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The goal of Project 5-100 is to maximize the competitive position of a group of leading Russian universities in the global research and education market.

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Using Digital Environments and Flexible Strategies to Maintain Student Mobility

June 16, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is a game changer for the student mobility system, as universities face the challenge of ensuring student safety without compromising the quality of instruction.

Some experts see the widespread shift to distance learning as beneficial to international education, which, they argue, should become more accessible after the 'reboot'.

Competition in the global educational marketplace will certainly increase. However, for all the versatility of distance learning, instruction in many disciplines cannot yet be made fully remote, so in-person classes will not go away. This means that universities looking to boost student mobility must now consider safety standards as carefully as academic ones.

Some Russian universities, including several Project 5-100 participants, have already reported being ready to start the fall semester online if the outbreak continues. In this case, National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE) will make sure that faculty-taught classes are delivered to international students via remote instruction. A similar commitment has been made by NUST MISIS where one in every four students comes from outside Russia.

Nadezhda Polikhina, acting director of Sociocenter, a Moscow-based center for social studies, and head of the Project 5-100 Office, says that, in recent years, a well-developed digital educational ecosystem has become an increasingly important asset to universities seeking to raise their global profile. In Russia, consistent investment in implementing digital learning technologies and building a digital academic environment has not only allowed top universities to enhance their international visibility but also made it possible for them to pivot to remote instruction at minimum cost when the pandemic broke out.

Operating digital ecosystems suited for both teaching and recruiting students from around the world, Project 5-100 institutions have been putting a lot of effort into expanding their web footprint ever since the project was launched in 2013.

Another major source of information about Russian universities is their overseas partners, and Project 5-100 universities have been emphasizing cooperation with them, says Nadezhda Polikhina. About half of the more than 1,800 joint educational programs they set up between 2013 and 2019 involved premier universities and research institutions based abroad, in countries as diverse as Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US.

Despite going remote, colleges have been establishing new collaborations. Novosibirsk State University (NSU) and Germany's Wismar University (Hochschule Wismar) have recently signed an agreement to run dual-degree master's programs in international economic law, while officials from German federal states, research institutions and foundations have talked to Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU) students about the internship and joint research opportunities that Russian students and early-career scientists can pursue in Germany.

Another Project 5-100 institution, RUDN University, is launching a virtual student exchange program in conjunction with Colombia's Universidad del Rosario. Starting from the 2020/2021 fall semester, RUDN University students will be able to enroll in two or more web-based courses taught by professors from the Universidad del Rosario and other international universities. This unique certificate program will see students from around the world attend online classes together and engage in discussions with experts in various fields of science, engineering and economics.

Virtual academic mobility programs are also being forged at BRICS Network University. The work group tasked with developing a teacher mobility concept includes such Russian institutions as MGIMO University (coordinator), HSE, the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) and Ural Federal University (UrFU); its counterpart involved in designing a student mobility concept counts among its members NUST MISIS (coordinator), HSE, MIPT and St Petersburg State University (SPbU).

Maksim Kosiakov, deputy head of MIPT's International Department, views interaction with BRICS partners as an important step towards gaining global recognition for the state-of-the-art, in-demand technological solutions being developed by MIPT researchers. Such cooperation, he believes, will help MIPT set up a network of partnerships in its main areas of expertise and begin training highly skilled, sought-after employees for its international collaborators.

Finally, Olympiads are a useful tool for attracting overseas students. In the spring of 2020, Russian universities successfully ran these traditional competitions in an untraditional way – online, via digital platforms. In one instance, NUST MISIS and the Vietnamese office of the Federal Agency for the CIS, Compatriots Living Abroad and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo) held a web-based Olympiad for 1,300 Vietnamese school-leavers, the 120 best performers earning admission to a Russian university.

The pandemic has caused universities around the world to revise their educational strategies and techniques. Experts think that Russian universities should follow suit, using the experience they have gained to shed less efficient strategies and fully leverage their strengths.