Export of Russian education in the context of the pandemic : challenges, problems, prospects
International activity is one of the key areas of work of each higher educational institution. Russian universities are no exception. How they should respond to the new challenges?

For 80 years, the Soviet Union and Russia have been training specialists for foreign countries. All this long and diverse period can be divided into three main different, complex and interrelated stages.

At the same time, each stage set its own specific tasks, priorities, and had its own difficulties, disadvantages and advantages. Each stage had its own criteria for evaluating international activities, its own methods and approaches for recruiting foreign applicants to study in the country's universities.

The first stage is the period until 1991, that is, before the collapse of the USSR. As you remember, all foreign students at those times enrolled according to the so called state line, and absolutely all costs, from air tickets, equipment to accommodation, were taken over by the USSR, the host party.

It was not necessary to recruit foreign students on a contract basis.

The second stage is from 1991 to 2020, that is, from the collapse of the Soviet Union until the beginning of the pandemic.

This period is characterized by the appearance of contract students along with scholarship students. The universities recruited their own students who were studying under a contract.
International activity was already evaluated by the number of foreign students in universities and the income from their studies.

The third stage is from the spring of last year, that is, from the beginning of the pandemic to the present day.

The main issues that we will discuss today are related to the Export of Russian education.
The world is on the second, maybe even the third wave of the COVID‑19 pandemic, and we are considering the export of Russian education in the new conditions and the possibilities of recruiting companies.

Indeed, the situation we are in is really new to us. What is so unique about it?

We are all well aware that the pandemic has seriously changed the way educational services are provided, not only in Russia, but also around the world.

Today, we often can not gather students in the classroom, we can not invite foreign applicants like we used to, we can not provide the necessary number of foreign students to universities.
It is clear that technology helps us a lot, but we also understand that they are not able to replace the full-fledged work of universities and recruitment companies.

What should we do? Which option is better?

Let's look at how things are moving.
During the first wave of the coronavirus, in the spring of 2020, governments in 135 countries announced or implemented school closures. This has affected more than one billion students worldwide, i. e. 73% of all students worldwide.

What happened in the higher education field?

Universities were also quarantined and used distance learning formats. Such major institutions as Harvard, Princeton, and MIT were among the first to go online.
In other words we were then facing an educational recession. This is what it is.
But what awaits us? Naturally, we need to review the approach to the education process, the approach to the student recruitment process, in order to accept the new challenge and work effectively in the new conditions.
All foreign students want to study full-time and get a fullfledged quality education. This applies not only to the Russian Federation, but also to all countries where foreign students get education.

Indeed, today we can teach online or offline, observing security measures, but is it what we try to achieve?

We must understand that the world will not be the same. Our task is reforming education and the student recruitment system in order to achieve new heights and results. And most importantly, even during the pandemic we need to go digital preserving all the best features of classical learning. We need not only to maintain the number of international students, but also to increase it.

How do we do this? How to integrate the best?

Unfortunately, there is no exact answer to this question yet, and not all universities understand what to do. About 300–350 thousand foreign students are currently studying in Russian universities. Is it a little or a lot? The answer is clear: it is not enough, taking into account the potential, infrastructure and capabilities of the country's universities.

According to the education export program, "by 2025, the Russian Federation should have 425 thousands of international students". What are the chances of implementing this plan?

Let's recall how education export in the whole world has developed.
Back in 1950, 100 thousand foreign students were studying all over the world. In 2000, 1.8 million students were already enrolled. In 2010, the number of international students was 4 million people. In 2020, the number of international students in the world was about 7 million, and in 2030, there will be about 9 million people studying abroad.
Let's compare the numbers in dynamics. In 1968, both in the USA and in the USSR, 100 thousand foreign students were already enrolled. In 1991, on the eve of the collapse of the USSR, 135 thousand foreign students were studying in this country, and 350 thousand — in the United States.
Today, the number of international students in the United States is about 1.100 million. And in Russia, there are only about 300 thousand foreign students.

Which countries are the leaders in the global education market today?

They are:
  • US (1,100,000),
  • UK (500,000),
  • China (493,000),
  • Germany (395,000),
  • Australia (421,000),
  • Canada (435,000),
  • France (343,000),
  • Russia (350,000),
  • Japan (305,000),
  • Spain (120,000).

As you can see, Russia is ranked 8th.

What are the main countries that send foreign students to study at Russian universities?

They are:
  • Kazakhstan (43,500),
  • China (36,500),
  • Turkmenistan (30,000),
  • Uzbekistan (18,500),
  • Tajikistan (17,500),
  • India (15,000),
  • Ukraine (11,200),
  • Kyrgyzstan (7,000),
  • Egypt (6,000)
  • Belarus (5,700).

As you can see, these are mostly the CIS countries

What income does the export of education bring? How much do certain countries earn from the export of educational services?

Due to training specialists for foreign countries, out of 400 billion USD that education export brings in worldwide, the US earns 43 billion USD today. UK earns 29 billion USD, and Russia — 2 billion USD. See the difference?

At the same time, I remind you that the global education market is 1.5 trillion USD, with a global demand for education of 97 million people. Today, the total number of international students is about 7 million, and by 2030, the demand for education will rise to 9 million.

All these statistics and figures show that the potential of the education market is still huge and we have something to strive for.

As the COVID‑19 pandemic and the economic crisis continue to spread, it seems to me that it is necessary to expect that in the coming years, the number of international students will decrease much compared to the levels before the pandemic in 2019.

The number of international students is going to decrease in all regions of the world. Moreover, this reduction will be especially noticeable in Europe, in America, in Australia, and in Russia, too.

The number of international students in countries will decrease as the pandemic affects both international students and their families and parents.

The decline in the number of international students largely explains the sluggish economic growth in the world and, as a result:

  • Low income of students' parents, especially from lowand middle-income countries.
  • Depreciation of currencies against the dollar and the ruble in the countries from which students come.
  • Some foreign students have health problems, and cannot study and leave their countries.
  • Rising unemployment among students' parents.
  • Tightening of visa restrictions, which will further aggravate the situation.

I would like to conclude my article by saying the following.

1. International experience tells that universities themselves are not able to effectively recruit the necessary number of foreign students.
Universities will definitely need the help of foreign graduates, recruitment companies, and, of course, the help of national corporations and companies that work in foreign countries where students come from.
The main task of universities is to teach, to give a high-quality education, and therefore, specialized organizations and companies should be engaged in recruiting students. At the same time, universities should not spare any money or funds. Unfortunately, this is how the education market works. There is no other way out yet.
2. We need to see the pandemic and its limitations not only as a challenge, but also as a new opportunity to become more effective.
3. Today it is time for a change in the educational paradigm.

The new paradigm is associated with the use of methods and solutions that only yesterday seemed irrelevant or ineffective to us.
Today comes a new cycle of educational evolution, a new stage of teaching, a new form of recruitment. We are taking a new step towards our common future.
The world has changed, and we are changing with it!
Kotchofa Anicet Gabriel, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Benin Republic in Russian Federation and CIS countries (2012-2016). Director General of International Coordination Council of Educational Institutions Alumni (INCORVUZ-XXI). Member of the Executive Committee of International University Sports Federation. Associate Professor of Lomonosov Moscow State University.