It will get better
For the third year now, the international education market has been ending up in the "red zone", trying to find the bottom, push off, and surpass the results of the 2018/19 academic year which, in fact, became the last full-fledged recruiting season. Do you still remember those times when we planned a travel schedule for a year ahead, registering as participants in exhibitions and conferences around the world, without any anxiety? Pleasant meetings with old friends, fascinating prospects of new academic alliances, impressions and memories… It all ended too suddenly and quickly.

The harsh truth is that we, academic international relations experts, did not really appreciate these opportunities. We sometimes buried ourselves in routine, instead of fully absorbing the opportunities provided and, relying on the successful experience of colleagues, positively influence the quality of training and support of foreign students at our universities, develop a range of educational programs in foreign languages. Much has been done, but not everything.

Well, let's try to imagine what the next year will bring us, in addition to surprises. I would like to mention that in the conditions of global uncertainty and for the reasons outlined in the previous paragraph, the role of international university services as points of growth and ensuring the economic sustainability of educational institutions is changing from decorative and even formal, to fundamental and systemic. An attempt to realize the export potential of Russian education in general, and of each university in particular, may be a good opportunity to reconfigure internal processes in the interests of foreign students as an adequatemetrics of quantitative and qualitative success.

In order not to be known as unsuccessful predictors and forecasters, let us only try to identify the trends that have developed in the Russian segment of the international education market and figure out how to use them for the benefit of our educational institutions and, ultimately, for the benefit of our country.
Political Aspect

Despite the events taking place, it should be noted that Russia's political relations with countries that have traditionally been main sources of foreign students to domestic universities have maintained a high level of contacts, and in some areas have reached an unprecedented level of mutual trust. The current geopolitical contradictions force many countries to make an unambiguous choice in favor of cooperation with Russia. This is manifested in the development of military-political and socio-economic ties, business contacts, humanitarian cooperation. Russia maintains and strengthens its status as a global superpower capable of pursuing a multi-vector and multifactorial policy based on its own aspirations. As a result, we are gaining considerable sympathy from ordinary people from all over the world who see Russia as a defender of conservative values and balanced approaches to solving various issues. Many of them are ready to go themselves or send their children to study in Russian universities in order, taking into account the circumstances, to gain a competitive advantage in the labor market in the form of knowledge of the Russian language, the specifics of cooperation with Russian organizations and, eventually, doing business with Russia.

As employees of the academic sphere, we understand that international education always follows on the heels of international affairs and foreign economic projects, but attracting foreign students is a people-oriented work as you have to deal with their demands and expectations conditioned by a wide range of factors. Each applicant has their own story, so we should be able to make such an offer that will be perceived as providing an absolute advantage over competitors from other countries: let's not forget that in 2023 we will work in an even more aggressive external environment than before.
It should be noted that the leadership of our country is doing a lot to create a certain groundwork in the difficult battle for the minds and hearts of foreign youth. There is little talk about this, but in accordance with Federal Law No. 357-FZ of 07/14/2022, foreign citizens studying full-time at undergraduate, graduate, postgraduate programs in a state educational organization will have the opportunity to apply for a temporary residence permit in Russia for the entire period of study, and after graduation will be able to apply for a residence permit for receiving an education.

We will not delve further into political reviews, but summarize what has been said by the fact that academic migration has never been so accessible and promising anywhere else in the world: Russia has formulated rules for attracting talented foreign youth, offering, in fact, the prospect of developing a professional career, and we have the right to expect a surge of interest in education in Russia.

For the full realization of the most powerful potential, we consider it expedient to start an expert discussion of a branded umbrella platform for recruiting foreign students, on which all Russian universities wishing to strengthen their international positions could rely. Our proposal is that when creating such a platform, it should be assumed that hesitant foreign applicants, when choosing study options abroad, will, first of all, be guided by information about the country to give preference to, and only secondarily by the parameters of the university. Informing foreign applicants about the safety of life in Russia, about financial accessibility, high quality and worldwide recognition of Russian education, about the prospects of a professional career in Russia – that's what matters now. Acting as a united front, unifying the presentation of information online, participating in international exhibitions on the same platform, universities will strengthen and harmoniously complement each other's positions, representing different regions of our country and collectively implementing the entire range of educational programs that may be of interest to foreign applicants.
Academic Aspect

