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.