New roles of electronic internationalization of universities
We can manage risks, but we cannot manage uncertainty. Today we are in the uncertainty. Only one thing is clear: the world will not be the same.

In the early 2000s, when international activities at Russian universities began to develop systematically, the main attention was paid to the instruments of "soft power" and their role in shaping the image of Russia abroad.

No, I'm not saying we need to go back. It would be a cognitive mistake to draw conclusions based on previous experience. But this "exclusion zone" from which we have been getting out for so many years is with us again. And we need to get out again. But the tools can be different.

I don't fully agree with the experts who claim that mobility will be the main tool. Remember, in the early 2000s, foreign funds and partners themselves came to us and wanted to cooperate. Now they are unlikely to come and support. But even if our Internet is closed, from abroad they will look at us through the screen — it's safer this way. The question is, what will they see there?

We have lived through two of the biggest crises in the history of mankind in two years. And if the pandemic rather consolidated and united us with foreign partners, then the special operation separates us. I want to say that, moving forward, we cannot in any way "skip" the consequences of the previous pandemic crisis which led to accelerated digitalization. Where have we lost the most, in terms of digital marketing? I will stress three points.
The first is international scientific cooperation. There were prerequisites for this. Scientific cooperation, if it is based on a strong corporate culture and international communications, cannot be terminated through sanctions. An open letter to Science magazine confirms this. If we lock ourselves inside the country, even publishing in foreign journals, it will be native science and articles that few people will read. Research-Gate, Academia.edu, Mendeley and other world scientific social networks are not closed to us yet, but we have worked little in them before.

The second is interuniversity cooperation. Universities are now forced to rethink their positioning attributes related to doble degree programs, academic mobility, visiting professors. The question is, how accustomed to positioning ourselves at the expense of our partners and the possibilities of interuniversity cooperation have we become in recent years?

And the third is the international reputation. Even if international rating agencies include Russian universities in their ratings, it is obvious that the positions of experts will be biased. On the other hand, we have already taught our applicants to focus on ratings. In recent surveys that I conducted, students put the positions in the rankings in second place after the site among useful sources of information about the university. And Russian subject ratings are much inferior to foreign ones in digital marketing. The platforms on which we position the university have a strong impact on digital reputation.
What can we do?

Firstly, in my opinion, now is that critical moment when we need to answer the question "Who are we?" not with a phrase "one of the best universities in Russia", but with our own identity. In a situation where our readers feel fear and lack trust, "selfish marketing" is useless at best.

Secondly, a crisis is a time when you need to invest in relationships. A friend in need is a friend indeed. Now it is important to rethink our values and think about whether our own employees and students trust us. Because they are the ones who will preserve those few personal and professional international ties. The question is, what will they broadcast in their communications?

Thirdly, there is another question: how do we organize communications now with our partners and applicants? What points will we convey to them? Websites of foreign universities have long become independent digital media. Media trusted as independent, authoritative and reliable.

And it is also important to learn from the mistakes of the pandemic. In 2020, foreign universities shared their risks in communication with foreign applicants. We were silent during the 2020 admission campaign. In 2021, on the websites of most foreign universities, you saw the contribution of scientists to overcoming the consequences of the pandemic. On the main pages of our websites there were calls for vaccination and coronavirus restrictions. Today we must share risks with our foreign applicants and build the trust of our foreign colleagues.

Now when Facebook and Instagram are blocked, restrictions on Twitter and Youtube, we will need to re-design the digital path of foreign target audiences.

We still have educational portals, exhibitions, blogs, a website, messengers and email newsletters. The website will strengthen its role as the face of the university brand. But the restriction of advertising in Google can be quite a blow for us. Analytics shows that the digital path of an applicant often begins with a search query in which they formulate not the name of the university, but a way to solve their problem. This means that we need to create content about the problems of our applicants and partners, and not about ourselves.
We need to become truly useful and convenient for our readers. To gain their trust, we need to show that we care about their needs. And in conclusion, it is necessary to talk about the good. Any crisis is a time of opportunity. What opportunities have opened up for us?

The first thing that comes to mind is the low exchange rate of the ruble. This is an opportunity to export education to the markets of Asia, Africa and Latin America that are open to us. It is only important to avoid positioning based on the low price. This is possible only in the commodity markets where the consumer chooses the cheapest product, because they do not see the difference (sand, crushed stone, for example). Higher education is not a commodity market. And price positioning is quite capable of ruining our international reputation.

The second thing that comes to mind is the high demand for education in European universities due to the migration crisis. It will be more difficult for applicants from our target countries to enroll there. And applicants to European universities from our target countries are often talented and solvent. Such applicants rely on an independent search for information about the university and compare information in different sources.

Therefore, in my opinion, the electronic internationalization of universities today can become one of the effective tools of "soft power" and the development of education exports.
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.