Udmurt State University. Interview with Maria Beznosova, Head of the Department of International Cooperation and Public Relations
Thanks to such resources as Easy Russian with UdSU, students can learn something that is usually hard to find — information about such a multinational region of Russia as Udmurtia. All foreigners know Moscow and St. Petersburg, but not everyone happens to know about Izhevsk.

Maria Beznosova, Head of the Department of International Cooperation and Public Relations of the Udmurt State University.

Good afternoon, Maria. Let's talk about Russian language courses for foreigners. You called them very well — Easy Russian with UdSU. It sounds like an international brand with which you can enter the market. How does the right message help in the work of the university, how much does the university itself promote it?

M: This is one of such resources that we began to create during the pandemic, when the focus shifted to online promotion of universities and, if we talk about the electronic representation of the university, the first practices of promoting the Russian language were not even in English, but in A rabic. We first created the university's website in Arabic, then social networks. We realized that we needed not just a resource where we would post advertising materials, but we also needed to use all the tools — Facebook, Instagram, etc. The peculiarity of the Easy Russian with UdSU resource is that we can place educational materials there. I think this is the third mission of the university to promote knowledge, educational and educational materials about Russia, about the Russian language, about the peoples who inhabit our country, via the Internet. This is not just an advertising resource. We are actually trying to create a new educational platform and subsequently, we assume, it will be attractive not only for future applicants, but also for everyone who is interested in Russia, our culture and education.

Was it your initiative to create such course on the basis of the university?

M: It was our colleagues' deep understanding of the pressing problem. In particular, the colleagues from the Center for International Education which is constantly in contact with foreign students, as a unit responsible for the admission of foreign students. This was a response to the students' need for such information and communication resource. Today it is a kind of advertisement of the Udmurt Republic and a help for those who are interested in Russian culture.

Do those who take this course but are not university students subsequently become applicants, students? Is there such a trend?

M: Even before the pandemic, we had to increase the number of foreign students. We have been actively developing ways of university promotion in the Internet. So, last year we won a grant from the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation. The scientific and educational project «Russia in Scientific and Cultural Dialogue» that took place from September to December 2020 with the participation of our European partners from Spain, Finland and Hungary, was aimed at familiarizing with the Russian education system, with Russian culture, the culture of the Udmurt people and nations living in Russia. We held a scientific forum, as well as advanced training courses, within the framework of the project. We also arranged a number of seminars for Russian language teachers who work in foreign schools and educational centers. In total, about a thousand people took part in this project which lasted for three and a half months. All events were organized in an online format. Back then, we already knew that the pandemic had pushed the university to develop those resources that we had thought about earlier more actively. The resources were not so relevant, and it was the project «Russia in scientific and cultural dialogue» that showed to us that social networks can be used not only for advertising, but also for posting educational materials.

This is a good experience. Our Arab students run student social media and the site in Arabic. Subsequently, the university account was also opened in English and today a group of authors is actively and successfully working on it.

Which countrie actively use your resource? Where does the audience come from?

M: Basically, these are students who come to study with us. And our task is to activate and make this resource more accessible to a wide audience. And here with us are Arabs, Iranians, Syrians, Turks, mostly those who study at the preparatory department for foreign students. This year our geography is wider — there are many applicants from Egypt, Tunisia, and people from countries new to us — from Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Benin, Tanzania, Indonesia.

Would you please elaborate on the age of those who use your resource? Students are young people, but actually we have found out that our resource is interesting for an adult audience too. Do you think that only students can use your resource to understand Russian and Udmurt culture, or would representatives of foreign business use it as well?

M: We designed it to be accessible to a wide audience. For example, recently we have held an ecology summer course « Go green with Russian» with int he framework of the program of the German academic exchange service Go East. We won a grant, and 7 students from Germany came to us in August and went through this course. They studied both the Russian language and ecological aspects. People come and ask wonderful questions. This may sound strange but many foreigners still know very little about Russia. They may even ask questions about bears on the streets because they do not know much about everyday life in Russia, about Russian culture and traditions. Some do not even know we are a multinational country. To this day, for many people, this remains a paradoxical fact. And one of the tasks that our Easy Russian with UdSU resource will solve is informing the general public about what Russia is today. We do not pretend to become a news agency. However, it is clear that foreign students have little information about our everyday life. Perhaps, posting materials and stories from students will show that they can learn Russian even if they are not particularly hardworking and persistent. Maybe it will show that it's not scary to come to Russia, but most importantly, that there are other regions besides Moscow and St. Petersburg. People can think that our activity is unnecessary because a lot of these educational resources are already in electronic form, but we want the regions to be involved in it, we want people to learn about the modern life of the regions of multinational Russia.

