Elia Bescotti's Blog

Attracting students: a compared analysis of the English version Russian universities website

April 27, 2017
- Universities websites: a business ticket for the countriesAttracting students from all over the world can be a useful and successful way to gain prestige among the other countries and, to some extents, it can be one of the foreign policy directives of a country: students are enrolled to become part of the élite and most prestigious people of a country and studying in foreign countries usually provides the students with some cultural and emotional ties made to last. Attracting students and educate them can be a profitable way to build good relations with the next generation of country rulers, scholars and scientists. But how can a country be attractive for students? Among the different reasons, like culture, weather, food, language and many others, to attract students having good universities is crucial, but it’s not enough. To show and explain them how prestigious are the universities of a different country, common means and language of communication are needed. Since in nowadays globalised (or even post-globalised) world the most powerful and popular means of communication is provided by the Internet connection, and since English has become the “global language” above all, every university interested in attracting foreign students must have a website in English, where every needed information should be provided. - Finding information: what the students want to knowBut what are the information that a student is more interested in looking for on a university website? Sometimes the information you need are not available in English, because they are absent or provided only in the foreign language (in this case, Russian) and students can really feel lost and quite upset: how is it possible, for instance, that in the era of technology some crucial information like the timetable of the lecture is not available for foreign students too? What about the descriptions of the courses, of the subjects, how much do they last and how many ECTS do they provide? How can apply to a certain university? Where am I taking my internship? Where can I live? These and many other questions of this sort are common among students willing to study abroad. How should a university behave concerning top this? The first thing done by a student who wants to study in a foreign university is to gather information about that institute and the first place to do it is the university site itself.To complete a compared analysis of a universities websites and to understand if they are effective in giving the needed information to the students, some criteria should be set. These criteria (or parameters) have been arbitrary chosen who is writing, a foreign student abroad, both before starting the analysis and while developing it. For the final analysis, a set of twenty criteria has been developed and, according to them, the analysis has been completed. These criteria are based on the information the students need to understand if the university is good enough for him or her, if he or she can gather information to see if the teachings are interesting, if the university helps the student in giving him or her an accommodation, a scholarship and advise useful to move and live in a foreign country.A student wants to know which kind of courses he or she will attend at the university he or she wants to study in: if they are interesting, if they are useful, how much work and study do they require and so on. Not only a list of the programs should be provided, but their explanation, their aims and usefulness from a professional point of view, their strong points and so on. For a better result, this should be done for the lectures as well. Indeed, to attract a student the courses should be interesting and to do it some explanations and information are needed: a student will be more interested in a course or a subject if he or she can look through their descriptions. Moreover, the possibility to learn more about the professors of the courses and teaching the subjects should be provided. A good idea is the possibility to check their curricula and publications, but a brief description about the title of the professor, his role inside and outside the university and a short professional biography are good ideas to make the professor himself or herself interesting to the student. Needless to say, a good photo helps. On the same way, office hours of professors and any their variation should be published in English too.Linked to these, the schedules of the semester(s) can give the student a good idea about the work and the study that he or she is going to undertake during his or her study period. The purpose is give students the opportunity to organise by themselves and, very important, live the life of the country hosting them outside the university too, in order to learn more about the language the culture and the behaviour of the people living in that country. In few words: to live (and maybe love) the country itself. A great opportunity for a foreign student willing to study abroad would be having the possibility to learn the language of that country or to improve his or her knowledge of that language. A university which provides language courses could be far more interesting than a university which does not.If there are any opportunities for the students, events, or any news in general, they should be provided in English as well. It is not important whether a conference, a seminar or special lecture is held in a different language: the university will never know if the student wants to attend it or not, even if not able to understand it fully. It is simply a matter of respect, and the student will be very glad if he or she can receive updates from the site of the university. Information about scholarships and internships should be available for foreign students as well: if the university is not able to provide the correct information about the opportunities that a student can undertake, it is basically a failure of the university itself, since it does not provide a service that it is supposed to provide. The result? Lower ranking, lower prestige, lower attraction.To stimulate the students’ interest in the university a section about its ranking among the most prestigious universities in the world is a good idea. If not possible, or if the ranking is not good enough, a section about the history of the university itself can help. However, these things are not as important as the news section, the opportunities and the courses of the university and can be written in a dedicated section of the site.The images and the structure of the site should not change when the language is switch from the university one to English: it makes a bad impression, since the student can feel he or she has been redirected to an old version of the site or that there is something missing. Moreover, if the website has a mobile