Russian universities are drawing on British experience to improve their recruitment of overseas students and increase sources of outside funding.
They want to learn from British institutions how to improve outside sources of funding in what continues to be an impoverished educational environment.
"Developing their overseas market is critical for many universities in Russia today, for whom failure to access this market could be fatal," said Nikolai Rozhkov, head of the international office of St Petersburg State University of Technology and Design, and a leading member of the city's vice rectors' association.
He added: "For some institutions in regional cities this could be the key issue, especially where the market for local fee-paying students is limited."
Dr Rozhkov, who last November spent three weeks on a Know-How Fund JICAP (Joint Industrial and Commercial Attachment Programme) secondment to Leeds University's European Office, said the British management techniques and approach to attracting overseas students and tapping sources of funding, for example through alumni outreach, were the key areas from which Russian universities could benefit.
"Russian universities have had the right to attract their own fee-paying students since the late 1980s," said Dr Rozhkov. "This is regulated by the ministry of education, but the exact details are left to the institutions. It's a challenge for universities to understand how best to promote themselves. In most developing countries, our main market, there is little information on Russia. Students do not understand what it means to study in St Petersburg, compared with, say, Archangel."
Marketing the benefits of a Russian higher education to overseas students, particularly those from developing countries or former socialist client states, is now largely left to individual institutions, despite some ministry-level efforts to send delegations to international student fairs.
Russia's flagship international university, the Peoples' Friendship University - formerly the Patrice Lumumba University - in Moscow, was established in the 1960s to attract overseas students, and has weathered the past five years better than most.
But for universities beyond Moscow, in St Petersburg or the regions, tapping into the lucrative market for foreign students is adifficult challenge, without an understanding of the most effective approach, Dr Rozhkov said. His university has around 110 overseas students out of a student population of 5,000 but there was room for attracting a further 300.
A team of British university marketing experts was in St Petersburg recently to share its experience of tapping potentially lucrative overseas markets.
A British Council-backed seminar, which drew more than 40 participants from universities in St Petersburg, Moscow, Nizhniy Novgorod and even the Siberian city of Ekaterinburg, gave a descriptive, not prescriptive, review of British experience, recognising the long Russian history of teaching overseas students.
Colin Boswell, director of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, who led a team of three British international relations officers, said they were surprised to find little hostility to the notion of students as "customers".
Michael Bird, director of the British Council in St Petersburg, said: "The tradition of foreign students coming to study in Russia, who are mostly subsidised students from socialist countries, has been broken down since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The British have been dynamic in working in international markets for the last 20 years, and have a huge amount of practical experience to share."