Russian education export in the soft power concept
One year has passed since we adopted the new version of the University strategy. Since that time, some things we have managed to do, while others we could not complete; something we have simply failed to achieve, sometimes we have been even ahead of the plan. All of the following applies only to one strategic segment where we achieved much less than we expected; despite the fact that we have got quite substantial and somewhat unexpected results. Moreover, in a certain sense, all our activities in this segment have been chartered, and external circumstances have not helped us win that fight. We are talking about our education export as a Soft power component.
The almost 50‑years-old term "soft power", being very popular among politicians and political scientists, is still quite controversial and has no commonly accepted meaning in the aspect that we study. The author of the term, Joseph Nye, has changed his opinion on whether we should include education in soft power, forward and backward. However, after he became head of the public administration department of Harvard, he decided: we should.

We usually recommend our students and postgraduates to begin their studies of soft power with these two papers written by our colleagues: (‑podhody/pdf) by M. Lebedeva, MGIMO, and (Презентация_мягкая%20 сила%20 итог. pdf) M. Larionova, HSE.
The first work is more academic and strict in style, the second work is more of an applied one. In our turn, we agree with all our colleagues that consider education one of the chief components of soft power, even if there is some "hard sell" of educational models or applicable concepts. Further, let's proceed from this exact point.
The goal-setting of soft power largely differs from four other chief components in modern international education. And often pure chrematistics, business promotion, "recruitment" motives or "sales training" work better. Especially since their financial component is usually more pronounced; and there's always a client potential or sponsors.

A substantial analysis of international educational landscape in this exact aspect of soft power stated the Status quo and showed the leading countries (‑effektivnosti-myagkoy-sily.html), and the analysis of the major competitors' educational practices (‑2027‑krupneyshiy-vuz-evropy.html) revealed the nuances of their implementation. We consider reconducting the research to be obviously impractical taking into account the last year's changes, since any "orders of the day" are clearly of temporary nature, and a new "zero line" is still forming.
However, today's conception of Russian education export does not deny the development of joint educational institutions, but at the same time does not rely solely on them. It is way more important to find answers to the following seven questions based on the context framework of a Target country of soft power application (TCSPA).
  1. Who to teach?
  2. Where to teach?
  3. What to teach?
  4. How to teach?
  5. Who teaches?
  6. How much does it cost?
  7. Who are the partners?

Who to teach?
This question has two perspectives: countries and target audiences. To elaborate, these are two serious strategical and opportunistic aspects related to prioritizing the countries of our interest and client segments or importance. The appeal to friendliness and to the youth, which we see frequently now, is not a comprehensive answer to the question.
The goal-setting of soft power largely differs from four other chief components in modern international education.
Trying to appeal to friendliness in order to start educational cooperation, we immediately face this very feature of international relations that has slightly faded in the light of recent events but will remain a weighty clause of the reality — the foreign policy affinity that has been showing itself as the meaning of friendliness, while being not so widely supported by society. There are arguments both in favor and against it. In other words, official "friendship" does not guarantee us sympathy from the society, just as official "enmity" does not close the door. For obvious reasons, we are not going to give examples here; we are just saying they are multiple. We see a way out of this ambiguity in modern qualimetric techniques, for instance, in the BUKAT Research Group complex country ranking ( with an expanded set of statuses for this purpose.
But even when we operationalize definitions one way or another, the question of priorities remains. Education is a part of culture, and has very long-lasting effects. But educational choice is a part of market, quite a dynamic one. This is a real conflict, it cannot be ignored or "stepped over". All the most effective management practices, regardless of how we see them, tell us to "fix profits" and "preempt the niche"; and only after that we can diversify tracks on adjacent segments, starting from non-competitive ones and moving to competitive ones. For us, this may mean the today's "alliance" and "friendship" agenda with the emphasis on development in "benevolent" and "neutral" societies.
Education is a part of culture, and has very long-lasting effects. But educational choice is a part of market, quite a dynamic one.
Surprisingly, it turned out that only 15 countries were not included in this list before the special military operation.
