Why Should Russian Universities Manage Digital Internationalization of Research?

A university is involved into 3 types of internationalization processes: external, internal (domestic), and digital. The pandemic with closed borders and cancelled events determined the primary role of digital internationalization, which is a university's internet-branding and digital communication.
Digital internationalization in Russian universities is often a function of international offices responsible primarily for educational export. Due to that fact international research branding and digital communication is not always a controlled process as research administrators are seldom managing international activities in Russian case.

Lacking digital research internationalization leads to a small share of postgraduate international students in the educational export structure of the RF (as research reputation is one of the main factors in decision-making for foreign master and PhD applicants), as well as to twice lower positions of Russian university-affiliated think tanks in the Global Think Tanks Index Report compared with independent think tanks (a set of criteria of the Report are based on web-analytics).

A research brand is not one-dimensional. International experience of university branding shows that research potential may be a part of the overall corporate image (a university as a leading esearchintensive center), or an essential component of educational branding (when unique scientific competencies of a university are the major attribute of academic programs' positioning). A research brand itself includes three levels: a university level, a divisional level (brands of research departments), and personal level (brands of leading scientists affiliated with a university). In Internet a research brand is positioned in marketer-dominated channels such as an official website and official accounts of a university in social media.

A university's research brand is firstly presented on its website page devoted to research. Analysis showed that research webpages of the world leading universities (in terms of QS 2021 rating 1) are structured according to the latest digital marketing trends, have call-to-action buttons and research brand personality reflected on the first screen. Research brand personality includes a research slogan, a brand meaning, a mission, research values, a vision, as well as corporate social responsibility (or research impact). Other screens cover scientific infrastructure and management, scientific photo and video, scientific news and stories. Research accounts of foreign universities (for example, Princeton, Imperial college London, Chicago University) in Facebook, Twitter and YouTube reflect brand personality, contain good-quality photo and video and have high engagement metrics (thousands of subscribers, likes or views). Scientific branding of world leading universities is not a one-way conversation, but a dialogue and a reflection of scientific corporate culture (as emotional environment is an essential component of a brand). Russian universities prefer to post scientific news on their websites mainly delivering information to readers but not interacting with them.

A key part in research branding of a university play brands of scientific departments. Scientific institutes of the world leading universities have highquality websites (where its' brand meaning is reflected as well as the key research competences, postgraduate academic programs and expertise are positioned) and do integral marketing communications (have accounts in social media, conduct email-marketing, arrange online branded events, etc.).

While research departments of Russian universities are not actively developing and positioning their digital brands worldwide, researchers are busy with communicating their personal brands and scientific results through social media channels and mass media. Nevertheless, it is fair to assume that scientific communication without scientific branding leads to opportunity costs, that may be measured as a level of research brand appeal.

Web-analytics make it possible to estimate a digital research brand appeal. For example, using competitor intelligence instruments (SimilarWeb and others) we can evaluate if a university's website is interesting for researchers. Top‑10 world leading universities of the QS rating 2021 have primary overlapping of websites' audience with research resources websites (ResearchGate, Springer, Science-Direct, etc.). Target audience of the top‑10 Russian universities in the same rating is rarely visiting research websites and if does so — visits national research resources (Elibrary, CyberLeninka). Twitter as the world leading social network for scientific communication is one of the top‑3 social traffic sources for the world leading universities' websites and not always leads traffic to websites of Russian universities.

Search query instruments (as SpyWords 1 and others) help to evaluate which topics connected with a university are interesting for the target audience. It was revealed that webpages devoted to research activities are 3‑times more popular for top‑10 world leading universities than for top‑10 Russian universities in the QS rating 2021. All abovementioned leads us to a conclusion that target audience of the Russian universities' websites is less presented with researchers than it is common abroad.

To estimate international digital scientific communication of Russian universities we may look at geographical structure of incoming traffic to the world leading research networks: ResearchGate (#1 website in the category "Science and Education" in the world), Mendeley (has #2 category rank) and Academia.edu (has #27 category rank). The main countries of origin of the mentioned networks' audience are: the USA, the UK, India, China, Canada, Australia, Germany, Spain, Mexica, Brazil, Indonesia, Columbia. The fact that Russia is out of the top‑10 countries by incoming traffic to the world leading research networks leads us to a conclusion about indolent digital research communication of Russian scientists.

Digital research brand appeal may be also analyzed through a geographical structure of reads of a university's scientific publications using ResearchGate. So, according to Research-Gate, Russia is the top country by reads of publications for Russian top‑10 universities in QS 2021 rating and is out of the top‑3 countries by reads of scientific publications of the world leading universities (which are read in different countries, and the country of origin is seldom on the first place in the geographical structure of reads). So, we can argue that scientific digital communication of Russian universities is much more limited by national boarders, than it is common worldwide.

Digital research internationalization of a university is vitally important for developing international research collaborations, attracting talented postgraduate students, recruiting leading scientists and getting international research grants and contracts. The key drivers of that process are: a complex research brand of a university and integral digital scientific communications. Digital research internationalization is one of the main managerial functions of research administrators in the leading world universities. Forced digitalization of the pandemic times makes essential to manage it according to the latest digital marketing trends and instruments. So, further research is needed to lay out an approach to manage digital research internationalization in Russian universities.
Olga Bakumenko, Ph.D. in Economics, HSE — Saint-Petersburg. Expert on International Digital Marketing for Universities. Olga has been working in the field of administration of university's international activities since 2008. She got her degrees from leading Russian and international on international marketing, internationalization of universities, scientific journalism, and digital marketing. She is an author of courses on digital marketing for higher education and developer of digital international marketing for universities.