version it is an added point, since nowadays the use of smartphones has become viral and totally pervasive in people’s lives, and in young people’s ones above all. Foreign students usually belong to this very category. If there is no mobile version of the site, a simple structure of the site, with one big main column in the centre and two columns on the sides where all the fundamental links can be found, is suitable for being read on the smartphone. Furthermore, the presence on social media can be helpful in advertising the university itself: a Facebook page in English where students can acquire some random information about the events the university holds or is involved in is useful to reach a wider public. After the acquirement of the needed information, time for application has come: it must be easily reachable and as clear as possible to avoid problems with a student who wants to study in the university and pay a fee to study in that university. For the same reason, any information about the movement and the staying of the student should be provided: basic information about the migration policy of the university’s country, the behaviour the student must follow, step by step, and if a visa and an insurance are needed to enter and stay in the country. Moreover, the student could be interested in living in the university campus or dormitory, if any: the university website should provide such an information to make the student more comfortable or less unsure about his or her staying. If a separated campus website exists, a link to that website with some basic information would be enough. To conclude, two things must be always present on a university website: a list of contacts to which the student can send emails for any further information and a properly working search bar aimed to look through the different contents of the site, since some info and sections are sometimes difficult to reach.- The main problems revealed in Russian websitesBut are Russian universities websites respecting these criteria? Are they able to attract foreign students from non-Russian speaking countries? In order to understand this, who writes made an analysis of the sites of 42 different Russian universities taken from the 2016 RIAC report on the Russians universities and set twenty parameters including the upper criteria (the list of the universities and the table can be found at the end of this article ). The result of this analysis tells us that among 42 universities websites none respects the all criteria, but that more than one out of three respect at least 2/3 of them. Indeed, fourteen universities score 14 points, while the top three universities score, respectively, 18, 18 and 17,5 points, and respect 90% or 87% of the criteria . Nevertheless, twelve universities score less than 10 point out of 20, respecting less than 50% of the adopted parameters but, if we take 60% as the minimum indicator of satisfaction, the analysis shows that 22 universities out of 42 reach this value. Thus, more than the 50% of the analysed websites can be considered to have passed the exam, even though only 1 university out of 7 reaches respects the 75% of the parameters and scores at least 15 points out of 20.The most respected criteria is the presence of the contacts, respected by every university: even if they are present on the home page, there is always a contact section or list that can be easily found. Application (39 websites) and list of the programs to follow. On the contrary, the least respected criteria are the explanations of the courses (respected only by 6,5 universities), the details about the teaching professors (5 websites) and the presence of schedules (5). The only university that respects all of them is the Siberian Federal university, ranked 3rd.Particular attention should be paid to parameters like the presence of a searching bar and the ranking of the universities. The former is present in 39 cases, but in 6 of them it redirects to the Russian version of the website, while the ranking, present in only 24 websites out of 42, cannot be find in a dedicated section in at least 7 cases, where can be found in the news. However, in most of the cases where this happens there is an history section (only Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology has ranking in the news and no history section). The reason why attention should be paid to these is that there is a big possibility to improve the sites themselves. Moreover, there are other criteria which are “half” respected but are less frequent among the universities: for instance, Kazan (Volga) Federal University gives access to the schedules of the semester by logging in the private area; Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology provides the list some courses and give explanation for only some of them; the Immanuel Kant Baltic University program section can be reached only through another site, and the same is for National Research Tomsk Polytechnic University Russian language programs; MGIMO search bar works properly only in the area dedicated to programs for foreigners; St. Petersburg State University Facebook page publishes some contents in Russian, while some others in English. According to the analysis, the main problem with Russian universities websites is that they do not give deep information about the taught courses and not enough about programs: as already mentioned, only 6,5 universities out of 42 give information about the taught courses, while the programs score higher (22,5), but still in a percentage which is slightly higher than the 50%. The reason why this is the main problem is very simple: while, as a student, should I choose this university if I don’t know anything about what I am going to study? Are the lectures interesting? Is the course I would like to choose really what I am looking for? It seems that still a lot of English websites of Russian universities are not able to provide such deep information.