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Olga Krylova, HSE University St Petersburg, Russia

Like many countries, Russia has set itself lofty international education goals. Olga Krylova, Head of the International Office at HSE St Petersburg tells The PIE how the country hopes to treble its number of international students, and why political tensions can sometimes be beneficial.


Photo: The PIEPhoto: The PIE

"The way the media outside of Russia talks about the country gives the impression that we are pretty closed. It's our role to be a little bit above politics and to open borders"

The PIE: Tell us about your university?

Olga Krylova: The Higher School of Economics University was established in 1992 as a new state university to provide modern training to meet the needs of the country’s new [post-Soviet] economy. Today, it’s a comprehensive university with 35,000 students, embracing broader academic fields beyond just economics.

There are four campuses in four different cities: Moscow, St Petersburg, Perm and Nizhny Novgorod. I represent a campus in St Petersburg.

“We have a goal by the year 2025 that every student is going to have an international experience”

The PIE: How many international students is HSE University attracting each year and where are they coming from?

OK: This year in St Petersburg, we had a goal of 10% internationals and we achieved that. The campus is 6,000 students, so around 600 international students. This number has actually grown from 1% to 10% since 2013.

Where they come from depends on the program, but we have a big cohort of students from former Soviet republics like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Moldova. We have students from Asia, we are promoting in Vietnam, Indonesia, and Turkey. This year we have selected countries in Asia for the next effort.

Our history and political science programs have a much wider geography; there are European students represented from France, the Netherlands, and also from Eastern Europe – mainly Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia – as well as students from the US. We have less applicants for those programs but it’s a really multinational group. This year we had applicants from more than 60 countries.

The PIE: Why have you identified Vietnam as a country to pursue?

OK: Vietnam is a very interesting and growing market right now. Vietnam is experiencing economic growth and demand for overseas education is growing. There’s a limited offer of high-quality education locally, that is also why Vietnamese students are searching more for opportunities to study abroad.

From the other side, generally, Vietnam is already a good established market [because of historical ties]. There are also a number of universities and schools where students learn Russian. My university is pretty new in recruiting students from this market but we are organising events, and it’s starting to increase the number of both fee-paid students and also talented students who get a scholarship place.

“Universities are starting to concentrate less on rankings more on developing their strategies”

The PIE: You mentioned meeting the target of 10% of the cohort being international students. What now?

The goal is to increase the proportion of international students and to achieve 12% next year, and reach 20% in 2025. But the overall number of students is also planned to increase with every year. In St Petersburg, we have around 6,000 students and we expect to have more than 9,000 in 2025.

The PIE: What wider trends are being experienced in Russia at the moment?

OK: We have a number of national initiatives that really support the development and internationalisation of education in Russia as well as bringing Russia to the global market of international education.

Project 5-100 really boosted Russian universities’ positions in international rankings like QS, THE and Shanghai, and Russian universities are developing well in this field if we compare to national projects in some other countries.

Project 5-100 is planned until 2020, but already there’re many discussions that it’d be very important to prolong this project as it brings really valuable results.

Already, universities are starting to concentrate less on rankings themselves and instead targeting more concrete and precise positioning when developing their strategies.

They are concentrating on the content of programs that they offer, on the research areas where they are strong and have big potential. At HSE there’s a strong focus on the development of online education and blended learning.

In HSE St Petersburg, we’re very much focused on equipping all students with entrepreneurial skills as well as digital skills. We’re doing it by means of integrating additional modules into the program’s curriculum. Changing curriculum, making it more flexible, more interdisciplinary influence overall mindset and competencies our students get.

The PIE: And outside Project 5-100?

Last year there was the launch of the National Project of Export of Education to increase from 220,000 students to 710,000 by 2025. Currently, the natural growth is about 9% per year, that brings Russia to 600,000 in 2030, so they really want to boost numbers.

There will be several instruments launched within that. First, there will be special attention paid to developing and opening new programs taught in English, because if we’re going to promote into foreign, non-Russian speaking markets it’s pretty important to have a good portfolio of programs taught in English.

Besides that, there will be an additional scholarship support for incoming students; there will be special attention paid to the developing infrastructure and internationalising the environment within Russian universities.

The other thing that is going to be improved is the visa proceedings. But I should say that at the moment visa procedures are quite transparent and if a student has an acceptance letter from a university, official invitation letter and has organised their application documents correctly the chance to get refusal is very low. It’d be great if the processes would become even easier.

The PIE: English-taught programs are increasingly popular in Europe, but there is also a conversation around the loss of national identity. Are those concerns shared in Russia?

OK: I really believe that in the modern world the borders are disappearing, and I think for Russia it’s even more important. The way the media outside of Russia talks about the country gives the impression that we are pretty closed. They provide an even worse impression than it is in real life, so it’s our specific role of higher education to be a little bit above politics and to open doors and open borders. It is very important for young people to become people of the world.

Of course, keeping your national identity is very much important, but I think it’s also important to become really open-minded.

“At HSE there’s a strong focus developing online and blended learning”

From the other side we have a number of programs of Russian Language and Culture that attracts students from different parts of the world. This is a very important way of developing national identity by distributing Russian culture and making people of other nationalities speak our language.

The PIE: Has the media’s reporting had an impact on student mobility to Russia?

OK: This is interesting because from one side let’s take US universities. US students tend to come to our short-term programs and Russian-language programs. With some of the universities we do partnerships, the numbers decreased. But with other ones it increased. We have the same with UK universities. It very often happens when there is a crisis in the relationship, the interest grows.

The whole number is increasing on the national level. You can take my university in particular, we are putting in so much effort to attract more students, either for full degree, mobility programs, or short-term programs. And at the same time, we do the opposite to send our students abroad; we have a goal by the year 2025 that every student is going to have an international experience.

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