ITMO University Gets Into TOP-3 Russian Universities for Quality of Its English Website

A research by the Russian International Affairs Council placed ITMO University in the Top-3 Russian universities for the quality of its English website. What's more, ITMO even got ahead of some renowned foreign universities that are in the top-100 of the international QS ranking. In comparison with the previous ranking, ITMO maintained its 2nd place, yet its score has increased considerably.

The Russian International Affairs Council is a non-profit organization established by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Education and Science; this was the second time that it conducted research on English versions of websites. The ranking's goal is to collect data on university websites, point out the strong and weak sides of development of English content on web resources of Russian universities, and give recommendations on "electronic internationalization", as having a good, comprehensible web portal increases a university's attractiveness for foreign students.

This year, the ranking's experts analyzed websites of 47 Russian universities and compared them with 11 English websites of foreign universities that are included in the QS's Top-100 and whose native language is not English. The websites' content was reviewed based on 16 conceptual blocks. The blocks correspond to the typical sections of university web portals: "About the university", "News", "Graduates", "Mission" and the like. For each block, there was a range of questions one had to answer "yes" or "no" to. All in all, there were 108 questions, and a positive answer got a university 1 point.

11 universities were included in the leader group - those that got from 60 to 92 points. ITMO University considerably improved its position by getting 10 points more than in it did in 2015's ranking. Thus, it might soon become the absolute leader by surpassing the Higher School of Economics, which has also increased its score this year. Another notable success was that of Tomsk State University, which rapidly improved its position from 10th (52 points) to 3rd (78 points) place. All of the universities from the leader group increased their score, yet, some still lost their standing. For instance, St. Petersburg Polytechnic University got 7 points more than last time, yet it lost its 4th place and is now placed 5th.

Universities from the "second group" (from 39 to 56 points) also improved their score, yet not as much as the leaders. All the remaining universities fall into the "low-performing" group - those that didn't make any essential changes to their websites' content. Thus, the ranking's authors are yet to achieve their goal of motivating the "low-performing" universities to learn from the leaders and improve their electronic resources for foreign students. For instance, such major universities as Moscow State University or Saint Petersburg State University have considerably weak English websites despite having a vast number of educational programs in English.

"For ITMO's Institute of International Development and Partnership, this ranking offers a great chance to look at itself from a different perspective and understand possible ways for improvement. We created a good English portal. It was highly praised by QS-APPLE, and the Russian International Affairs Council, as well. Yet, after looking at the report I knew precisely what can we improve and aspire to. The ranking is like a fitness tracker. It doesn't make us sportier or slimmer. Yet, it helps us look after ourselves, set higher goals and compete - if not with someone else, then ourselves," shares Polina Petrusha, Head of the Internationalization Office.

To give a more precise evaluation, the ranking's authors also analyzed several universities that are in the top-100 of the QS ranking. Still, none of the Russian universities could surpass the three QS leaders: Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne got 99 points, University of Amsterdam got 97 points and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich got 94 points. The only Russian competitors to these universities were the Higher School of Economics and ITMO University, as they surpassed all the other foreign universities from the selection. Last year, Russian websites beat foreign ones in sections "About the university" and "Contacts" only. This year, the situation has considerably improved.

Yet, there is still a lot of work to be done, as no Russian university got 100% in any of the sections. For instance, the experts recommend improving the content of particular sections. The Library sections need proper catalogs and access to the university's databases. The Career section should have examples of success stories of the university's international students and databases of internships and job offers, as well as partner companies. For the Graduates section, a good idea would be to have a database on international students who graduated from the university, and to publish reviews of the projects they can participate in. Adding the university's history would be nice as well.

"During the meeting with the representatives of the Russian International Affairs Council, we plan to have a look at the full report so as to properly interpret our score. Yet, we still have questions about the rankings. For instance, it's still not clear whether they've analyzed the portal only or its sub-domains as well. We use them so as to not overload the portal - for instance, the news section is on a sub-domain - as you just can't keep all the data on the main portal. Same goes for such complex sections as Library, Graduates and Career. The modern requirements to a website’s usability state that such sections should be mentioned on the main portal, yet they can be hosted on their own sub-domains. This is how we do it at ITMO University. The report recommended the ranking’s leaders to fill the above-mentioned sections with more content, and noted that in foreign universities, they are filled up to 90%, whereas in Russian ones - to only 37%. Yet, even a quick look at the foreign websites lets one understand that they are organized according to the same concept: some info on the main portal and a link to a sub-domain where full information is available. Thus, we don't exactly understand what they analyzed: the main portal only or the sub-domains as well," comments Polina Petrusha.

At the same time, the ranking's authors underline that the index of electronic internationalization of Russian universities deals with only a set range of properties and has to be seen as only one of the many criteria of Russian universities' international activity. In short, one can’t get the full impression by using the ranking only.

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