- A way to improvement: conclusion and some recommendationsThis report shows that there’s still a big possibility to improve the English version of Russian universities websites if they want to attract foreign students: more than the 10% do not even show the programs or the courses the student would have to attend, and, as already mentioned, it questionable how a university can be able to attract students from abroad if there is no list of the courses the student is interested in attending. This is the section that need the first improvement because it needs more attention than others. To follow, almost every university should give more information about the teaching professors. This could be done in two ways: or giving some details about the professor on the webpage of the course, or providing a hyperlink which redirects to the webpage of that professor on the university website English version or, if any, to the professor’s website. The best idea would be combining them by putting a hyperlink to the webpage of the professor on the university site and, on this webpage, the link of the professor’s website. Another disrespected parameter is the presence of schedule. Of course, it’s hard to prepare the schedule of the following academic year: this extremely depends by the readiness of the bureaucracy and of the organization of the university and, if they are slow and unorganised as it happens for a lot of universities, this is unlikely to happen. Nevertheless, the schedules of the previous academic year or semester could still be useful to give the students an idea about the timetable of the lectures: if they start in the morning or in the afternoon, how many days and hours per week, how many lectures of one single course per week and so on.Two other sections that could be improved are scholarship and internship: for the first, it would be enough to put some information in the application section and, in particular, where the fee are expressed, simply putting some hyperlinks which redirects to the agencies and organizations providing the scholarship; for the second, a good idea would be having a webpage of the agencies, organizations, institutes or firms providing an agreed internship and to put a hyperlink to it on every page explaining the programs with the list of courses.A big advertisement campaign can be improved through the social, above all Facebook, which is one of the most popular social network among students: only 15 universities publish fully English content, which is a quite low number if we consider that the percentage slightly passes the 30%. The website of a university and the way to reach it are a kind of business ticket for the institute: if there is no possibility to read it or understand it, then the university can fail in in attracting students, even if, usually, students are attracted more by the prestige, the teachings and the hosting countries rather than the websites. These, anyway, can be a good way to show those things to the students, and having the possibility to attract foreign excellence to their institutes. It seems that some universities are not interested at all in attracting foreign students: the more we approach to the bottom of the ranking, the more the sites provide almost no information about themselves. Five universities do not even show the list of the taught programs: a foreign student has basically no idea about the programs taught in the university, why should he or she choose that university? It’s basically impossible. On the other hand, some universities provide webpages not only in English but also in different foreign languages: among them we can find webpages in Chinese, Spanish and Arabic, which confirms that some universities want to become truly international. However, since this analysis concerns only English websites, this parameter has not been chosen. To conclude, one other issue not set among the criteria should be considered to understand how a university could be attractive for a student: the field of study and the role of Russia itself in that field. It’s clear that Russia is an important country under different profiles: for instance, geopolitics, nuclear engineering, language and literature. Universities teaching this kind of subjects have more chance to attract foreign students (above all western) than universities which teaches law or medicine. However, these universities can have a higher chance to become more international and make Russia a top ranked country in more fields by signing agreement with foreign top ranking universities to start exchange programs for students.List of Russian universities according to the ranking of their websites:- Saint Petersburg National Research University of Information Technology, Mechanics and Optics (ITMO)- North-Eastern Federal University (NEFU) – 18/20- Siberian Federal University (SibFU) – 17,5/20- NRU Higher School of Economics (NRU HSE) - 16/20- Ural Federal University named after the First President of Russia Boris Yeltsin (UrFU) – 15/20- Southern Federal University (SFedU) – 15/20- Lobachevsky State University of Nizhny Novgorod – National Research University (UNN) – 15/20- National Research Tomsk State University (TSU) – 14,5/20- Kazan (Volga) Federal University – 14,5/20- Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) – 14,5/20- Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) - 14/20- Peter the Great St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University (SPbPU) - 14/20- National Research Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU) – 14/20- National Research Technological University (MISiS) – 14/20- Saint Petersburg State Electrotechnical University (LETI) - 13,5/20- Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (State University) (MIPT) – 13,5- Belgorod State University – 13,5/20- Novosibirsk State University (NSU) – 13/20- St. Petersburg State University – 12,5/20- Northern (Arctic) Federal University (NArFU) – 12,5/20- National Research University of Electronic Technology (MIET) – 12,5/20- Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN) – 12/20- Perm State University – 11,5/20- Perm National Research Polytechnic University (PSTU) – 11,5/20- Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University (IKBFU) – 11,5/20- National Research Nuclear University MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute) – 11/20- Moscow State Linguistic University (MSLU) – 11/20- North-Caucasus Federal University – 10,5/20- Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (MGIMO MFA of Russia) – 10,5/20- Samara State Aerospace University – 10/20- Russian State University for the Humanities (RSUH) – 9,5/20- Moscow State University of Civil Engineering (MISI) – 9,5/20- South Ural State University – 9/20- Gubkin Russian State Oil and Gas University – 9/20- Bauman Moscow State Technical University (BMSTU) – 9/20- Ogarev Mordovia State University – 8,5/20- National Research Saratov State University – 7/20- Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU) – 7/20- Moscow Aviation Institute (National Research University) (MAI) – 6/20- Russian National Research Medical University – 4,5/10- Irkutsk National Research Technical University (ISTU) - 4/10- St. Petersburg Academic University – Nanotechnology Research and Education Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences (the Academic University) – 2,5/20
Criteria List (progs.) Exp (progs.) List (courses) Exp (courses) Study Russian Teachers Schedules News Internship Scholarship History No Ru-En switch Ranking Mobile site Social media Application Migration info Dormitories Searching bar Contacts Total points
ITMO X x X X X x x x x x X x x x x x x x 18
NEFU x X X x x x x x x x X x x x x x x x 18
SibFU x X X X x x x x x x x X x x x x * x 17,5
NRU HSE x X X X X x x x x x X x x x x x 16
UrFU x X X x x x x X x x x x x x x 15
UNN x x X X x x x x X x x x x x x 15
SFedU x x X X x x x x X x x x x x x 15
K(V)FU x x X * x x x X x x x x x x x 14,5
TSU x x

