russian Ministry of Education and Science. The second website was created specifically for the 5-100 Project and the information on this resource is presented in 5 languages, including Chinese. Its goal is to interest international audience in Russian education, as well as to create a unique brand of Russian higher education on the Internet. Over 400,000 unique users from 208 countries have visited the latter website.  However, the procedure of entering a Russian university remains rather tricky for foreign citizens. That is why the role of the Internet platforms where they can find comprehensive instructions is impossible to overestimate.

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- Are there any other explanations why Russian universities have become attractive for the international community?

- Yes, there are. I can think of, at least, two more. The first possible explanation is their active work on developing competitive education programmes in English and creating English environment.  The second one is launching more and more training courses in Russian as a second language for those international students who would want to study in Russian, not in English.

There is no doubt, that the high priority national project Development of the Export Capacity of the Russian Education will also support the trend. The goal of the project is to increase the number of international students at Russian universities up to 710,000 people by year 2025. That will be three times more than today. The first steps have been made. I mean the changes in the Russian legislation.

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For example, in July, the government extended time of temporary stay for those international students who take preparatory courses and want to continue with principle education programmes.

In May, the Ministry of Education and Science approved transferring of international students from foreign universities to Russian institutions of higher education. Before that, only transferring inside Russia was possible. Of course, all these measures are just the beginning of work on developing the export of the Russian education. The main thing is that we must actually HAVE what to export. And this is something our universities should work on hard, especially in terms of developing education programmes in priority spheres in English.

To be continued

The interview with the Rector was conducted by Irina Kuzheleva-Sagan