Dr. Marina Makhotaeva, Pskov State’s Academic and International Programs Director, explains the universityís success.
Dr. Makhotaeva, what specifically makes this university so attractive?
Our university is young: it was created in 2010 by a merger of the regional teacherís training college, a polytechnic, and three technical secondary-education colleges, including one in Velikie Luki, where we now have our outlying campus. The merger produced a typical present-day university which meets 90% of the regionís demand for trained specialists with tertiary education. We kept the precursor schoolsí programs in place, and added 60 new ones after the merger, and now we have programs in sciences, arts, technology, education, humanities, and medicine which is rather new. In fact, we have the full range of university programs, unlike numerous industry-oriented universities.
Do you mean there is no particular academic preference?
Quite right. Our programs are evenly distributed among ten faculties on the Pskov campus and one at Velikie Luki, and we offer baccalaureates, specialties, magisterial and doctoral courses. In all, we have 150 tertiary and 17 secondary professional education programs, plus about 100 additional extra-curricular programs.
How many students do you teach?
Around 10,500 on core programs and another 4,500 on additional education programs, that is, about 15,000 customers, all taught and tutored by some 1,500 faculty and staff.
Is admission competition great for free budget-financed courses and programs?
It differs from faculty to faculty. The strongest competition is in modern languages: twenty applicants per place. Technical programs attract 1.5 applications for each place. We have about 1,000 free state budget-financed places, and in all, we admit some 3,500 freshers every year.
What about exporting education? What is it and how does Pskov State export education work?
Educating international students is nothing but exporting education services. I made this point at the nationwide university conference on teaching foreign students.
When the colleges merged into a university, we had about 40 foreign undergraduates. The number increased thirty times over six years; we now have 1,300 students from 45 countries, admitted on various bases:
· there are ethnic Russian nationals of other countries, including CIS countries, who identify themselves as Russians and enroll on the same terms as Russian citizens. We have quite a few of these, although they do not form a majority;
∑ there are students enrolling under the Russian education ministryís quotas allocated through national contests held jointly with the Foreign Ministry and the Committee for International Cooperation; quotas are allocated for free courses with 15,000 scholarships. The process includes the selection of prospective students, then the prospects select universities, and, finally, we select students fit for our courses and placed with us under the Ministry of Education;
∑ finally, the largest group includes international students taught under contractual programs. This is export proper. The ministry distinguishes between students who may decide afterwards to stay in Russia or will eventually repatriate under resettlement programs, and pure business providing educational services for export. The first approach involves political considerations; the second is based on economics only: international students come, get their education, pay tuition and return home to start successful careers. These students make up more than 50% of our international student body.
The system includes recruiting: we promote our programs and courses, identify potential target countries and the number of potential recruits, the courses and programs for which they enroll, and then the admission procedure begins. We have a distance document acceptance system; applicants can file their documents well in advance. Later, after admission, our adaptation system begins to work; it is quite established, we have studied the experience of successful European universities; our cooperation with the University of Frankfurt in Germany helped a lot. You can easily imagine foreign studentsí quandaries out of their home countries: a different climate and weather, different language, different culture, no family or old friends around, etc. Our adaptation system is designed to make this initial period as easy and comfortable as possible, so that students do not give up. We have a learning support system to teach foreign undergraduates Russian and other vital things. Finally, there is a system of extracurricular arrangements to involve international students in our academic and campus events (and they are usually more active in these than Russian students), including their practical courses, etc.
What events are you referring to?
We maintain an International Studentís Forum, hold days of native languages, days of national cultures by country, and similar events. We had a very spectacular day of Indian national culture last Friday. We are more or less familiar with Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Latvia, Ukraine and Moldova, but events held or participated in by students from African or West- and East-European countries are particularly interesting. Bulgarian students have been very active this year — I liked their event very much. More countries added their events this year, such as Denmark and Paraguay. In fact, we have students from all continents, except Australia.
Do most foreign students come from the CIS countries?
Yes, they are a priority.
Are they Russian-speaking, as a rule?
Not all of them. Turkmen students do not learn Russian in school any longer; they have to learn it independently as they prepare to enroll in Russian tertiary education establishments. Here, they hone their Russian in our prep department. Undergraduates from Tajikistan also need extra Russian lessons. We organize various sorts of classes; it happens that they pass exams but speak poorly and need to improve their language proficiency.
