Transnational education and Russia – Pull factors of Russian higher education in the post-Soviet space and the EU


 Presenter (s) Sirke Mäkinen, University of Helsinki

Pull factors of Russian Higher Education – the Cases of the post-Soviet Space and the EU (revised title & abstract)

The Soviet Union, and in particular, the Russian Socialist Soviet Republic, was one of the main destinations for international students during the Cold War. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ideological impetus together with the financial element connected with it, and partly due to the severe socio-economic and political situation of the 1990s in the country, the Russian Federation lost its attractiveness as a host country. However, since the 2000s Russian state authorities have again started to emphasise the importance of promoting Russian higher education abroad and recruiting international students and staff. There has been a growing interest in providing education for international students both in Russia and in Russian branch campuses in the source countries. According to Russian statistics, international students make up approximately 7 % (2016-2017) of students in Russian HEIs (UNESCO statistics approx.4%), in comparison with less than two per cent ten years earlier (Aref’ev 2018).

Recently, Russian state authorities have presented ambitious plans for strengthening Russia’s role in the global education market, for example in the project for the Development of the Export Potential of the Russian System of Education (2017) and the project 5-top-100 (2012) the latter of which aspires to have at least five Russian universities in the top-100 of leading global university rankings. In my previous studies I have studied (Mäkinen 2016; forthcoming 1 & 2) the motivation and goals for these activities, and found out that unlike in the main providers of international/transnational education, such as the US, the UK and Australia, in Russia the political rationale for internationalisation has been prevalent (on the rationales for internationalisation, see de Wit 2002); internationalisation should have served the foreign policy goals incl. making Russia’s external image more favourable. Without no doubt, institutional-level actors have also had economic and academic rationales for internationalisation.

In order to unveil whether Russian actors can aspire to have these rationales implemented at all, I ask whether Russian HE is viewed as attractive, whether Russia as a destination country is viewed as attractive and why (not) so, and in general, how Russia’s position in international/transnational education is perceived abroad.

I apply the push-pull model to study the factors related to Russian HE’s and Russia’s attractiveness as a host country, and ask my data what are the perceived pull factors of Russian HE in these two regions? The focus is on the selection of a host country together with its HEIs within Russia and their branches abroad. Mazzarol and Soutar (2002, 82) explain ‘push’ factors as those operating within the source country, and ‘pull’ factors as those functioning within a host country. According to these authors, there are three stages in the decision-making process for studying abroad: the first involves the decision to study abroad, the second, the selection of the country and the third the choice of an educational unit. However, in more recent studies it has been argued that this is not necessarily the order of these stages, as for example, the selection of the institution may precede that of the country and be seen as more important (Jiani 2017, 577).

Mazzarol and Soutar (2002, 83) argue that in the decision to study abroad, push factors are crucial: such as, ‘lack of access to higher education’ in the home country and how HE of the home country is perceived. As for the country selection, they list six factors, such as awareness of the host country and reputation of its HE in a source country, economic and social costs, geographical proximity. In this paper I am not interested in the personal decision-making process as such but I am interested in the factors that make Russian higher education attractive or not attractive or Russia as an attractive host country or not in different source countries; i.e. the focus is on Russian HE and Russia as a host country from the point of view of Russia’s/Russian higher education’s role and place in the world.

I have selected five cases in these two regions for this paper: two post-Soviet states (non-EU members) in Central Asia: Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and three EU member states: Finland, Germany and Latvia. They are geographically relatively close to Russia but represent very different source regions for Russian higher education. The first is a region which constitutes the main source region for international students in Russian HE, the latter one seems to be one of the region from which Russia aspires to have more students. Push factors for studies in Russia from these countries are not systematically addressed in this paper, but some key push factors are brought up in the analysis.

Semi-structured interviews make up the main source of primary data for this paper. 29 experts in international education and/or higher education of the host or source country have been interviewed in 2017-2019. Experts were affiliated with universities or education-related agencies (state or private) or work for the government. The study applies qualitative methodology with an interpretative approach. The data has been coded deductively in qualitative content analysis with the help of the pull factors identified in previous studies (Mazzarol and Soutar 2002 and Eder et al 2010).

Studies using the push-pull model have so far focused on English-speaking host countries (from developed to developing countries) and more recently also different Asian and Middle Eastern countries as host countries (also East-to-East flows) (Fang & Wang 2014, Chen 2017, Lee 2017, Ahmad and Hussain 2017a, 2017b, Jiani 2017, Wen and Hu 2019; see also Wilkins et al 2012). As far as I am aware no studies on pull factors of Russian higher education have so far been published.

The paper proceeds as follows. Following the introduction, a brief literature review on international/transnational education and Russia’s role therein, and in particular, on push and pull factors is presented. This is followed by the introduction of the data collection and analysis. Then I will present the findings of the comparative analysis of pull factors of Russian higher education in the post-Soviet space and in EU member states. The conclusions provide answers to the research questions presented above as well as identify the need for further research.

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