The other perspective is the target audience; although it is not so obvious, it is still not very complicated. The prevailing point of view here determines work with young applicants as a first priority. The second priority is a Master's degree or a second Bachelor's degree. And the third one is work with young specialists that need our education for career promotion. This kind of a "pedestal" is appropriate and it is real; and, if done correctly, it bears strategical value. However, it can not be called clairvoyant; it only provides strategy for one generation. If we want to reach a sole global fundamentality, we need to look at children, especially of primary and secondary school age.
From this point of view, division of students by age results in two groups, uneven on all levels: the youth and children. Moreover, both of them have the older and the younger sub-groups. In the workflow, we use four designations for them: "junior juniors" (JJ) for primary school students, "senior juniors" (SJ) for secondary school students, "junior seniors" (JS) for those receiving their first higher education, and "senior seniors" (SS) for those aiming to get a second diploma. These target audiences actually differ extremely in any terms: in terms of world view, in terms of behavior; even more — in legal terms. And they have more differences than common features, in terms of soft power.
We should emphasize that we deliberately pay no attention here to a very big target audience suitable for soft power practices. This group includes all those who take part in retraining and professional development programs. We did not include them in our focus because they are not participants of system education. Thus, a high proportion of communicative tasks they solve makes an impact on the structure of work with them. Although, obviously, it will be very good if the educational infrastructure built in the system framework becomes capable of fulfilling this kind of educational requests, even if in an optional way.
The answer to this question, however, has other provisions related to motivation.
Where to teach?
A very simple question, at first sight, still has some variability. For a more effective immersion in the environment (which is good for the results) and a transparent economy of the process (including strengthening the stability of our education system), we should deliver education — in its main framework — in Russia, on our existing and potential infrastructure. In terms of educational management, it is as simple as that. However, in terms of soft power, the picture gets more complex.
First of all, we should keep in mind that psychological readiness to get education in another country, i. e. to come to Russia, is a fairly definite motive for choice; and it does not have to be a demonstration of passionarity. In most cases, this is a demonstration of cosmopolitanism or migration flows. According to our estimates, for "older" target audiences (JS, SS), this is a main motive for about 20% of Junior Seniors, and for about 25% of Senior Seniors. Are we interested in teaching and educating foreign youth in such cases, understanding that, on the example of Thomas Friedman's dilemma of the Lexus and the olive tree, they are likely not to choose the olive tree? We do not know the answer; it is more likely "yes" than "no"; but even if it is "yes", then, probably, a "yes" with lots of reservations and details defined by political figures and competitive environment.
We keep collecting statistics and expanding its sampling, but even without it we can see that to get access to countries applying soft power and their target audiences we need to teach in these countries as well, in places gathering target audiences without the desire to move for any reason. This means branches and/or a network of partnerships with local educational institutions.
But the tree and the fruit nowadays do not always correspond to the image from the proverb...
If we speak about "junior" audiences, there is, of course, the motivation issue, but in their case, it is about the soft power focused on their parents and relatives. As a rule, they at least belong to the business community, or even are direct representatives of local elite. But the tree and the fruit nowadays do not always correspond to the image from the proverb; thus, boarding schools in Russia themselves cannot solve the task. For humanistic reasons, we need to get access to the audience by working in the TCSPA directly, in their capitals and major regions. And although the boarding school variant already has its development pathway, our project of partner presence for the «junior» audiences of the TCSPA countries still has to be developed, taking into account its prime importance in economical and human resource aspects. We have already made our first steps by concluding 10 agreements with Chinese secondary schools, but there is still more.
We need to decide whether these audiences are a priority for us.

What to teach?
