Back to (corporate) school

School and university students are not the only ones going back to school this September. For a growing number of Russian employees, the academic season is getting underway.

After making their debut in the United States in the 1950s, corporate universities have slowly made their way to Russia. And, while the handful of Russian companies which offer structured education to their employees is a minor achievement compared to the thousands of such institutions in the United States, there are signs that the idea is swiftly catching on in Russia.

In a clear sign that such universities are becoming part of Russian corporate culture, Russia’s biggest bank, Sberbank opened a university for its employees in the town of Odintsovo near Moscow in February. The institute has 42 rooms and capacity for 900 students.

Courses at the Sberbank university are offered to all divisions of the company as well as external partners, such as university students.

While the growing popularity of corporate universities can be partly attributed to companies seeking the status of U.S. corporations, analysts say there is also a global trend toward regularly educating workers.

“The knowledge that people obtain gets old in several years and they have to study again,” said Gennady Konstantinov Director of Corporate Management at Higher School of Economics. “Conventional universities can’t educate people fully for their working places, so corporations have to take the process into their own hands.”

Path to success

© RIA Novosti. / Ruslan Krivobok

Sberbank’s corporate university in Odintsovo near Moscow

Companies say regular education makes a significant difference to staff morale and productivity.

They are particularly useful in sectors where the labor supply is limited to just a few companies, making it difficult to buy in new staff.

“In the telecom sector, the rivalry for people is very tough, so it is better to raise managers from within the company rather than buying them from our rivals,” said Mikhail Yakovlev, vice–president on Development and Staff Management at the Vimpelcom cell-phone operator.

Establishing a corporate university is expensive, and therefore not an option for small companies. Hiring an external teacher alone can cost between 70,000 rubles ($2,400) and several million rubles a month.

A solution for many companies is either to scale back or outsource. The smallest corporate universities can consist of just 2-5 teachers, who sometimes have other roles in the company and receive small bonuses for the extra work.

“Corporate universities generally appear only in companies with a staff of over 100 people,” said Yuri Virovets, president of the HeadHunter recruitment agency. “Many companies outsource educational processes to conventional institutes, or open departments in the institutions where they can teach their own employees or hire the best students.”

Gaining credibility

© RIA Novosti. / Valeriy Melnikov

Selling phone numbers in in Beeline’s service center, First Tverskaya-Yamskaya St, Moscow.


In the past few years, Russian corporate universities have gained considerable credibility among young professionals and even the government.

State-owned railroad monopoly Russian Railways opened a corporate university in July 2010. Starting out with just 240 students, the university says it will have taught some 2820 people by 2012. As well as training staff, the institution also offers education programs to students. It selected 240 “young managers” to study management through its Russian Railways Youth competition.

Sberbank’s university also offers a number of prestigious courses. The bank’s spokespeople say the institute is often approached by governmental officials who want to attend its lectures, some of which are even delivered by the Russian President.

This September the bank launched a new program, called Sberbank-500, to teach a Russianstyle MBA program to 500 regional managers. The program will be run in cooperation with the French business school INSIAT and the Russian Higher School of Economics.

Extreme education

© RIA Novosti. / Iliya Pitalev

The production area at a Norilsk Nickel copper works beyond the Arctic Circle

Perhaps Russia’s most extreme corporate university is one opened by metals giant Norilsk Nickel in the far northern city of Norilsk in 2006. The institute teaches some 18,000 and 8,000 engineers, line managers and top managers. As well as offering intensive courses in Norilsk, the university also sends managers and department heads to study at the Moscow Academy of National Economy and on internships abroad.

“We offer free professional education to our employees, which takes only one to four months, instead of a year at an ordinary vocational school,” said Vladimir Zherebtsov, deputy education director at Norilsk Nickel.

Read other articles of the print issue “The Moscow News #70”

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