The student recruitment landscape in Russia for 2021 and 2022
- Demand for study abroad remains strong in Russia but students there are considering a wider range of study destinations this year
- Agents are developing new strategies for recruitment given that educators cannot travel as easily to Russia this year as in the past
- The lack of international approvals for the Sputnik V COVID vaccine means that most outbound Russian students will need to observe testing and quarantine protocols on arrival at their study destinations, and may need additional support during the early weeks after arrival
At ICEF Berlin this week, a featured panel of education agents shared some important insights as to how student recruitment is taking shape in Russia this year. Agent offices are reopening – even as some staff still prefer to work from home – but overall marketing strategies have not changed a great deal during COVID. “The main two promotional tools are still word of mouth and the Internet," said AcademConsult CEO Irina Sledyeva. "It hasn’t changed that much during the pandemic. We do fairs but now we do online fairs, two or three times a year at the moment.”
Students International (SI) Deputy Director Igor Mishurov explained that recent months have marked a period in which “the majority of our clients have gone back to a normal life.”
“We have done already quite a number of fairs and activities face-to-face," he added. "Like a couple of weeks ago, for example, we did big fairs in Moscow and Saint Petersburg and we visited 40 cities all over Russia with our colleagues from different institutions. We have also invented a new model: a hybrid participation. We brought key SI staff, sales managers from all over Russia to Moscow for three days of intensive sales training by Zoom [given by university and school staff overseas]. After the training they went to the fairs in Moscow and Saint Petersburg to represent those schools.”
That hybrid approach speaks to some of the practical aspects of recruiting this year, in Russia and otherwise, where institutional staff may still not be able to travel as easily as they had in the past. For some, this will be because of institutional policies that limit travel; for others it will be simply that travel is more difficult to some markets due to continuing border restrictions, vaccine recognition, limited flight service, or other logistical barriers. "If we have no possibility to have foreign representatives, we are ready to run the hybrid model at our events this year [where agency staff act on behalf of foreign institutions]," added Mr Mishurov.
The panel noted though that students and parents are much more interested in connecting with agency or school staff in person rather than remotely. "People are tired from all of this online," said Mr Mishurov. "There are more people who wish to come to the office and speak to you. They want to know that you are a real company with a real office," agreed Ms Sledyeva.
They reported as well that demand for education abroad remains strong, but has been shifting this year. "The demand for different destinations has really changed and is much diverse now," said Ms Sledyeva. "US and UK are traditionally very popular and prestigious places to go for education but they are very expensive. There are not so many students who can afford this but many people still want to go and study abroad. So they are looking at different options. In Europe, there are many good opportunities in Germany, in Spain, and even in Eastern Europe where the tuition fees are much lower. You can study in English in Poland, for example, for €3,000 per year, and students are looking at those destinations."
Joining the panel via video, Insight-Lingua Managing Director Anastassia Kohlweiss added that, "Health and safety and well-being is the most important concern for families and students considering education abroad. Vaccinations are not proceeding as quickly as everyone had hoped. Many Russians do not want to get vaccinated with Russian vaccines -- they are looking for foreign vaccine options." She noted though that public awareness campaigns are ramping up throughout this year and the expectation is that a larger share of the population will be vaccinated by the end of this year. The panel felt that most students planning for study abroad in 2022 will be vaccinated.
For the moment, vaccination rates remain low in Russia relative to many countries. As of the end of October 2021, only about 33% of the Russian population is fully vaccinated, primarily with the Sputnik V vaccine. Vaccine hesitancy is widespread, and for students in particular, part of the challenge is that Sputnik V is not widely accepted outside of Russia.
As Mr Mishurov explained, "I do have a big issue for next year. A lot of countries will accept students who are vaccinated but only with a vaccine approved by the WHO [World Health Organization]. Unfortunately, Sputnik V is not recognized yet. So the issue is what will happen with students on arrival?" What this means in practice is that Russian students going abroad are subject to more post-arrival testing and quarantine requirements than are other students who have been vaccinated with internationally recognised vaccines. Mr Mishurov urged educators at the seminar to provide additional support for Russian students to help them work through those post-arrival requirements.
He described a number of issues with post-arrival testing and quarantine as barriers, and stressed the need to ensure that support services are in place and working well for students who are not vaccinated with approved vaccines. "I would ask all of our international colleagues to pay a little more attention to this and to make sure that everything is working well for the students," he said. "Advertising is great, roadshows are great, but the best advertising is word of mouth. [Without happy students and good word of mouth], we will never progress to bigger numbers. We really need [universities and schools to provide] somebody to take care of the students for the first couple of weeks. That is the most nervous time. After that, everything is easier."
Sputnik V was one of the first COVID vaccines approved anywhere in the world, and Russia has since exported it to 70 countries. However, it has not yet been approved by major international public health bodies, most notably the European Union's European Medicines Agency (EMA) or the World Health Organization (WHO). Reuters reports that EMA approval will not come before the first quarter of 2022 at the earliest. And WHO approval is similarly on hold, pending some outstanding efficacy data and compliance matters.
One aspect of this is that Russian students going abroad may be interested in taking a foreign vaccine during their programme of studies. AcademConsult's Sledyeva sees this as a potential market opportunity for language schools in particular and suggests, "Why not offer English and vaccination? That would be very helpful for families who want their students to get vaccinated with a foreign vaccine." The panel added that up-to-date information on public health conditions, including numbers of local COVID cases (in the community where the institution or school is based), is also very helpful for promotion and effective student advising.
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