Among the few education export specialists, there is an opinion that the younger your audience, the easier it is to answer this question. In fact, it is true and false at the same tame. It is true because the knowledge and skills profile of the primary school is mostly clear and developed to some extent. To some extent — with nuances like "if it is a local school, then we teach Russian history, if it is a foreign school, then they teach the history of that country", or "here we teach in Russian, there they teach in their official language with a few subjects in Russian" — but we do get at least some results. Also, the qualification and competence profile of teachers is more or less clear, especially for boarding schools. On the other hand, it is false because the mentoring part in the "training + mentoring" sum still has to be developed. We try to view this from the perspective of extracurricular activities, social and communication perspectives. So far — in the applicable college practices and in the planned content of our lyceums. However, in modern circumstances, this issue is more complex than it seems, even when working on "own territory". When training the "younger" audience at external bases in the TCSPA countries, the problem will increase many times.
Let me illustrate these difficulties at the applied level. For this, let us think of the example with the Chinese secondary schools: the «what to teach» question arises in its substantive terms. So far we have agreed on partnership regarding the study of the Russian language. In addition to the obvious expertise, we have discussed our not-quite-detailed methodological role with our local partners. When we teach Russian to our children, it is "Russian‑1"; in our axiology, it is a value in itself. When we teach Russian to foreigners, it is "Russian‑2"; it clearly differs from Russian‑1 since there is no native integration with our culture; but we are starting to pay attention to it.
And if Russian is taught by foreigners to foreigners? This is clearly "Russian‑3". But are we sure that in China or any other country applying soft power there will be their own Natalia Bonk, close enough in motives and brilliance? After all, in modern energy and information society, a philologist's depth of cultural knowledge and the philosophical base play a larger role than a linguist's structured but emotionless knowledge.
Politically-wise, this tendency to study Russian locally is one of the real victories of our soft power; it cannot bring any emotions apart from positive ones; and any of our response profiles should contribute to its strengthening and expansion. We really need to get as many foreigners as possible, those who could communicate not only with us, but with our compatriots, in our native language. But if we do not engage in this educational activity methodically and thoroughly, we risk getting a big, but unfinished or even malformed contact base. Do we really want foreigners to be taught Russian based on the didactics of meanings, scientific victories, sports achievements, literary examples and musical images of persons known locally in Russia?
The "Russian‑3" case, of course, is just one example. But this example is characteristical, since in the forward-looking perspective of soft power the "What to teach" question has only two answers: our language and culture, and everything else. The second answer has no simple variants in either cases: we do not live in a vacuum, soft power is used by many countries, and internal competition is still a thing. Especially if we are talking about local training of the TCSPA countries. Only for the last year we have received seven refusals to start a full-scale cooperation on our educational project for "senior" audiences. And it is only within the international framework; there were similar cases within our country as well.
The general modal position of the host party sounds like this: "medicine is good, IT and engineering is very good, management is worth a try, but please no social work, journalism or any other humanitarian major here". This is very bluntly put, but taking into account their pretty sharp alertness even to college proposals, the position is still quite clear.
The situation with training here, in Russia, is a bit better. Though here as well we see a great prospect for effective development, including the Educational Production project. First of all, this is an update for relevance of main educational programs, control of academic load, and an emphasis on the cultural aspect of training in foundation faculties and departments. Combinatorics, including double diplomas and other programs, can also be promising.

How to teach?
At this point, we are moving to the next question. So, really, how do we teach, taking into account the maximum efficiency at the crazy pace of life? We have already said about reducing the academic load, about the content suitable for the demand. But open pedagogy and balanced use of online learning technologies are also a requirement of the time, a trend, and an area of development. The covid restrictions have done us a disservice here, disrupting the balance of contact and participatory education and leading to mutual demand for distant work and learning. Two years is a long time period even for such a long-cycle industry as ours. One of the most important aspects of education — communication — was likely to be lost; due to this, we noted certain concerns regarding the quality of processes and results.
But, assessing our education export potential, we pay attention to other aspects besides the "seamless" integration of online and offline practices. One of the best world engineering schools today has a copying and compiling nature (let's not engage in risky advertising and name it; everyone knows it anyway). It succeeded because of studying the world's best practices and competitive solutions and further combining them with the methods of concept planning (that is, by the way, not easy at all). However, the main idea here has not been said yet: they only study those practices that have been tested and confirmed their effectiveness.