If the above-stated assumption about the increasing interest of foreign citizens in studying in Russia is true, then it should be noted that this will require universities to make certain changes in the positioning and implementation of their educational programs. Of course, it is necessary to develop a range of educational programs in foreign languages – and not only in the field of medicine! It may be necessary to audit the demand for existing programs from foreign citizens, evaluate existing channels for their involvement and identify those subject areas in which it is advisable to launch an experiment with teaching in a foreign language. However, here it would be appropriate to ask the question: should there be an English-language program? With all the unambiguity of choosing English as a lingua franca (a large amount of literature, easily-selected teachers, etc.), think about the fact that even with the highest costs, the implementation of a Undergraduate program in management, say, in Arabic, will allow you to enter the market of Arabic-speaking countries, which, according to various estimates, accounts from 400 to 600 million people, and will increase the chances of recruiting full-fledged groups due to targeted positioning.

However, if we are talking about a serious program of academic migration, then, of course, it is necessary to increase the role of foundation courses. In the last EEM issue, we discussed this problem in detail in the chief editor's article, so now we will only briefly outline our position.

Foundation courses in universities should turn into comprehensive tools for the adaptation of foreign students. Ideally, Russian language training should begin a month before arriving in Russia using online learning tools so that a student can say at least something during border control and get to the university campus on their own. This will reduce or even prevent the effect of cultural shock and painful adaptation to our conditions.

The traditions of our higher school in terms of teaching foreigners the Russian language and socio-cultural adaptation date back decades. However, we believe that there is a certain problem: we do not fully take into account the nature of academic migration. The fact is that, until recently, speaking about the category of foreigners studying at their own expense, we were dealing with the so-called leaching academic migration, when guys go to Russia, more driven by issues of professional self-fulfillment than academic development. In our opinion, within the framework of the foundation courses, more active work should be carried out on social and legal adaptation, which will give foreign students a better understanding of the peculiarities of our legislation in terms of opportunities and limitations that the foreign student status gives. In addition, it is necessary to carry out cyclical work on the professional and academic orientation of students of preparatory faculties, because often their expectations about Russia do not come true, and they have to change their initial plans. We should help them by reorienting them, for example, to another area of training or even to receive secondary vocational education.

Commercial Aspect

The trend of recent years, associated with the reduction of in-person contacts between university representatives and potential students, has formed new stable segments of university marketing work – online exhibitions and recruiting agents. The main difference between these marketing environments is the presence of an intermediary between the university and the applicant, which has certain properties that can both strengthen that can either improve marketing positions and advantages of the university or weaken them. It is obvious that the university needs to develop new advertising and information materials, learn how to use new mechanisms for delivering information and communicating with interested parties. That is, universities need to audit their marketing positions and offers and, if necessary, reformulate them.
In addition, international university services need to acquire or develop new competencies that will allow them to effectively use the fruits of the new marketing opportunities. The main difference of the new reality is that the emotional, engaging approach to work that was previously used at traditional exhibitions should be transferred to the recruiting partner. After all, working with agents is based on mutual trust and respect: they say for a reason that education business a people's business. In order to gain trust, it is necessary to reconsider the priority of working with agents in the direction of increasing: promptly respond to their requests, invite them to all kinds of presentation events, congratulate them on seasonal holidays. And remember that the result of an agent's work is a person who agrees to enroll in your university.

As for working at online exhibitions, their value for the university lies in obtaining an up-to-date database of people who have expressed interest in the possibility of studying in Russia to one degree or another. The processing of applications from potential applicants should be shifted towards a pragmatic model which, by digitizing the results of work at all stages of interaction with the client, will achieve the desired result — an increase in numbers of foreign students. The consequence of regularly receiving fresh applications from applicants will be the need to develop a "commercial block" which will constantly process incoming applications (leads) and conduct them through all stages of the "sales funnel". This "funnel" should reflect the brightest advantages of the university, which will effectively convert interested applicants into students!
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.