Spreading the Word: How Student Ambassadors Promote Universities in Their Home Countries and Beyond
HSE News Service talks with Olga Krylova, the Head of HSE – St Petersburg's International Office, about the role of student ambassadors in the reputation of their alma mater.
Why do universities develop ambassador programmes?
Competition in the field of international education is growing year by year. It is getting more and more challenging for universities to find their place in the sun and to be competitive—that is why we need effective promotional tools.
Student ambassador programmes are actually an effective tool for promotion—though I shouldn't use such a general word like ‘tool’; this is more about projects. What are the advantages of this type of activity? First and foremost, they benefit all parties involved—particularly, the ambassadors themselves, who are students, alumni, or academic and administrative staff. As for students and graduates, the benefit of these projects is that they develop cross-cultural communication skills, presentation skills etc.
Due to ambassadors’ initiatives, universities in turn gain the opportunity to increase their internationalization, improve their reputations and promote their brands, expand scientific and educational cooperation with leading academic and research institutions, and attract talented young people for training and research. What is also worth mentioning is that these activities contribute to fundraising.
What role do ambassadors play in the reputation building of their home universities?
Ambassadors play a pivotal role in the promotion of their universities in the local and foreign markets.
I believe that such elements as sincerity and honesty are crucial for promotion. When promoting a university, we need to believe that we are promoting a quality product that provides our prospective students with essential skills.
The fact that student ambassadors actually study at the university which they represent gives credence to what they have to say about the university, and this is very important.
Many universities also establish ties with their graduates, putting together a pool of alumni ambassadors. All alumni have their unique experiences in building a career path that they can share with prospective and current students.
It is essential to emphasize that in order to successfully build a system of interaction with ambassadors, a university must provide proper organisational and financial support, sustainable career services, firm relationships with employers, and a suitable portfolio of educational services over a lifetime.
Hence, in placing stakes on students’ and graduates’ activities, universities make a great investment to their reputations.
How did the Student Ambassadors Programme of HSE – St Petersburg evolve, and what are its plans for the future?
The programme was launched last year. It has different categories of ambassadors — current students, graduates, faculty members and administrative staff. At this point, we focus on working with foreign students who are at least at their third year of studies, because by this time they usually have substantial experience studying at the university.
Last autumn, the first competitive selection was held, and we had a fairly large number of applicants. In the end, 6 ambassadors representing Armenia, Mauritius, Moldova and Uzbekistan were selected.
Students proposed their ideas and presented their own projects about how they envision promoting the university abroad. Projects could include visits to the countries where they are from, promotion in social networks, the organisation of various events engaging Russian and foreign students, and others.
At the moment, the programme has been developing very successfully, and this summer we are going to announce the second call for applications in order to broaden the network of ambassadors.
In terms of the direct benefits for ambassadors, we will be also working on the educational aspect of their work. In particular, we are eager to conduct a series of trainings and seminars aimed at enhancing different skills.
We are also planning to work more closely with HSE – St Petersburg alumni.
What do HSE – St Petersburg ambassadors do?
Their main task involves promoting HSE and recruiting foreign students. Thus, their projects mainly involve travelling to foreign countries, where they will host presentations and meetings with applicants and their parents on school campuses and/or centers of Russian language and culture.
Ambassadors can also help representatives of HSE University during international educational exhibitions.
Of note is that ambassadors implement the projects on their own—from setting the goals to achieving the results.
Since the beginning of this year, some of our ambassadors made their first field trips to Uzbekistan and Moldova, and many young people abroad learned more about our university.
Some of the scheduled events are also held in Russia, and they are aimed at attracting foreign students who reside here. For example, late March, a 'total dictation' in Armenian that was organised by our ambassadors was held at the HSE – St Petersburg. There are also projects planned for the future that will take place in Armenia.
Applicants have great interest in meeting with ambassadors, because it provides them the opportunity to get first-hand information from students who are currently studying at the University. I believe this year, due to implementation of the ambassadors programme, HSE University – St Petersburg will welcome even more international students to its undergraduate and graduate programmes.
Alisher Kuchiev, third-year student of the Bachelor's programme ‘Public Policy and Analytics’
My project was meant to raise awareness of HSE University – St Petersburg in Samarkand region, Uzbekistan.
Sharing my personal experience being a student at HSE is crucial, but I did not want students to be obliged to attend my presentation by order of the administration of the educational institutions. That the event be noncompulsory for students was an important factor for me when choosing the platform for giving the lecture. I conveyed this requirement to the administration of a local lyceum that is known for having a large number of graduates that go on to study abroad.
The lecture brought together students from many regions of Uzbekistan, who are planning to apply to universities overseas. At the end of the lecture we held a debate, at the conclusion of which students were awarded HSE — St. Petersburg swag.
I should also mention the negotiations I participated in with the Russian Cultural Centre of the Samarkand region. The director of the centre expressed his willingness to collaborate further with our university.
Participation in the ambassador programme helped me to improve my skills in organising meetings at the official level, gave me my first experience going on a 'business trip', and taught me how to professionally conduct myself both on the Internet and in real life work-related situations.
Aleksandr Kalchenko, fourth-year student of the Bachelor's programme ‘Economics’
Four years ago, when was choosing which university to attend, I could only rely on the information that is on a website and social media. Of course, all this information lacked sentiments and a bit of subjectivity.
That is why I went to Tashkent, my hometown, to show foreign students what HSE University – St Petersburg is all about, from my perspective. I delivered three lectures, during which high school juniors and seniors were able to ask insightful questions about academic life at HSE, its atmosphere, the required financial costs, and extracurricular activities.
The Higher School of Economics is a well-known university in Uzbekistan. It was good to know that at least 90% of the students whom I was lucky enough to meet at the lectures already knew about HSE University. Speaking for myself, I would be thrilled if I managed to motivate my young and ambitious fellow citizens to choose HSE.