Prospects for online master's programmes at russian universities
With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing both students and professors out of the classroom and behind their computer screens, the world was led to believe that the idea of implementing fully-online higher education programs had some promise and an interested audience behind it. And we are not talking about extramural studies implemented remotely, no. We are talking about full-time programs that give the full "student" status with all the associated benefits (travel discounts, draft deferment, etc.), but which can be completed from anywhere in the world and do not require a visit to a university campus.
These programs are starting to appear around the world literally before our eyes. In Russia, the most common fulltime online programs are those at the Master's degree level. Some of them are implemented by universities in partnership with large companies and online platforms (Netology, SkillFactory, SkillBox). As of the beginning of the 2022 academic year, Russian universities offered more than 3 0 f ull-time o nline M aster's d egree p rograms 1 (see Appendix).
1 Note: Because the field of online higher education programs is still in its infancy, there is a lack of both user-friendly search tools and consistent use of terms when describing and marketing these programs. Given the above, the authors do not claim to have identified all such Russian university programs.
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.
For the remaining universities, their pages dedicated to online programs mainly contained three blocks of information:
  1. Program description, which could be presented in a verbose literary manner or follow the official wording of the competence passport, designed in accordance with the Federal Standard for Higher Professional Education.
  2. Admission-related technical issues.
  3. Contacts.
This kind of content is clearly not designed for the applicants and their needs, and certainly does not follow the main task of modern digital marketing, which is to build a dialog and interaction with the user. In other words, it is important to write less about yourself and more for the prospective applicants. It would be more relevant to provide important information about entrance exams, any possible discounts on training programs, the availability of curatorial support during training, and in the case of the new online format, an indication of its benefits and debunking of possible misconceptions and fears. Also, since full-time online programs are still a fairly new format in the educational market, the university must also commit to debunking the emerging myths and conveying basic information about the diploma, draft deferment, the eligibility for a dormitory and the possibility of obtaining a student visa for foreign applicants.

    1. RANEPA (Institute of Business Studies) / РАНХиГС (ИБДА) Partner / Partner Netology / Нетология
    Project management in IT and digital / Управление проектами в IT и digital
    38.04.02 Management / Менеджмент

    2. RANEPA (Institute of Economics, athematics and Information Technology) / РАНХиГС (ЭМИТ) Partner / Partner Skillbox
    Game Design & Development

    3. RANEPA (Institute of Economics, Mathematics and Information Technology) / РАНХиГС (ЭМИТ)
    Data Analysis and Artificial Intelligence / Анализ данных и искусственный интеллект

    Digital Economics / Цифровая экономика

    5. SPbPU / СПбПУ Partner / Partner Skillbox
    Business Competitiveness Management / Управление конкуренто-способностью бизнеса

    6. UrFU / УрФУ Partner / Partner SkillFactory
    Engineering of Machine Learning / Инженерия машинного обучения

    7. MISIS / МИСиС
    Data Sciences / Науки о данных

    8. RUDN / РУДН Partner / Partner Netology / Нетология
    Online marketing and e-commerce / Интернет-маркетинг и электронная коммерция

    9. ITMO / ИТМО Partner / Партнер Netology / Нетология
    Product design

    10. MIPT / МФТИ Partner / Партнер SkillFactory
    Data Sciences / Науки о данных

    11. MIPT / МФТИ Partner / Партнер SkillFactory
    Applied Data Analysis in Medicine / Прикладной анализ данных в медицинской сфере

    12. MIPT / МФТИ Partner / Партнер SkillFactory
    IT product management / Управление IT-продуктом

    13. MIPT / МФТИ Partner / Партнер Netology
    Financial technology and analytics / Финансовые технологии и аналитика

    14. MIPT / МФТИ
    Modern State of Artificial Intelligence en / Modern State of Artificial Intelligence англ.

    15. MIPT / МФТИ
    Contemporary Combinatorics en / Contemporary Сombinatorics англ

    16. MIPT / МФТИ
    Modern Combinatorics / Современная комбинаторика

    17. Tomsk State University / ТГУ Partner / Партнер Netology Нетология
    Managing content and media projects / Управление контентом и медиапроектами

    18. Tomsk State University / ТГУ
    ELT Leadership

    19. Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation / Финансовый университет при Правительстве РФ Partner / Партнер Netology
    Product Marketing and Analytics / Продуктовый маркетинг и аналитика

    20. Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation / Финансовый университет при Правительстве РФ
    Digital educational practices and technologies / Цифровые образовательные практики и технологии

    21. HSE /ВШЭ Partner / Партнер Netology
    LegalTech: automation of legal processes / LegalTech: автоматизация юридических процессов

    22. HSE /ВШЭ Partner / Партнер Netology
    Cybersecurity / Кибербезопасность

    23. HSE / ВШЭ Partner / Партнер Netology
    Digital Product Management / Управление цифровым продуктом

    24. HSE / ВШЭ
    Strategic Communications Management / Управление стратегическими коммуникациями

    25. HSE / ВШЭ
    Marketing and Management / Маркетинг-менеджмент

    26. HSE / ВШЭ Partner / Партнер Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences
    Applied Social Psychology (en) / Прикладная социальная психология (англ.)

    27. HSE / ВШЭ
    Machine Learning and DataIntensive Systems / Машинное обучение и высоконагруженные системы

    28. HSE / ВШЭ
    Master of Computer Vision (en) / Магистр по компьютерному зрению (англ.)

    29. HSE / ВШЭ Partner / Партнер CFA Institute
    Finance (en) / Финансы

    30. HSE / ВШЭ Master in Business Analytics (en) / Магистр аналитики бизнеса (англ.)
    38.04.08 Finance and credit / Финансы и кредит

    31. HSE / ВШЭ
    Economic analysis

    32. HSE / ВШЭ
    Master of Data Science (en) / Магистр по наукам о данных (англ)
    Larisa Taradina is the Director for International Education Development and Cooperation of Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration. She has been working in the field of international education for more than 15 years. Among other institutions, her experience includes working in National Research University Higher School of Economics and the Russian Academic Excellence Project. She is the author of professional development programs for employees of international offices; these programs were implemented under the agenda of the Academic Excellence Project. Larisa Taradina conducts researches in the field of internationalization of higher education and is the chief editor of Telegram channel @eduviewrus dedicated to international education relevant issues.