What attracts international students in Pskov State? Do you have a competitive edge over exporting universities elsewhere, e.g. in Moscow?
We think we can deliver good value for money. We always emphasize this while recruiting our students. True, Moscowís living standards are higher, but so is the cost of living. We have a nice old city here, not too large, itís environmentally healthy and pleasant to look at, and we are strategically located 50 kilometers away from the Schengen Area, which makes it quite convenient for international travel.
Further, we have a good adaptation system and an eventful campus life; our international studentsí brothers and sisters would want to enroll in Pskov State too, subsequently, this is no rarity here.
We have a system of personal tutors to assist new students at the beginning; these are usually international senior students who have themselves adapted and can share their experience with newcomers, often in their own native language. This system is one of our competitive edges. We demonstrated it at a national university instruction conference; it appeared that no other tertiary education institutions used it. I believe we should organize a course of senior student tutorship to disseminate our positive experience.
We are now working to expand our practical training base, so that international students could take hands-on practical courses not only in Pskov Region, but also elsewhere, including outside Russia, and conclude appropriate contracts with foreign universities and companies.
We run a certified Russian as Foreign Language (RFL) testing center of our own, and can test applicantsí language proficiency and fitness for studies at Pskov State. We are one of only 15 Russian tertiary educational establishments which have been certified to test, and have a very strong RFL school which we use to prepare our students for studies.
Pskov Stateís representatives are members of the expert team selected for advising on a priority social project called Development of the Export Potential of the Russian Education System, in three directions out of thirteen: international certification and accreditation, additional education programs for international students, and creating favorable studying environments. Together with experts from other universities, we identify targets in improving the attractiveness of Russian education, improving conditions for studies, and expanding the export of educational services. The Ministry of Education wants to increase revenues from these exports five-fold by 2025. I think we can share our accumulated experience in this field with other establishments which do not know where to begin.
Five establishments have merged into one; that is, you are now five times larger than each one before, but the intake of international students increased 30 times. How did you achieve your results?
We have ‘internationalizedí the university, stage after stage; the process included the introduction of a system of planning and monitoring for the facultiesí international activities, then a system of motivation of the staff for active involvement in international studentsí learning, qualification upgrading programs, introduction of the posts of deputy deans for international activities, building a system of communication, etc. Another example, we have introduced a ranking system for the faculties in international activities. We have many mobility programs, and the faculties with better mobility performance have larger mobility budgets, that is, they can send their researching and teaching staff and students abroad to take part in international conferences and student programs. It is quite motivating.
Do the export-oriented programs you refer to have any characteristic features? Any example of such programs?
Our magisterial program, International Business in the Baltic Area, which is taught entirely in English, is an example of such an export program. Russian students also take it if they find it interesting. We plan to launch a few new programs in education; we have a group of foreign students on one such program already, there are no Russian students there; those students are largely Turkmenistanís citizens; they study Russian to return and teach it back home, because there is demand for it there. There are also a few medical programs for our Indian students.
Are there any unique programs in Pskov State?
There are quite a few in additional education. We have a very broad range, with many language and professional programs. Mobility programs are unique too. We have up to 90 partners in 24 countries with whom we exchange students on semester-long or shorter programs, but these are fewer. International students select additional courses they want to follow. That is, we offer free additional courses while they are taking their regular chosen courses, on an exchange basis with our partners. We have created unique programs for them, which include the Russian language, economics, etc., that is, what they ask for. Students from Tajikistan, for example, take inter-departmental courses including customs procedures, economics, and other subjects. We have also students from the EU and United States; they study under individual plans on student exchange programs. We are planning to grant all international applications made during the next academic year. We have not been able to do that previously, because of a limited availability of accommodation in the residence halls on the campus.
Limited accommodation is probably not the only obstacle to implementing international projects, is it?
No, another obstacle is the workload of the faculty and staff; they have more class hours than elsewhere, less time for research and quite little time for international work, which needs extra motivation. Motivating them is what we are actually trying to do.
Secondly, our lecturers lack foreign language proficiency. We all learn at least one foreign language, starting at school, but they forget a good deal afterwards, so we upgrade our lecturers and teachers both in a foreign language and in techniques of work with international students. We would like to have more staff speaking foreign languages; that would broaden our potential for cooperation.