For the foreigners we train, here or in their countries, our excessive "contemporarity" sometimes is more noticeable than ourselves, because they have something to compare us with. For instance, the training of medical students on mannequins and simulators is not as widely supported among practitioners in the TCSPA countries as we think. Not because it is bad, but because it is not enough; in some cases, they believe the skills of working with real patients are much more demanded. Of course, we can keep ignoring these expectations and continue moving along this track, but then we risk losing the medium-term competition. Soft power, however… is the primacy of attractiveness.
Nevertheless, pragmatism is also quite appropriate here. One "golden billion" manufacturer, when asked about the purpose of their sponsored supply of cyclotron to a university, answered that foreigners trained with the use of their equipment, will promote the idea of buying exactly that equipment when they come home. To the question of whether it is economically reasonable (and cyclotrones are really expensive), they answered: "You know, it is at least for 30 years." What on earth does that mean? Is this business promotion, or is this "sales training", or is this that very soft power, just from another perspective?

Who are the teachers?
The wider our expectations and the deeper our tasks, the more important the pedagogical supply of our education export is. Our classic way of teaching IT in Russian to foreigners in our local campuses is one point of the line segment; non-ambassadorial school teaching of world history in native languages in the TCSPA is its another point. We see the difference even in the first part of the segment: the "tuning" of the Preparatory Faculty, inclusion of administrative services and departmental structures, speaks clearly; as well as new subjects for social, cultural and legal adaptation, including the traditional values course. Although, we do have some achievements in our local campuses, on higher education levels.
But the second part still leaves much to be desired. One of the serious problems we faced, for example, in the Bishkek branch, was the selection of teaching staff, and not only in terms of mastering our programs and syllabi to maintain quality at the proper level. Taking into account the hallmarks of this target audience (training students from the 3rd world countries in Kyrgyzstan), we have pretty high expectations, but, so far, they are not fully satisfied. The work of dispatched staff there is complicated by financial insolvency of this model, except for one-time and showcase promotions. Apart from «teaching the teachers» by the forces of our Modern Pedagogics Department, we do not see any other clear and direct options. This year, we plan to develop the first education materials according to the coverage and content priorities.
This exact approach was chosen for the whole "Russian‑3" program, starting from the pool of Chinese projects. Apparently, it will be related to other projects of the branch network — both our own and partner projects. But for secondary education projects, especially outside the country, we, sadly and obviously, cannot do much without state support. Though launching a college project in Belarus this year seems a good idea.
For specific regulatory reasons, both in Russia and host countries, this will be a partnership project.
We understand that the imagined effortlessness of this Belarus project is just an illusion. And in other countries, with the low level of educational supply, we should evaluate other projects, from opening embassy schools for local children, to modern primary and secondary schools with either teaching in two languages or teaching a number of subjects in Russian language In the first case, there is a teaching staff, though it may need some improvements. But in the second case, teaching staff needs to be formed at the first place. A starting option here is "teachers in training" of two different categories: the ones who have to work for 3 years after getting their "free" education, and the ones having certain career plans. Those who studied in Russian pedagogical institutions — possibly, under special educational programs — can also take part in this project.
Consequently, this year we would like to see the Pedagogics Department and the Directorate for Branch Network Development conduct a joint study on majors of general secondary education in our priority countries, their markets' capacities, political nuances, and practices of financing the education export in Russia. This is necessary for making a decision on starting the development of professional standards for the "Foreign Education Teacher" qualification and either launch a necessary project or just drop the subject for now.
Sure, the lack of teachers who have all the necessary competences and high mobility is a common problem, but for education export in the TCSPA sector it reaches its critical point.

How much does it cost?
Since education is now a service, just as teaching is, and the higher school is business, we cannot avoid the talk about financing nowadays, with all the hope for the change. So we cannot avoid this talk in the context of education export as well, especially in terms of soft power. This financial issue has become a blight for education, in the deepest sense of this word. Based on the common understanding of the little chance for authorities to fund soft power, but keeping in mind the importance of such activity and having a number of directly assigned tasks, we need to find some alternative solutions and appropriate circuitry.
