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June 6, 2011 12:07 am

Russia’s students look to the west

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Russia, Saint Petersburg,

Church of the Resurrection, St Petersburg

Michail Yurin graduated last year with an EMBA from the Institute of Business Studies-Moscow. A consultant specialising in distribution and logistics, Mr Yurin believes his degree has helped his business considerably and that his EMBA – an MBA for working executives – gave him sufficient exposure to western business practice.

However Mr Yurin is in a minority. Although interest in management education in Russia is increasing as the economy grows, many Russian students are opting to study for an MBA outside the country. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, last year 2,019 Russian citizens took the GMAT, or Graduate Management Admission Test, an increase of 64 per cent compared with 2006. But many of these would-be students either sent their scores to US schools last year (53 per cent) or schools in the UK and France. Only 2.4 per cent of Russian examinees sent their score reports to Russian programmes in 2010.

There are 150 business schools in Russia offering an MBA, but apart from the 12 accredited or in the process of accreditation by the UK-based Association of MBAs, none has accreditation from either the US-based AACSB or Equis, the accrediting arm of the European Foundation for Management Development. Most MBAs are taught in Russian and many schools are seen as lacking the drive and innovation of their western counterparts. EFMD’s accreditation process favours MBA programmes that have a strong appeal to international students.

Only a handful of Russian MBA candidates would consider studying in their home country, says Zoya Zaitseva, global operations director of the QS World MBA tour.

“The majority of Russian business professionals want to gain international experience and study in a culturally diverse classroom.”

To counter negative perceptions the Russian government is investing heavily in its elite Moscow School of Management Skolkovo, set up in 2006. Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, has given this prestige project his backing and is chair of the business school. There are currently 145 students on Skolkovo’s MBA and EMBA programmes and numbers are rising.

Other top Russian schools include IBS-Moscow, the Graduate School of International Business, Graduate School of Management St Petersburg University and the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. Several western business schools – Duke in the US, Vlerick Leuven Ghent, Stockholm School of Economics, Grenoble Graduate School of Business and Kingston University in the UK have opened campuses in Moscow and St Petersburg, often with local partners and government support.

Other business schools are finding an alternative route into the Russian market. For example, Insead in Paris and Singapore and London Business School are delivering executive education to one of Russia’s biggest financial institutions, Sberbank.

“The bank is undergoing a huge programme of transformation and embracing a new, more efficient culture,” says Irina Pronina, Sberbank head of learning and development. “Companies who provide good educational opportunities for their people become employers of choice,” she adds. Sberbank opted for western schools because it wants both to become more international and to prepare its managers to operate globally,

Ms Pronina believes Sberbank’s move will spark interest in western MBAs. “Our training consultants aim to show our high potential, the range of possible programmes being delivered by western business schools and we certainly hope some of our best people will go on to take an MBA.”

Vlerick has run a part-time MBA from its campus in St Petersburg for the past five years and will launch an EMBA in Moscow later this year. However, Peter Rafferty, director of international business at Vlerick cautions that even in good times the Russian market is a risky proposition for business schools.

“There are political risks to consider. Establishing a business school in Russia is a completely bureaucratic process. Your building needs to be approved. The institution needs to be approved and your course programme design needs approval,” he says.

Nevertheless Dave Wilson, president and chief executive of GMAC, believes that Russia is on the cusp of growth in management education. “Russia has some world class universities and that is always a strong foundation for the building of world class business schools.

“Moreover, as Russia itself grows, the demand for qualified managers will increase exponentially,” he says.

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