Do you create content on your own, or share your practice with other universities, with some language schools?

M: Yes, we do everything ourselves. Besides, the university uses a wide range of international relations. We have been holding summer schools for more than 20 years, and most of our visitors were Europeans.

We also have exchange programs: more than 60 international agreements have been signed, 12 programs are being implemented on an ongoing basis. One of our first partners is the University of Granada, with which we signed an agreement in 1994. The level of scientific and educational cooperation is quite high. Our professors are members of the editorial board of European journals. One of the scientific journals, «Cuadernos de Rusística Española», is published by the University of Granada, and UdSU scientists are on the editorial board of this journal. In June of this year, the magazine received a Quality Mark from FECYT, the Spanish agency for science and technology, a state structure that is part of the Ministry of Science, Innovation and University Education. The quality mark from FECYT is given to the scientific journals that are distinguished by high standards of publication quality.

Of course, we still have difficulties in promoting this resource, for example, reaching a wider audience is also an important task.

If you had the opportunity to reach the audience right now, what would you tell them? Why should they get carried away with Russian culture and use your resource?

M: There is so much to learn about in the world, and you have access to a large amount of information. Thanks to such resources as Easy Russian with UdSU, students can learn something that is usually hard to find — information about such a multinational region of Russia as Udmurtia. All foreigners know Moscow and St. Petersburg, but not everyone happens to know about Izhevsk.

Often, foreign students can not understand what multinational country is in any way. We have 125 ethnic groups living in Udmurtia, that is, 125 unique languages and cultures in one small territory, and they just can't believe it.

How do you see the development of your project?

M: The project should become even more interactive. We are looking forward to receiving a grant to create interactive materials. We have launched Internet resources. We plan to publish new promotional materials. Via Easy Russian with UdSU, we will involve people. We hope they will want to come to our region.

There is a tourism development program in Udmurtia, and our university takes part in it. UdSU has an Institute of Social Communications, which trains specialists in the field of hotel business and tourism. The professors there are members of expert groups on the industry development. We have interesting programs and tours, such as gastronomic tours and tours to museums in Russian regions. For example, here in Udmurtia we have People's museum of disappeared villages. This year, 26 tourist groups from different places chose the gastronomic tours. And we hope that thanks to such a resource, Udmurtia itself will become much more popular. The republic has an Export Development Program, a lot of attention is paid to the development of export potential: an Export Support Center has been created, and it is among the top 10 in the Russian Federation. And universities are working in this framework of export development in Udmurtia in terms of popularizing information about the republic, as well as training specialists in the future. The Easy Russian with UdSU resource is, indeed, only one of the tools to attract attention to our university in particular, and to the Udmurt Republic as a whole.

I would like to move on to the «Russian as a foreign language» courses and ask about those who have completed the course. What do they particularly highlight in it? What did they like about your university?

M: Our graduates note that they really appreciate the teachers' individual approach. We have small groups, we focus not on the financial component, but on the quality of training. Those who want to study get a fairly high level of training here. In addition, they note the friendliness and hospitality of the inhabitants of Udmurtia.

Students note the intensity of our course. Speaking of admission, 99.9% of graduates of the sub-faculty continue their studies in bachelor's and master's degree programs.

Today we have a bout 5 00 international students, and we are increasing this number. The International Student Club and volunteer clubs are of great help. They participate in the organization of international events, and Russian students take interest in this as well and are actively involved.

How do you integrate Russian students into the crowd of foreigners?

M: The International Student Club of UdSU attracts foreigners because here they get the opportunity to practice Russian language, learn new things about the culture of the region and the country, share information about the culture of their native country, try themselves as an organizer of their own event. It is a multicultural student environment, full of different social practices. Together with Russian students, foreigners organize monthly projects such as Cultural Evenings, in which residents of Izhevsk also take part. Together with the Council of Veterans of UdSU, they hold joint events dedicated to memorable dates, which helps to study the history of Russia and Udmurtia, preserve traditions.

