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THE EFFECTS OF PROMOTING LANGUAGE LEARNING IN THE RUSSIAN ACADEMIC CONTEXT: CASE STUDY URAL FEDERAL UNIVERSITY

A. Muzafarova, J. Daminova, T. Rasskazova, A. Okhotnikova

Ural Federal University (RUSSIAN FEDERATION)
In the face of the global trend towards academic internationalisation Russian universities have to redefine themselves in a more competitive context and respond to numerous challenges impeding their success on the world academic market. This increased focus on raising the universities’ international profile has imposed urgent demands on tertiary academic staff related to their engagement in international activities, the most important requirement being a sufficient level of foreign language competence.To help catalyse the internationalisation process, introducing and supporting in-house language training programmes for the university staff seems to be an essential logical solution.

The article describes Ural Federal University’s (UrFU) positive experience in running a large-scale project of teaching English to its faculty,as part of both its competitiveness enhancement programme and its overall strategy,and evaluates the interim outcomes of this initiative, its achievements and limitations by exploring its intended and unintended consequences.

To evaluate the tangible results of the project,the participants’ international publishing activity figures and their dynamics were analysed. Combined with the results of the survey into the subject teachers’ perceptions of the project, these served as an indicator of the faculty capacity enhancement. The survey also intended to measure the success of the university’s efforts channeled into managing its academic staff motivation for language learning, with the subsidiary aim to identify the prevailing motives that could subsequently be influenced to expand the project.

To further assess the language training effects,the university academics’ support of their employer was studied by means of an employee loyalty survey. It aimed to identify whether the university’s commitment to ensuring full support to its staff in their work through providing opportunities for language improvement acted for its own benefit contributing positively to its image of a responsible employer. Making sure that additional demands resulting from the need to use a foreign language imposed on UrFU academics do not undermine their loyalty to the university was also what the survey sought to find out.

The results obtained through the surveys revealed that the optimum combination of different factors helped the university strengthen its academic staff motivation for improving their English. Moreover, increased motivation for developing language skills generated motivation for participating in internationalisation activities thus favourably influencing the university international publication indicators. However, UrFU staff loyalty appeared to be slightly lower than expected, which can be attributed to research methodology drawbacks and needs further more thorough examination.

The overall positive effect of the language training initiative fuels optimism about the project future, as well as about the potential benefits of introducing similar programmes in other Russian universities. The findings can have broad practical implication for decision-makers in the Russian tertiary education sector: an effective mechanism for staff language training can become a key to achieving tangible improvements that would benefit both academics and universities. Universities’ global and local goals could thus be achieved through leveraging the English language proficiency the faculty acquire while addressing the need for internationalisation.