Nikolay Karyakin: "Our priority is to create a favorable environment for students from different countries"
Last year was quite difficult for the entire educational community due to the lockdown. Has PRMU managed to achieve planned results for the recruitment of international students? Was it necessary to make non-standard decisions for this?

Indeed, humanity will remember last year for a long time. We will remember it for many more decades and study what happened. Over the past few years, PRMU, like many universities, has constantly increased the number of students from other countries.

Our university team sets a certain bar for itself, since an increase in quantity should not interfere with quality. We highly appreciate our students. Especially those who come back to us, or find us themselves. When a person shows will to learn is really important. Earlier, before the pandemic, the recruitment reached 440–450 people per year, but in the pandemic the number decreased by about 20%. Although at other universities, the numbers decreased by 2–3 times. Therefore, I consider our result worthy.

Why did this happen? The university conducted systematic work to improve the quality of the material offered to students, and prepared itself. For example, long before the pandemic, an electronic educational environment was introduced. Many learning materials have been fully translated into English. And when students came to us during the pandemic, we were able to continue our studies in a mixed format, including online lessons. At the same time, we understood that the electronic environment will not replace face-to-face communication. One should be taught in person. We need mentoring, live communication, empathy. And it is clear that the forced transition to distance learning was a great stress. It was a stress for all of us: the students, the team. Together we managed to resist the pandemic.

During the peak periods of the pandemic, the country threw all its resources to deal with its consequences. Have your students been involved in working in medical institutions? Were there any foreigners among them? Did they all work answering the call of their hearts?

In our culture, there is a concept of working under compulsion. The literal translation of one of the expressions with that meaning would be "from under the stick" which means one works unwillingly and under someone's pressure, like being beaten with a stick to do some work. Actually, there was no stick in that situation. When it all happened, everyone was shocked, confused — "what kind of infection is this", "how will it behave?" I gathered all the students on March 20, 2020. There were 100–110 people in the hall. We told them: "The hospitals are asking for your help." In the morning you must be there, and in the evening you have to study. The administration of PRMU is ready to transfer you to remote or evening training. And let me remind you that at that time no one knew what kind of infection it was…

The students went where we asked them to go, they were ready to help. No one asked the question: "Do I really have to do all that?» We definitely did not use a stick, because behind each of the students are parents who are ready to protect their children if they are in danger. Therefore, not everyone went to work as a volunteer in the "red zone".

We have 6,000 students, including more than 2,000 volunteers. And about 900 people were employed, so we had 3,000 people working there in general, which is 50% of the total contingent. This is a fairly high indicator which we achieved natural way. We wanted no backlash from hospitals, like those about volunteers who had signed up but had not come. And there wasn't any. We explained to the students: "you must get personal protective equipment (PPE), pass the mandatory instruction to clearly understand where you are going and what you should do". If someone did not follow our instructions, we called them off. The safety of our students was of primary importance for us. Everything was quickly settled, returned to normal.

There were also foreigners, although they could refuse and say no, there were guys from the initial courses — they did the hardest work, sanitary work, — and from the senior courses — they performed nursing work after the appropriate certification. We are very grateful to them. There were also those who are studying in residency, and they showed themselves as knowledge seekers. They couldn't be kicked out of the operating room, out of the hospital and home. And we knew that they would be real hot-eyed experts. They would come to their homeland and would be able to do a lot of imortant things.

World experience shows that the main channel through which foreign students are attracted is the channel of recruiting companies for the recruitment of students. Here in the Education Export Center we pay attention to this segment, we select foreign companies that would like to work with Russia. We teach them the basics of working in our market, the rules: there are certain criteria. What criteria do you use to select your partners? What tasks do you set?

First of all, I want to note that the PRMU team has created a list of priority countries. Our product is complete, it is called "English-language medical education". However, we have a weak side — we are limited to two languages, Russian and English, but this actually is, at the same time, a strong side — we have been teaching in English for 6 years. This is our important feature; we work in this language zone.

A business partner is an integral part of our common economic life. And if there is a common interest, the business "sticks together". Or maybe a business partner has a onetime benefit, and that's when you realize that when students come to study for 6 years, they must be accompanied by someone all these years, and there can always be different situations. And you understand, like students of medical universities throughout the world say, the task is not only to enter a medical university, but it is important not to get kicked out of it. Our students have to be purposeful because they should study medicine consciously.

Since this is a difficult profession, and the price of a mistake is very high — it's someone else's life and your fate, because lawyers will ask you to explain your mistake, and the mistake will affect your patient. Therefore, the internal motivation of students is very important to us. And we evaluate our partners, including by the number of students expelled due to poor academic performance, and other reasons. And if we see a partner who brought us a lot of students, and then they are expelled, then we first discuss this problem, and if it is not solved, then we do not renew the contract for the next year.

