The meaning and practical application of "soft power"
Each university operating in the international education market builds positions itself based on the competitive advantages and characteristics of its country, promoting it among applicants. Is it safe to assume that universities are the main factors of the soft power of a country?

Comprehending Soft Power

Is it necessary to borrow foreign ambiguous and often just harmful concepts? Especially when it comes to the systematic promotion of Russian national interests. The Russian hard power represented by defense industry enterprises, without borrowing anything, perfectly copes with the tasks of ensuring the country's defense capability. And it does not call itself hard power!

The term "soft power" is usually used in the word combination "so-called soft power". In the English-Russian dictionary, the word soft has quite a lot of meanings, and almost all of them have a relaxing or frankly negative connotation. The author of the Russian translation of this term chose the literal meaning as one of the most neutral. However, if you go deeper, you can find other meanings. To begin, for example, with the fact that SOFT can be an abbreviation for the concepts of Strengths, Opportunities, Faults, Threats. Does it remind you of anything? Yes, this is a well-known SWOT analysis! Or soft as part of the word software — the result of programmers' mental efforts.

It should be noted t hat t he term "soft power", which we borrowed as "so-called soft power", was originally introduced as the antithesis to the term hard power which is quite clear. Soft power has included all means of influence that are not directly related to the armed conflict. Therefore, if we decide to borrow this term, it should be translated using the words with the opposite meaning — for example, non-hard, non-aggressive, or flexible force.

The concept of soft power is not about softness, lack of character, instability, ambiguity and compliance, but about efficiency, analyticity, programming and management. And this is exactly how it is implemented by those who invented and imposed this concept — as a business process that is subordinated to SMART goals and objectives, which, in turn, are based on the missions and values embedded in the system. Therefore, in my opinion, the correct interpretation of the term "soft power" may sound like effective domination.

Measuring soft power

From my point of view, in order to assess the effectiveness of such a multifaceted concept as soft power (or effective dominance), as a set of any means and tools that are used to achieve certain socio-political goals, it is necessary to evaluate the indicator for which it is implemented. In the context of "soft power», we cannot talk about the acquisition of land, but we can and should focus on the number of minds and hearts that we managed to win in heavy competition.

In my opinion, the highest form of manifestation of the success of "soft power» is getting an education abroad, since this decision is the result of a conscious need of an individual and the fruit of the successful work of other elements of influence — culture, sports, information policy, diplomacy, etc.

It was the attraction of foreign students that was considered by the leading powers in the period after World War II as one of the main elements of expansion. It all started with the selection of the most talented schoolchildren and offspring of representatives of friendly elites of foreign countries to teach them at their universities. The tone in this competition was set by the USSR and the USA.

However, with the growth of the global economy and, accordingly, the well-being of the world's population, education abroad began to develop at the expense of students' own funds. Starting from 1980-1990, new centers of academic attraction began to emerge in the global education market. Countries such as Spain and France actively used their cultural influence on former colonies, China began offering unique scholarship programs, Canada and Australia create their own unique national images that are attractive to the broad masses of foreign applicants. Today, foreign students are considered both as a tool of soft power, taking home pleasant memories of their college years, and as a means of attracting foreign investment, creating new jobs in the country where they receive education.

Considering the possibilities of studying abroad, applicants, first of all, choose the country in which they would like to get an education. For some subjective reasons, potential students develop certain preferences. The choice of the country of study is mainly based on the following criteria:

  • Cultural and/or linguistic affinity
  • Emotional attractiveness (regardless of the reason)
  • Recommendations of reference persons
  • Consultations of cultural centers of the countries
  • Consultations of representatives of recruiting agents

When a country is selected, an applicant selects an educational institution according to criteria such as the direction of training, tuition fees, accommodation options, career development opportunities, and so on.

Power remains power, whatever you call it — soft, smart, flexible, and so on.

And as we know from the school physics course, any force has a point of application, and it is necessary to measure the force at this point. In the logic of our research, we assume that in the context of "soft power», such a point of application is the sphere of education, since an individual's decision to get an education in a particular country of is the fruit of their conscious need: (1) to get an education; (2) to get an education in this particular country; (3) to spend time, nerves and money to get an education in this country.

This decision is the result of the work of all the "soft power" tools of the country which an applicant chooses to move to for studying.

Let's try to describe in simple language the goals of the applying the "soft power", highlight its elements, characterize them and select the appropriate tools to achieve them.

Based on the proposed classification of elements of "soft power", it can be assumed that, given the rich heritage of Russian classical culture which is an integral part of the world treasury and makes its way to the minds and hearts of foreign citizens, the institutions involved in the implementation of the policy of "soft power» need to focus on the promotion of modern Russian and Russian-speaking culture, as well as, taking advantage of the multinational nature of the Russian Federation, to intensify ties with foreign states at the level of national subjects of the federation, taking into account the national priorities of the country.
Here, it is necessary to make an important remark that by elements we mean content that forms meanings and values, a certain way of thinking. It is a kind of consciousness and soul, an immaterial world. This content, of course, is made by authors who need to be supported and promoted, since they are carriers of the "element base" of "soft power". And infrastructure is a body that needs to be maintained in a healthy state, develop muscles and train endurance.

In terms of opportunities for the implementation of soft power policy, the Russian Federation has a first-class infrastructure:

  1. Global network of Rossotrudnichestvo representative offices;
  2. Global network of the World Association of Graduates of Higher Educational Institutions (formerly the Association of Graduates of Russian (Soviet) Universities);
  3. The world-class television and media network Russia Today, consisting of 8 news and documentary channels, information portals in 6 languages, the global multimedia agency RUPTLY;
  4. Sputnik radio and news agency which includes websites, analog and digital radio broadcasting, mobile applications and social media pages.
Applying soft power

The Education Export Center has developed a global effective dominance rating that evaluates the magnitude and effectiveness of soft power in various countries of the world through the prism of the number of foreign students who come there to study. The first version of this rating is published below in this issue, and in April we plan to publish the second version of the rating, which will be based on statistics from more than 100 countries.

In addition to satisfying professional curiosity, the effective dominance rating has practical applications. With its help, the Education Export Center can build a unique strategy for the development of international activities for each university, based on its competitive advantages and priorities.
Dmitri Nersesyan, CEO of Education Export Center (Russia).
Received education in fields of international management and law in Russian leading universities. Dmitri has been working in the field of international education since 2002. Worked in different universities of Russia on both junior and senior positions. Dmitri specializes in developing international business of universities, higher education international marketing, and promoting universities on global educational market.