First of all, it is necessary to outline and fulfill the direct demand for Russian campus education export. The demand is not so low and not so high; it is pretty competitive but, frankly speaking, not that solvent for our prices. And if we take into account that this demand is not always substantive, since up to 10% of modern youth plan to launch a business or start a family, sterilizing it seems to be quite a large task. Nevertheless, it is a clear source.
Secondly, it is still allocated federal funding. Since it only applies to Russian campus education, we do not expect it to be repurposed nor expanded. We cannot and will not rely on it much.
Thirdly, targeted funding of Russian export by the TCSPA budgets. A very insignificant and constrained source, full of agents, even more than the first group of direct demand. The antagonist of soft power in itself, it is hardly worth of more attention than just environment monitoring.
The conclusion is unpromising so far: all the projects of Russian education export, apart from higher education in local campuses, do not have independent sources for their development. It is not a verdict, but in that case all the projects related to this group will be done depending on the demand of economical expediency. Obviously, any investment manager in all these cases will not think of soft power as the first option. Thus, the potential of our education export is significantly limited, comparing to its capacity.
This is why we only consider selection by countries and regions of interest on a partnership basis as the paradigm of education export.

Who are the partners?
The final question here is of key importance for us, due to all the circumstances, for export channels both in Russia and in the TCSPA. This is a question of partners suitable for setting and solving tasks together, including those that fit into the soft power field.
Generally speaking, there are four such partner niches. The first one is cooperation with agents and private actors of education industry. These partners are more available, ready and willing to work on brownfield projects. Their working capital is more often associated with lobbying, though in some countries there are partners with monetary capitals and a technical base. Forming a group due to common features, these partners are universal — they can assist with projects in both export channels, "in" and "out", but actually they have some clear limits, risks and scope of interests.
The second niche is interaction with ambitious and committed stakeholders, often — with sponsors or benefactors with service motives. They are fewer and a bit less capable than partners from the first category; less substantive, but very process-oriented. According to the substantive logic, they should be politically motivated, but we have not found someone like that over the year of intensive search. Direct return on investment made to joint projects is unlikely, but effective partnership with them in the "out" channel in the TCSPA should be carried out in projects with infrastructural tasks (provided there is enough money).
The third niche consists of corporates of direct or indirect order, and targets of tasks of presence. They are few, literally a handful; most of them have the state playing a major role in their development and are only potentially ready for independent development in educational field. Nowadays, these partners do not really want to participate in any education export projects, and we do not have enough power to «wake them up». Even the newest list of instructions of the President of Russia according to his Address to the Federal Assembly in this year, in large part related to education, does not contain much triggers for involving the corpos in education export. Though there is still the highest possible potential for cooperation in both channels.
Finally, the fourth category of partners, the most ready for cooperation, but the most divergent in potentials and the most contradictory in zones of interests. Schools, colleges and universities in the TCSPA, not the best in their countries, but close to that. Having good development stimuli of any kind or non-compelling circumstances. Dispositive and proactive, according to the beliefs of their managers. Better with an anchor order or system central control. Such partners can be found in any TCSPA country, but the conflicts of interests (they can be solved though), expectations of help and certain psychological and career concerns (well…) hinder the generalization of cooperation with them.
We should also talk about various hybrids and combinations of two main export channels, which is more than appropriate, especially on the starting stages of the system development. We consider it is safe enough to say that such projects can be partnered by other Russian educational institutions (like the Arabian branch RUSS-HSE); but, opposite to the previously mentioned category, the partners should be from "the best ones" category. Apart from that, no more differences. Therefore, whether to think of them as a separate category (and they are few, just like the corpos), or as a sub-category of the fourth category, is a matter of choice. We believe them to fit in the fourth category.
The focal points of the agenda that have been out of the system so far
Before finishing the talk, let us discuss four more aspects that have not found their place in the structured answer, but nevertheless are discussed in the community.
