More foreigners, good and different
By 2025, at least 5% of foreign graduates of Russian universities should remain working in Russian companies.

This parameter is stated in the national project "Education". At the same time, first the pandemic, and then Western sanctions noticeably changed the situation both in the field of education and in the labor market. Experts believe that, despite all the circumstances, it is possible to achieve the stated goals. However, this will require additional efforts and greater flexibility — both from the universities themselves and from the state.

What for?

First the pandemic, then the special military operation and Western sanctions. Many people wonder: why do we need foreign graduates when many Russians don't have a job now?

First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Science and Higher Education Oleg Smolin believes that the figure of 5% did not occur by chance.

"There is a struggle for human resources all over the world. Many countries are striving to get ready-made specialists," he said in an interview with our correspondent.

Foreign graduates of Russian universities are well acquainted with the mentality and peculiarities of both countries. These people speak at least two languages fluently, which makes them very competitive in the labor market. Finally, they contribute to the strengthening of Russia in the world through "horizontal ties", because they are friends both here and there. People who have lived and studied in our country can become some sort of "agents of influence" in all spheres — politics, business, culture, etc. Their positive attitude towards our country and assistance in organizing cooperation with the countries from which they come can contribute to strengthening Russia's position in the world and the successful entry of domestic business into foreign markets. For Russian companies, such employees are simply invaluable when working in new territories, which is now becoming especially important, because many businessmen have to reorient themselves to previously unfamiliar markets.

"We must understand that foreign graduates are this very "soft power" that can do a lot for the economy and culture of our country, and solve a lot of foreign policy tasks. This is extremely important in the current conditions," says Natalia Neporada, Director of the MGIMO Career Center, Executive Director of the International Employers Club. According to her, until now, many representatives of Russian business continue to try to establish work in distant and exotic regions of the world, and they often fail, because they face many problems that go beyond the traditional rules of building international business. "It's one thing to work with European companies according to Western standards. And it's something completely different to come to a developing country with a very strong national mentality. In order to succeed, it is necessary to actively form an international staff for such projects. As I am strongly convinced, a foreign student who received education in Russia is the best candidate. That is, companies need to realize that it is worth paying attention to foreign students and graduates," Natalia Neporada believes.

The background of the issue

For the first time, the idea to set target numbers of foreign students who should remain working in Russia was announced in 2018 at a meeting of the Presidential Council for Strategic Development and National Projects. Shortly after that, the world faced the pandemic, which prevented a significant number of foreign students from coming after the holidays and continuing their studies in Russia.

Nevertheless, in December 2020, the Ministry of Education and Science issued an order "On a comprehensive plan to attract foreign citizens to study in Russian organizations engaged in educational activities under educational programs of higher education, with a view to their subsequent employment in Russian and multinational companies abroad for 2021–2024." In this document, the goal remains the same — 5%.

The situation has worsened even more with the introduction of sanctions against our country. "In March and April, the embassies forced the overwhelming number of students from Europe, Canada and the USA to leave Russia. This year's foreign graduates continued their studies remotely and received diplomas. But it is likely that foreign students on their 1st and 2nd year of study will be transferred to local universities — we can predict a decrease among this category of foreign students," said Anton Podshivalov, Chairman of the Board of the All-Russian Association of Career Centers.

At the same time, as Oleg Smolin noted, there are two different issues that can be affected by sanctions and the pandemic. "These are students and graduates. Though there is no direct dependence. Let's say that if the number of students has decreased due to the pandemic, this does not mean that 5% of the smaller number will not work with us," he says. In addition, in his opinion, the figures of the national project were focused not on those countries that subjected Russia to sanctions, but on others, primarily developing ones.

Market experts are generally positive about the future and believe that it is possible to fulfill the expectations. However, universities have to respond more quickly to the changing situation, and the state needs to take a number of legislative decisions.
According to the Ministry of Education and Science, the number of foreign applicants wishing to receive higher education in Russia is growing every year. In 2021, Russia ranked 5th in the world in terms of the number of international students.

In the 2021/2022 academic year, students from Kazakhstan (61 thousand students), Uzbekistan (48.7 thousand students), China (32.6 thousand students), Turkmenistan (30.6 thousand students), Tajikistan (23.1 thousand students), India (16.7 thousand students), Egypt (12.4 thousand students), Belarus (10.2 thousand students), Ukraine (9.1 thousand students) and Kyrgyzstan (8.6 thousand students) came to Russia to receive higher education. The most popular field of study among foreign students in our country is medicine. Other m ost p opular fi elds a re e conomics, management, law, international relations, software engineering, computer science and computer engineering, applied mathematics and computer science.
Foreign citizens and Russians living abroad can study in Russia according to the quota of the Government of the Russian Federation. In recent years, this quota has increased significantly: in 2020 it amounted to 15 thousand people, in 2021–18 thousand, in 2022–23 thousand. In 2023, the number of places at universities allocated to foreign citizens will reach 30 thousand people. Thus, in order to increase the number of foreign students in Russian universities, the quota of the Government of the Russian Federation for 2023 will be increased by 2 times compared to 2020.
What to do?

For many foreigners, Russia is still a place where they would like to live and work. And studying is just a means, one of the links in the chain of steps towards a better life.

"In recent years, Russia's reputation as a country worth going to for education has grown significantly, and the numbers of foreign listeners and students confirm this. Based on available research, we can assume that Russia is interested in foreign citizens, first of all, as a country where you can get a high-quality medical education for a reasonable price, and, secondly, as a country that can give the opportunity for career or business development: about 30% of all students of preparatory faculties in Russia study the language precisely for this purpose," said Nikita Strelchuk, Director of Academic Relations at the Education Export Center.