x x x x x * x x x x x x x 14,5
FEFU x x X x x x x x * x x x x x x 14,5
Skoltech x X X X x x x x x x x x x x 14
SPbPU x X x x x x X x x x x x x x 14
TPU x X * x x * x X x x x x x x x 14
MISiS x x X X x x x x x x x x x x 14
MIPT x x * * x x x x * x x x x x x 13,5

x x x x x * x x x x x x x 13,5
BSU x x *


x x X x x x x x x x 13,5
NSU x x x x x x x X x x x x x 13
NArFU x X x x x x x x x x x * x 12,5
MIET x X X x x x x * x x x x x 12,5
SPbSU X X X x x x X * x x x x x 12,5

X x x x x x x x x 12
PSTU x x x x x x x x x x * x 11,5
IKBFU * * x x x x * x x x x x x 11,5
PSU x X x x x x * x x x x x 11,5
MEPhI X X x x x X x x x x x 11
MSLU x X x x x x x X x x X 11
MGIMO x x X x x x x x x * x 10,5
NCFU X x x x X X x x x x x 10,5
SSAU x x

x x x x x x x x 10
RSUH x x x x * x x x x x 9,5
MISI X x x x x X x x * x 9,5
GRSOGU x x x x x x x x x 9
BMSTU x * x X x x x x * x 9
SUSU x x x X x x x x x 9
OMSU X X x x * x x x x 8,5
NRSSU X x x x x x x 7
MGU X x x X x x x 7
MAI x x x x x x 6
RNRMU x x x x x 4,5
ISTU X x x x 4
Acad. U. x * x 2,5
Table n. 1: Russian universities’ websites and criteria adopted in this analysis. Each “x” corresponds to 1 point, while each “*” corresponds to 0,5 points.

[i] As already said, the choice of these parameters is arbitrary and done according to the personal experience of the author of the article.
[ii] The 2016 RIAC report includes more universities than this analysis. The reason why some universities where not included (The National Mineral Resources University, Moscow Power Engineering Institute and Kazan State Technological University) is because their sites were not working during the making of this analysis or they are not independent universities anymore and their websites redirect to the websites of other universities.

[iii] See the table below for the attribution of points.

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