However, promoting the new format requires much more effort from universities than the "traditional" programs. Effort must b e made to d ebunk t he emerging myths and work through the negative experiences that may have occurred during the forced transition caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which neither the infrastructure nor the key actors were prepared for. When distance learning programs are implemented in partnership with online platforms, the task of raising awareness is to some extent shared with the partner, which increases the temptation to put it all on the partner's shoulders. This is the easiest solution, but also the least efficient one, as the online platforms' marketing policies work best among already interested audiences.
These results are backed by the key conclusions of Olga Bakumenko, Cand.Sc. in Economics, expert of the Management Training Center at NRU HSE – St.Petersburg, head of the "Universities and Marketing" consulting agency. She points out that with the forced digitization caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the ban on some social media, the exclusion of Russian universities from global rankings, the blocking of contextual advertising by foreign services and portals, official university websites are increasingly playing a key role as information sources and brand ambassadors of the universities.
Following this line of thought, we decided to examine the way in which Russian universities present their online programs on their official web sites. We looked at 10 universities offering full-time online Master's degree programs before the start of the 2022 academic year: HSE, RUDN, RANEPA, MIPT, TSU, SPbPU, UrFU, MISIS, ITMO, and the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation.
To begin with, only four out of ten universities had online program search tools configured:
- ITMO offered a search filter for "online master's degree programs" built into the program catalog;
- The Financial University had a filter by the program format in the catalog of its master's programs, where the site visitors could choose "online" format;
- MIPT website also allowed to filter by the "online" format in the catalog of master's degree programs 1. However, the links on all four of these programs were broken and returned a 404 error when trying to navigate. At the same time, the MIPT website has working links within the "Master's degree programs" section, with detailed information about each program, and even in the absence of the respective search filter, one could still navigate conveniently using the "online" search term, as each program had its main properties listed in the summary card 2;
- HSE website has a separate page with extensive information about the ongoing online master's degree programs 3.
As the next step, we analyzed the contents of pages describing online master's degree programs on university websites. Six universities (HSE, ITMO, MISIS, MIPT, TSU, and the Financial University) had detailed, clearly visualized content (regardless of whether the program is implemented internally or with partner support) and answered basic questions that applicants might have when choosing the university. The notable exception in this group was MIPT website, on which we could not find information about the program implemented in partnership with SkillFactory; the emphasis was placed on online programs implemented by the Department of Discrete Mathematics. MIPT also has a special Telegram chat room dedicated to all of the institute's online programs.