Finally, we lack trained project managers. In order to take part in international projects, we have to file applications that would help us get financing; even writing them takes special competencies and skills. We had courses to train project managers, but I cannot say we have succeeded in this to the same degree as in exporting education.
Pskov Stateís website mentions European Diploma Supplements ó do all graduates receive them? What advantages do they have?
Supplements are issued on request. Students who intend to continue post-graduate studies or work in Europe, ask for the European forms. These forms are in fact the recognition of our qualification in Europe; they are approved, recognized, understood and transparent for those who require them. We have introduced these forms because official Russian diplomas on uniform state forms are uninformative in Europe; employers and academics do not understand what our graduates can do. That is why we have these forms of which we issue about thirty every year.
Can you share any success stories about exported education? Are there alumni you are particularly proud of?
We have not done this for a long time, only six years; and we have not had massive international graduations. Still, we have received letters of thanks from Tajikistan where our graduates teach using our unique proprietary methodologies; there a Latvian BSc who is now following a magisterial program at Birmingham, and one of our Vietnamese alumni who holds a high position in Vietnamís National Bank. More successes can be recalled. We have only recently started tracking our former graduates, and have just created an alumni association.
What are the plans for developing the universityís international activities?
We are planning to expand our exporting activities. We have applied for membership in the Consortium of Exporting Educational Establishments created by the Ministry of Education in August 2017. The consortium is part of the Ministryís priority project, Education Export, to be implemented from May 2017 through November 2017. It will include the improvement of the legal environment for enrolling international students (specifically, the process of recognition of foreign academic qualifications), taxation of for-profit educational services, and international cooperation. We will also expand our accommodations in residence halls. Pskov Regionís governor has facilitated the buyout of a uncompleted city hotel by the Ministry of Education; we will complete its conversion into a residence hall by the beginning of the 2019 Hanseatic Days of New Time to be held in Pskov next year. It will not be enough, all the same. We are now implementing a project called ĎFavorable Environment for Studiesí and we will consider, as part of it, a model for interaction with developers and realtors who will take part in improving living conditions on the campus. Our colleagues in other tertiary educational establishments agree that the shortage of accommodations is the biggest obstacle to the development of export of education; to address the issue, we must have effective financial models in place.
We will certainly continue what we have been doing so far, but we now want to go beyond the campus boundaries and involve other educational establishments in the region and farther afield, nationwide. Our latest success in this field was Worldvision, our answer to Eurovision, at which students from 22 countries presented their songs. No one had ever seen anything like that in Pskov before. Our invitees from other universities in the North-West said it should be televised nationally and proposed cooperation in the promotion of this initiative. Moreover, we will certainly continue holding days of national cultures and days of native languages; these events are now fixtures on our programs.
We also want to study the Finnish experience of cooperation with developers; they have entire campuses built and managed by private companies. We will hold a seminar on this subject and invite potential investors, universities, and government officials. We have planned a conference to be held to sum up the results of our performance in 2017 and to discuss plans for further implementation of various projects, and we intend to invite other North-Western universities to take part. And, of course, we have plans to diversify exports adding online classes, additional education programs, etc. that is, to be more active in international markets.
There is no distance learning as such in Pskov State?
Not unalloyed, so to say, not yet, unfortunately. But we have given it serious thought, this year. We are thinking of programs designed specifically for extramural studies. Extramural, off-campus students certainly use online materials during their studies between examinations, that is, certain distance learning elements do exist. We will hopefully launch fully distance learning courses next year.
You have mentioned the German university ranking. Is there anything like that in Russia? How does Pskov State rank?
Yes. Three or four years ago Pskov State ranked 191st in internationality; this year we are 45th, because we have a working system in place, we see the results and understand that it has not been in vain; but it takes a lot of effort.
We had a session of our international section last year, with our exchange students attending. One Finnish undergraduate told us, with tears in her eyes, that this was the first time ever she had seen such an international university; she had made friends with so many people from various countries. I suddenly realized then that it was indeed a goldmine of first-hand information about so many faraway countries: Argentine, Brazil, Paraguay, Ecuador ó which you may never visit. In other words, our system allows us to expand our knowledge of the world abroad.
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