Winning friends and influencing people through export of Russian education

The Russian Embassy and Consulate in Mumbai that are actively working in India, and the Russian Centre of Science and Culture (RCSC), organizes a large number of activities in these areas for those with whom we have developed friendly and partnership relations. Source: RCSC

The Russian Embassy and Consulate in Mumbai that are actively working in India, and the Russian Centre of Science and Culture (RCSC), organizes a large number of activities in these areas for those with whom we have developed friendly and partnership relations. Source: RCSC

Russia has been losing out to countries like the UK, USA and France, which have managed, through export of their education and culture, to create a loyal elite segment in society which serves their interests. Russia needs to tap on sympathies that exist from the Soviet era and market its entire system of education, with culture and arts, in an attractive ‘brand’ package to win over young Indians and others.

The export of education, particularly in the former colonial countries, has been an important tool of long-term influence of countries such as the United Kingdom, France, the United States and others. It is a way to build a following of loyal elites, introducing standards of work and business and influencing the world view of those people. It has served as a It's a good and proper “long-term game”. 

The USSR used to have a good position in the education sector of India and other developing countries since it respected a key principle; the principle of continuity. Soviet schools located abroad, albeit in small numbers, allowed local people to study the Russian language and, most importantly, to attend a Russian university later. As a result, a whole generation of politicians, academicians and businessmen loyal to the Soviet Union and later Russia have grown up. 

However, today, those aged below 50 years have little idea about Russia, its interests or how these interests intersect with the interests of the political and economic elites of their countries. For the most part, the Russian Federation has lost the influence and system capabilities earlier possessed by the Soviet Union.

The trend today is a clear victory of tangible financial strategies over long-term strategic benefits. Long-term benefits do not have a tangible value, are hard to calculate and thus almost out of consideration.

My observations as a member of the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission (IRIGC), as well as working groups in the framework of the IRIGC provide no grounds for me to believe that we would like to move towards the promotion of our education in India. There has been a sharp increase in bilateral activity which is positive, but so far it is mainly in terms of short- and medium-term business projects.

My experience shows that in India, just like in the Orient in general, work cannot be based exclusively on the principle of “nothing personal, just business”. The Orient is irrational, people here do not think only in terms of effectiveness and efficiency. A lot depends on personal contacts, historical ties, family traditions and empathy.

When it comes to choosing partners, the first to be considered are those you know better, usually those from the countries where one studied and found friends.

Despite being mentally closer to the Indians in terms of our thought processes, our collectivist traditions, and the importance of the emotional component in the business relationship, we do not adequately factor this in and therefore yield to the Anglo-Saxons in this area.

In India today there is an exceptional demand for education and skill development. The leading brand here is American and British education. It is a continuous process: having received secondary education in respective schools in India, students then go to the United States or England for higher education.

There is strong information support to this process: widely published ratings of schools and universities (generated by the party interested in the export education), promotion of European and American sports in schools, teaching history and culture of these countries, music events. The result is obvious: in India, like in the vast majority of Asian countries, an elite has been created which, while not sharing Western values (not really possible in the Orient), sympathizes with them. In terms of assessment of political realities and business development, these people take their cue primarily from the United States and England. 

Having worked in both Pakistan and India, having been a state employee in the past and the head of a branch office of a large Russian company, and having a background in teaching; the combination of all these factors makes me believe that Russia could be extremely competitive in the area of education.

There is a niche, there is a tradition of education, there is political weight and there is economic interest in Russia. All this allows us to talk seriously about the necessity and possibility of export of Russian education as a continuous process of secondary and higher education abroad.

Creating an educational brand is a process that will require two things: a quality product, which we will introduce in the market, as well as competent marketing and information support.

Without question, quality training programs for foreigners should be created. This work will require political will and concentration of resources. At the same time, an unobtrusive but well-designed ideological component would be timely for overseas' targeting programs.

Exceptional demand for education in India today is clearly outstripping supply. In the biggest cities there are American, British, French, German schools. Further development will bring an increase in the number of schools and the emergence of elite Indian schools.

The process will likely take 10 to 15 years; the work should focus primarily in the premium segment; with the cost of tuition from $ 2,000 to $ 5,000 per month (this segment still has capacity of 15-20 percent), followed by the middle price segment; from $ 1,000 to $ 2,000 per month (this segment is now occupied by 20 — 30%).

This is the focus niche for the export of the Russian education system.

The major competitors here are Indian schools, and some French and German schools. American and British schools do not descend into this segment of the population.

At this stage, the Indian elite and the middle class prefer foreign brands when choosing education for children. With the right promotion it may become a competitive and price advantage for a Russian school.

Historic sympathy that has remained since the Soviet Union era, supported by current anti-monopolistic moods and the rise to power of a nationalist-oriented government also creates a more favourable current for us.