The curatorial movement is only part of the Club's work. Foreign and Russian students become curators of new arrivals. This practice has existed in UdSU for more than 20 years. The International Student Club was founded 7 years ago and has been developing rapidly over the years, attracting more and more students to its ranks.

Do foreigners organize events on their own?

M: Yes, but they do it with the support of Russian students and teachers. In 2021, foreigners initiated the Internet project «Check UdSU Challenge». They said that it is extremely important for foreign applicants to learn about the university, about Udmurtia, its history, and about how they will study, before arriving at UdSU. Therefore, they organized a project on the Instagram platform, within which, in the format of an Internet challenge, as well as through informative videos and texts, they talked about their studies and how it is connected with the Udmurt Republic.

This year Udmurt State University turns 90 years old, and we timed the project to this significant date.

As part of the anniversary date, what events are being prepared at your university this year?

M: In February 2021, we held the first international conferences dedicated to the traditions and innovations of university education. There were also student events, for example, the «Student Spring» festival where thestudents introduced the history of the university through their creations. In September, the UdSU Institute of Natural Sciences organized the XII International Scientific Assembly of the Association of Russian Geographers and Social Scientists in Izhevsk. Foreigners participated in the event online. In November of this year, an environmental forum, international scientific and practical conferences «Youth entrepreneurship: technological innovations, fundraising and social projects», «Current trends in social communications: now and then» will be held. The conference «Regional universities as drivers of spatial development of Russia» is scheduled for November 19, where the issues of the role of universities in the development of regions and the formation of trends in the economy and social development will be discussed.

Are you planning something for foreign applicants as well?

M: We are planning an evening of Russian culture for them. We have an annual program of socio-cultural adaptation for foreigners and there are traditional events held by the International Student Club under the leadership of the Department of International Cooperation. The Club has been working for 7 years, and in this regard we are planning new events — the International Student Day, the Birthday of the International Student Club. We are thinking over the format of events. There is more to discuss. In October, we are launching a new movement, the League of Ambassadors of UdSU. The most worthy foreign students will become participants of this movement. Their task is to introduce applicants to our university. In addition to current students, there are also graduates: professors, doctors of sciences, postgraduates. We are proud of their achievements.

This is a good opportunity for the practice of students who are focused on further employment, and in this League you can work out skills for future professional activity. There will be trainings and master classes on promotion and interaction in the diplomatic world. The participants will learn how to present themselves, how to promote the university. This is a good start, a the promotion of soft power, this is strengthening our positions. We will train the students, they will get knowledge about the history of Russia, so that when they represent the university and the region in the online space, they themselves are well informed. This is another format for the development of the student movement. The ambassadors' studies will take place in October. A university grant has been allocated.

Please tell us about the significant achievements of the Department for International Cooperation and Public Relations and the Center for International Education.

M: Our main victories are that we transferred the sub-faculty to online format in the shortest possible time, conducted training of our teachers. We are proud of our teachers, who quickly adjusted to new conditions of working on modern platforms. Today it has already become routine, we have mastered everything well and confidently use it in our work. The whole team, from teachers to the international service, is focused on the overall result.

We are looking for new outlets for a wide audience. We've developed modern tools of university promotion in the online space as our new project. In addition, we took part in many online projects of Rossotrudnichestvo. Our teachers of Russian as a foreign language showed themselves well in the international project of the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation «Russia in scientific and cultural dialogue». We held an online summer school of the Russian language. We also held a summer school of the German Academic Exchange Service in offline format in August for German students. All this was on the verge of collapse, but our teachers concentrated and withstood everything. This year has been difficult, but productive.

We have significantly expanded our geography, thanks to many our partners, including the Education Export Center. And we thank you for your cooperation and the organization of online events which we participate in.

We are introducing new marketing tools, for example, a CRM system. We have reached a new level of organizing this type of activity.

It is also important to note that UdSU participates in the Strategic and Academic Leadership Program «Priority 2030». Also, one of the priorities is the internationalization of education and the development of education exports.

I would also like to ask about the organization of the admission campaign online. After all, if I understand correctly, before the pandemic, foreign students applied here, offline?

M: We began to implement online applications. And in order to attract an additional audience, we have also started to develop our online science competition, which is one of our university science competitions. At first only 5 people participated in this event, and in 2021 this number increased to 599!
      Maria Beznosova
      Head of the Department of International Cooperation and Public Relations of the Udmurt State University.