As the programme develops, however, it has put promoting Russia at the top of its agenda, in its best effort to overcome adverse media coverage. And there are discussions to extend the original target deadline by which to have five schools in the top 100 of global rankings.
“There’s still a very long way to go in terms of promoting the country as a place, and Russian cities specifically, because usually people know about only Moscow and St Petersburg”
The Ministry of Education has received 34 applications for eight to 10 spots in the programme that should be decided this autumn. In addition to funding, the group will be promoted, alongside the programme’s original 15 university members, on a Study in Russia web portal set to launch in January.
To receive the funding, universities must present international strategies which include student and staff mobility tactics, business plans, research facilities, campus infrastructure improvements and management reorganisation.
According to Julia Selyukova, head of university marketing and development for the project, the universities must also contribute a substantial amount of their own funding in order to see their plans succeed.
“This particular programme in fact is from 10-15% of the whole university budget so it’s not that much, but they still have to go through a very deep transformation,” she told The PIE News. “They use this particular funding and also their own, which means that they really want to change.”
The government has also amped up outward-looking promotional activities, providing marketing training to the programme’s participants and investing in a massive country stall at key industry events including NAFSA and EAIE.
“This year we do two big training programmes for communication people. Because marketing is a kind of weak point for universities I would say, all over the world,” said Selyukova.
“We also have an exchange and training programme for administrative staff because staff are usually underestimated in the universities,” she added. “Now the university looks like a corporation, you need not only good academics but also very good staff: vice rectors, rectors, people who work in student offices, libraries, etc.”
In addition to supporting university development, the programme also aims to recruit students, mostly from markets in Asia and Africa.
“People in the world don’t know a lot about Russian education, which I think is part of the reason why we don’t develop bachelor’s degrees in English at the moment”
English language degree programmes are also hastily being developed to serve the new international enrolees.
At the moment, some 200 degree programmes are offered, but only at the postgraduate level.
“People in the world don’t know a lot about Russian education, which I think is part of the reason why we don’t develop bachelor’s degrees in English at the moment,” said Selyukova. “For me as a parent, it would be very risky for me to send my child to some unknown country for four years,” she added.
“There’s still a very long way to go in terms of promoting the country as a place, and Russian cities specifically, because usually people know about only Moscow and St Petersburg.”
Getting prospective students to see beyond international news headlines is also a challenge for student recruiters, said Selyukova.
“It’s a little bit difficult to promote when we’re speaking in terms of mass media, but when we speak to universities, or to ministries or to university associations, it all goes much more smoothly,” said Selyukova.
While exhibiting at the EAIE conference, Nick Marmet, manager of international admissions at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, said that as a university specialising in humanities, the programme is especially beneficial.
“We’re definitely something that is not the shining star of Russian education – we don’t don’t have aerospace, we don’t have a medical school, but there’s enough interest,” he said. “I think it’s absolutely fantastic that the Ministry of Education has grouped these top Russian universities together. The universities are much stronger when they come together.”
Marmet said the programme has also helped create an open dialogue about best practices among universities that didn’t exist before.
The programme launched in 2013 in a bid to put Russia’s top universities on the global stage, with the end goal of having five in the top 100 of either the QS, Shanghai or Times Higher Education university rankings.
However, Selyukova commented that the 2020 deadline could be extended to 2035. “It’s a long process for any education body to change and transform and share their resources,” she said. “If you’re in the ranking, you cannot just pull that off in two or three years.”