Some Russian education export activists not only insist to make it free for our target audiences, but even to guarantee employment after graduation. As we all know well, we have a few own approved initiatives on free education, but they are all focused on patriotic and civic education. In terms of Russian education export, free-of-charge basis is an extremely important and a very debatable topic. On the one hand, this is, of course, a useful social technique. Speaking about our students, for example, we fully support it. Regarding the TCSPA target audience, our position is different: the free-of-charge basis of Russian education export should only be a format of co-funding or subsidizing, even if students see it as 100% free. The main reason for this position is the fact that in the capitalist societies, no one values the free. Moreover, everything free is taken for granted, and then it is perceived as weak. There should always be someone who would ask, "So, I paid for your education, what now?"
As for the employment guarantee as an incentive, we cannot even outline its expediency and mechanisms for ourselves. And this is definitely not the place to give any privileges for foreign students. Moreover, in the Russian campuses export channel, guys from TCSPA already have some privileges over our students.
When discussing the problematics of Russian education export, we often omit one of important aspects — the further vocational education and retraining segment. It has yet to be considered as part of system education (nowadays this may be a mistake), though we are already making some steps towards institutionalizing this kind of education. I imagine, this educational niche, especially together with cautious and transparent accreditation and nostrification is quite worthy of careful study and possible development. Moreover, there are also certain good prospects for using the "out" channels.
Since we are talking about nostrification, let us discuss the third aspect here — the recognition of Russian diplomas received by foreigners, or diplomas of our standard received in branches and partner universities in third countries. The reason is that about 15% of the youth wishing to get Russian education in the "in" channel plan to work neither in Russia nor in their home country. They consider all such opportunities as their educational transit. We have not yet collected a sufficient data array for estimating the transit share of our "out" channel, but we
assume that this share is likely to be bigger that in the "in" channel. Until recently we were very concerned about the recognition of our diplomas abroad, so we need to invert all our accumulated knowledge and developings for increasing the demand for Russian education export in the context of soft power. And here, probably, a substantive campaign would also make sense, just like with the FVE, especially taking into account that soft power here shows its quadratic nature.
And finally, the fourth aspect. Some of our colleagues consider training our domestic specialists for working abroad as a separate sector of education export. With one exception related to the "who teaches" issue, this is obviously not true. But this view definitely leads us to soft power. Moreover, this view gives us an opportunity to look at the Russian education import, even though it is not our task at all. So it becomes clear that the content of exported education should be adapted for goals and tasks while balancing consumer demand with the expectations of employers in TCSPA (which could bring benefit to us as well) Exported education technologies are going to be pretty well balanced in quantity of offline and online classes; resource base is needed for laying long-term communicative foundations and establishing the "anchors of affection", including technological ones. Most of the TCSPA countries believe that the teaching staff of the host party should undergo retraining programs. And this is much more of a priority there than any direct education import (export, in our case).
On a final note, I would like to discuss an important motivational aspect: before the start of the last year's admission campaign, we stopped all our international platform activities, choosing the #StudyInRussia project as a priority. That was quite a long story that, as we hope, ends positively for us soon. But we are aware that the expected involvement in Russian education export at a new level will impose a larger responsibility on us. And since it is better not to do something at all than to do in poorly, than we will have to do at least analysis, research, reasoning, road maps and document projects for much of the above.And, if you are getting all too delighted, let me remind you about our most serious failure in the implementation of the Strategy in the international sector. We have not achieved any significant success in the implementation of the "League of Schools" project approved by the Academic Council one year ago.
Dzhomart Aliev
First Vice-Rector of the Russian State Social University
PhD in Economics (Bauman Moscow State Technical University), Doctor of Philosophy (Kennedy Western University, USA).
From 2000 to 2001 worked as First Vice President of LUKOIL-Europe, and from 2001 to 2002 — head of the Center in the parent company. 2002–2012 — Bank URALSIB, First Deputy Chairman of the Board. 2012–2015 — Director of Rosatom Overseas. 2016–2017 — Chairman of the International Higher School of Business MIRBIS (Institute).