We understand that we have a rather high price for Russia. But we want to compete in the international market, and there our cost is 3–3.5 times lower than in Europe, although the amount of residual knowledge that we give is large. We also understand that for this money we must provide both quality and service elements. The student must clearly understand that he came to study, get a diploma and become a class specialist. Probably, not everything here is perfect: the one who says that everything is, either lies, or does not know everything. Not everything here is perfect.

We see all our weaknesses, but we are developing to address these issues. For example, we annually repair 2 floors in our dormitories for foreigners — foreign citizens are a priority. It is also important for us that they understand that they have moved into clean rooms, with new furniture, and should take care of their small residence: they live in these rooms for 6 years, and they must leave them in the same condition. But this is an integral part of education – an operating doctor can not do his job carelessly. They must be very careful.

It is also important for us that parents, having handed over their children to us, also keep in touch with us. We are ready to show how we teach students, as is customary in Russia, and we are ready to provide this information.

Therefore, we need a partner who accompanies the students, who would talk about their problems, and who helps them adapt to Russian life. And I think it will be a useful experience for a lifetime. After all, when you get deeply acquainted with another culture — the culture of language, communication, relationships, food culture — you get a very useful experience for life!

Therefore, it is worth coming to Russia: our country is quite safe, which is also important, our country is multinational — we have this in our roots, we are open to everyone. We respect other people's culture and faith. And even when we selected our logo, we took into account the aspect that it did not conflict with any religion, and asked experts to help with these issues. Therefore, I would like to emphasize once again: creating a favorable environment for students from different countries is very important for us!

In our work, we strive to ensure that there is an exchange of information between universities about their experience working with recruiters. Have you had such an experience of applying to other universities?

Together with the head of the Department of International Cooperation, we regularly contact other universities and ask who works for them in a particular market. And we invite strong companies that have proven themselves well in other universities. We are in favor of having several companies.

There are universities that work with only one recruiter and make demands that they invest in them — in dormitories, in buildings. The team of our university sets similar conditions. Our experience shows that when we involve a company in organizing a student's stay, it either tries to pick a hostel for them, or participates in the adaptation of our dormitories for a visiting group of students, and this always contributes to mutual contact. The students got in — and that's it. The leadership of PRMU is for companies to invest in the infrastructure that will be targeted for their own students. It is important for companies to take care of the conditions of a place where their students stay. In addition, recruiters take an active part in the cultural, educational and sports events held by PRMU for foreign students (evenings, excursions, championships in various sports, etc.).

There are no preferences by country, language culture is most important. We are open to our colleagues from European countries, from the countries of the Slavic group, Muslim countries, we receive requests from China. The university is constantly developing, but the qualities of our students are important to us, it is important that students want and can learn. We are for quality!

Now the countries have started to open up to each other again, but there is always likely to be a risk of interrupting transport links. Therefore, the trend associated with academic alliances between universities from different countries is becoming more and more popular. This is largely due to the rescue of the international education industry itself. Do you plan such alliances with universities from the countries from which you receive students?

Yes, and we have such experience, which consists of different cases. This is, for example, the practice of double diplomas, when students study according to the "3+3" formula, i.e. the student studies for three years on a foreign site, and three years on our site. But at the same time, it is important for us that the student who comes to our university already knows us, and for all three years while studying there, they are immersed not only in our language culture, but also in our key subjects — anatomy, histology, biology, and so on. We have an agreement that when a student studies at that site, in addition to paying for that university, they pay us a small part, and we give them our educational content weekly, as an additional to the subjects that they study at the university in his country. When a student comes here, we advocate that they maintain a similar relationship with the university in their state. Then it will be easier for them to confirm the diploma, especially since if we are talking about a double degree program, then many doors will be open to them. Of course, it will be easier for such student to pass the exams. And most importantly, they adapt to both systems of mentality — both to their own and to ours, to which they have to get used.

On the other hand, we have experience with the state of Sri Lanka, when we opened a joint university, gave our programs, together with a partner accompanied students, and now this project, born in the 1990s, is working to some extent. PRMU sees this as a big advantage, and now we are negotiating with a number of countries to revive the tradition of double degrees with immersion in our programs with the ability to remotely accompany part of lectures and seminars, which allows us to significantly improve the quality of education of the university that recruited the students. We are ready to be their partner with a monthly constant mutual communication and work, it is not just a double diploma. The support of the student by the teachers of our university is very important, and now it is developing. We are now looking for such partners who are ready to help students throughout the entire period of study and are interested in this. If someone finds out about this from the pages of your publication, our specialists will be very happy to enter into correspondence, discuss, and cooperate to build such a sustainable program.

Nikolay Karyakin
Rector of Privolzhsky Research Medical University