However, foreign graduates have many difficulties due to the special aspects of Russian legislation. And not everyone manages to solve them, even the most talented and persistent ones are often unable to do so. As a result, many leave, despite the fact that they would like to stay in our country.

"We do a lot to promote the employment of foreign students in Russia through specialized events and ensure that companies are ready to hire foreigners. However, there is a barrier in the legislation itself: the study visa expires, foreign students are forced to leave the country, get the employment visa, and only after that they can work in Russian companies. And due to the current logistical difficulties, this becomes a super task even for the most motivated graduates and employers," says Anton Podshivalov.

On July 14 of this year, the federal law "On Amendments to the Federal Law "On the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens in the Russian Federation" and other legislative acts of the Russian Federation" was signed, making certain changes to the situation of foreign students of Russian universities. In particular, it introduces the concept of the temporary residence permit for obtaining education for the entire duration of training, gives three years after graduation for submitting documents for the residence permit, etc. However, most of the provisions of this document will become valid since January 1, 2023.

In addition to the legislative ones, there are other problems that need to be solved. In relation to universities, this is, first of all, a slow adaptation to changing conditions. "Universities also have to realize that foreign students can and should be assisted in finding a job. Not every university decides to introduce these students to companies that search, for example, for Russian trainees. They just need to learn how to communicate with the business world and offer such solutions to internationally oriented companies," Natalia Neporada believes.

There is another side of the coin: the social one.

"We understand why our students rush to other countries. There are higher standards of living and more opportunities for professional self-realization. If we want them to stay in Russia, we must ensure a higher standard of living and employment opportunities here. This is not a question of universities, but of the quality of life in the country. Until we solve this problem, it will be extremely difficult to solve the problem of brain drain. If we want people to go to Russia, like in the era of Peter the Great, and not to flee from here en masse, like in the early Soviet years, we need to continue lifting restrictions on the acquisition of the residence permit and citizenship for people who have graduated from Russian universities. Yes, we are doing a lot, but this is clearly not enough," says Oleg Smolin, First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Science and Higher Education.

In addition, not all universities have managed to organize this year's admission campaign with a focus on new markets. As a result, experts predict a reduction in the number of international students this year. However, they consider this a temporary phenomenon, and believe that the we will be able to change the situation in the next academic year.

A look into the future

Russia needs to enter new markets as soon as possible in search of foreign students, especially since there is interest in our education there.

Evgeny Sagaidak, Head of the Department of Education Export at Novosibirsk State University, notes that in recent years the number of students from the Arab world, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa has already increased.

"The university is actively working to attract applicants from these regions, and is developing joint educational programs with universities in China. The rapidly developing educational markets of the countries of the Asia-Pacific region with a high demographic potential and a growing demand for education in the field of fundamental and applied science become a promising area," he said.

"We can say that the whole world is promising for us. At the same time, much depends on the industry. For example, if we are talking about the oil sector, we will talk about countries that have deposits. If we are talking about IT, then those countries where this sphere is not yet well-developed are more promising for us," Natalia Neporada believes.

Anton Podshivalov agrees with her. In his opinion, the new markets are the CIS countries, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.

"It is worth preparing for changes in the cohort of students and the growth of interest in foreigners as employees among Russian companies. Russian business is discovering new markets, where it is often impossible to work without the professional assistance of citizens of the country. The same African continent requires knowledge of national characteristics, which you cannot learn from books. In this regard, a foreigner from Africa, educated in Russia, is an ideal candidate. We will never stop saying that the main value of a foreign graduate is the ability to be a "bridge" between Russian and foreign culture, economy, etc. We consider managerial positions based on cooperation between countries to be potentially productive. These are: business development manager, head of the company's representative office abroad, assistant manager for the development of international relations, translator, etc. And if, for example, a high-quality technical education is attached to this, then there will be no price for such a specialist,"Anton Podshivalov believes.
A large n umber of career guidance and employment events are held for international students and graduates. One of them, which turned out to be a landmark, is the "Be in work" career workshop for international students. More than 150 international students from 42 countries and 15 Moscow universities took part in the event in person. The number of views of online trainings exceeded 55 thousand. There was also a stand session for companies that gave real career opportunities to students, and a good educational block where they explained to foreign students how to write a resume, pass an interview, there were master classes on the legal aspects of job search, on business etiquette. Also, students could take professional testing, get career advice with gamification elements.

Some students start working already during their training, get the necessary experience and documents to stay in Russia after graduation and continue walking the path of professional realization.

"An important factor for career development is adaptability in a professional environment: for example, medical students practice in local hospitals, and future managers study the context of Russian business and managerial culture," says Evgeny Sagaidak.

According to Nikita Strelchuk, an increase in the number of foreign students will occur even if our country completely abandons the two–tier system of higher education — foreigners will consider Russia as the "end point" of their journey.
Vladislav Kiselev
General Director of the International Center for Creative Hospitality.
Expert in the field of public relations. Journalist. Political strategist. Graduated from the Department of Journalism of Lomonosov Moscow State University and the Moscow School of Political Studies. Worked in the State Duma and the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, the Moscow City Duma, the Moscow Chamber of Commerce and Industry, federal and Moscow media, and a number of large Russian companies. The actual state counselor of the city of Moscow of the 3rd class. Laureate of the Moscow City Award in the field of journalism. Member of the Moscow Union of Journalists.