A similar situation has developed in the countries of the Customs Union, where educational expansion can only reinforce the integration processes. Other BRICS countries and certain Latin American countries, where we can play on the anti-American sentiments, some European countries, where ‘nationally oriented’ governments, not happy to depend on “big brother”, come to power, should also fall into our sphere of interest.

The present moment is favourable for developing the concept of our education export and for entering the above markets. This period of time is limited to between five and 15 years.

To implement these initiatives initially, we already have a base, which should be used on a more systematic basis. It consists of schools that are functioning in the embassies and consulates of the Russian Federation; teaching staff involved there, Russian classes formed on the basis of national schools in different countries.

The existing base should be organised cohesively. Programs and benefits for foreign students should be developed, structures should be determined on the basis of which centralized educational expansion will be realized, teaching staff should be trained on the basis of the pedagogical institution chosen for launching the program, and funding resources should be identified.

An important step is to link the program of secondary education with higher Russian education, including the selection of pilot universities with which it would be possible to synchronize the programs for successful adaptation of school graduates in these institutions, to develop a mechanism for admission of foreign students.

In addition, it is important to consider the stages of consolidation of our higher education in the structure of education in India and other countries. This may include the following steps: (a) joint programs with ‘double diplomas’ at the initial stage; (b) sending students to study in Russia; (c) organizing missions on the basis of local universities (teaching both on-site and online; universities in India are well equipped for this kind of activity); (d) attracting funding resources.

At the same time, it is important to identify additional products that can be promoted under the “umbrella brand” of Russian education. These could include Russian cuisine, Russian music, Russian cinema and Russian sport. These will become the anchors that will support the educational process and secure the attachment of students to the country that exports education through the elements of its culture.

The Russian Embassy and Consulate in Mumbai that are actively working in India, and the Russian Centre of Science and Culture (RCSC), organizes a large number of activities in these areas for those with whom we have developed friendly and partnership relations. These activities are hugely successful.

In particular, Igor Butman's orchestra concert in Delhi lasted 4 hours, yet none of the Indian audience, representing the elite and the middle class, left the room. In Mumbai the audience gave the orchestra a half-hour standing ovation.

Russian song and dance groups meet high demand in this very orthodox country, since they bring in missing elements of energy and “mild sensuality”. The arrival of Kirill Lyubin, president of the Federation of sports knife - fighting and presentation of our martial arts aroused great interest among sports federations and representatives of Indian security agencies, and well as among children's sports schools and Bollywood.

Cultivating Russian sambo (“armless self defence”) and other combat sports and martial arts, which are very popular among young Indians, screening Russian films, promoting other best-selling elements of Russian culture in India will create a mechanism for understanding of our values.

A new generation of Indians, while adhering to local traditions, greedily absorb different trends of foreign culture and sports. This certainly creates an opportunity to introduce our cultural elements in a systematic way.

These elements are valuable in themselves but will gain greater strength and value if they are included in secondary and higher education programs, and then systematically exported to the target countries, including India.

The Russian Federation has an indisputable “trump card” in the field of education. The media coverage should focus on the leadership of the Russian Federation in the exact and natural science disciplines. Analysis of the quality of education in India, in particular, shows that we have a methodological advantage in these areas, and this is what we should focus on.

At the same time, we should create a corresponding demand in Russian universities for graduates of Russian schools operating in other countries. Using alluring employment prospects, we should “attract” university graduates to engineering positions in stable Russian companies working on key Russian-Indian projects, which guarantee high returns. In addition, there are the prospects for working in public administration as well as in the management bodies of large corporations. Our “trump card” lies in the fact that in India, as well as in Russia, the key projects are concentrated in state corporations, and organizations affiliated with the state, so education can be geared to that end.

Educational fairs used by universities are also a PR tool, but these should be used in a new way, when these fairs are held within the framework of concept realization, and are focused on specific university graduates.

The question of funding remains, as always, the most acute, and its resolution depends on the government’s perception of the relevance of the proposed goals and the activities undertaken to achieve these.

Of course, these activities should be carried out under the auspices of the state, and have targeted financing. The mechanism to operate this system should function within the Ministry of Education, in close cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (the corresponding division in charge of the specific Centre for Science and Culture).

Financing can also come from businesses, operating in the countries where our education in being expanded, as well as projects currently being developed in these countries, or companies interested in entering those markets. The reason businesses would be interested in financing is the formation of a positive social image, as well as, in the medium and long term perspectives, to obtain experts for their enterprises in the countries of interest, and lobbyists, loyal politicians, etc.

Thus, the export of education is one of the most important resources of the Russian Federation, which is currently not used to the fullest and, most importantly, not on a regular basis. Today, a favourable situation exists in India for the export of Russian education, and thereby for creating favourable conditions for Russia in the political and business spheres.

Experience shows that this is a necessary process, allowing elites to be formed, which will play out “in the long term”, due to their loyalty. Russia has untapped potential to create a good educational product that can be sold abroad.

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