Parsing the set: how i processed 162 leads from international students in the peculiar 2021 admission campaign
In the midst of the 2021 admission campaign, the Education Export Center conducted an experiment. We asked Michael Lazarenko, our Director for International Business Development, to try on the role of a university employee professionally engaged in processing applications from foreign students, and share his experience with the magazine readers. We were prompted to take this step by observing the experience of the international services of Russian universities, which often do not have the opportunity to devote 100% of their time to this work, since they are also busy with other tasks. Michael was tasked with processing a database of applicants randomly compiled from existing applications and ensuring the signing of an agreement with at least one of them.

"Hey, man, what 'bout scholarships?" Ibrahim Mahmuda from Niger asked me boldly on WhatsApp video call. "Nothing", I answered. "I'm talking about commercial admissions." Mahmuda let out a dissappointed "u‑uh, man".

"If I marry a Russian woman quickly and don't pay for my education, how long can I stay in Russia?" Shalal from Algeria, who wished to study Marine Engineering, asked me such a rhetorical question. A bit earlier I told him about our universities, exams and nostrification of educational documents. Don't think he liked it.

Ok, let's move on. "You left your contact details at one of our online exhibitions. Are you still considering getting higher education in Russia?" I asked him smiling into my mobile phone, as if he could see me from there. Just like a decent call center operator. "Yes, but I'm short of money. I want a scholarship," Jeremiah Yongo from Angola shared with me.

Aside from anecdotal situations, applicants have lots of everyday stories. For example, Robert Aribi from Papua New Guinea works at a local airport and would like to study in Russia to become a mechanic and repair airplanes in his motherland. Shaho Noori from Iraq is looking for an opportunity to study economics. Musa Inna from Nigeria would like to engage in business somewhere near St. Petersburg.

"How can I understand you're telling the truth?", the same old Mahmuda asked me, still in that bold manner of his. Together with Mahmuda, about a dozen more guys from different countries o f t he world asked about the same things. I sent them links to the EEC website, presentations and samples of admission letters, told them about the procedures for admission and obtaining a visa. Convinced, worked with objections. In general, I plunged again and again into the wonderful world of recruiting foreign students. The statement that the tuition fee and many other things should be paid upon arrival in Russia is quite invigorating. The strict need to work with documents, notarize them at the embassy of a foreign country for a large sum of money isn't particularly convenient for an applicant from Congo, for example. A difficult work, don't you think? How long will it take before you get at least a few people out of a hundred leads to sign an agreement?
        I could describe the experience gained during my experiment for another dozen pages, but I will save your time. There are a lot of specific traits of working in the B2C segment of education exports. They directly affect recruitment, but, alas, not every one of us has the talent to persuade others. Not everyone knows how to sell an educational product, because, with all the optimization and budget savings, recruiting students is a separate — and difficult — profession. Especially in Russia: here you tell your clients not only about the university and the program, but also about the country, the city where they will have to study, live and, most likely, work. You reveal the nation's local features and culture. You have to work until late night, explaining to some Algerian student that now is not the best time to discuss his plans for the next six years. You are not selling a program or a university. You are selling them their new life, which will definitely be different from the life they had before.

        Now let's think together: how many Russian universities do not have any call centers as part of international departments? How many university employees are engaged in student recruitment literally as part-time job, besides their main tasks and objectives? And how does all this affect the numbers of applicants?

        Here are some theses that I have heard from university representatives at various times:
        1. We don't need to look for students ourselves, we are a very well — known university, let them find us themselves.
        2. Our enrollment closes quickly and according to quotas, so we don't need more students, the limit has been reached.
        3. It is too laborious to process leads, and agents are all fraudsters.

        That is, B2C is difficult, B2B is risky. My experience has shown that it is time for us to start considering education a real business that can bring good profits to the country. And it is certainly not just possible. It will be mandatory in the future world. Every foreign student is a profit to the budget and creation of new jobs.

        Processing applications and leads is, no doubt, a complex process that requires time and resources. There are three solutions:
        • allocate time and effort, act on your own;
        • hire an outsourced call center;
        • work with recruiting companies and student recruitment agents.

        What about the experiment statistics?
        162 leads were processed,
        101 of them began to continue the conversation with me.
        66 asked for detailed information about a particular university in order to make a decision later.
        Mikhail Lazarenko, Director for International Marketing, Education Export Center, Russia. Mikhail completed his degrees from several top Russian universities in International Management and Information Technology. Over the past ten years, he has worked on international humanitarian projects, promoting Russian culture and education abroad.