Industrial giants to invest funds in higher education

The Russian government is hoping to attract the country’s major industrial companies to invest in establishing higher education institutions and chairs in top universities, to prepare highly skilled employees and produce research for their sectors.

The initiative targeting companies such as Rusal, Rosneft, Gazprom and LUKOIL was proposed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who promised that the government would provide companies with all the support they needed to implement such projects, including partial tax exemptions.

“It is especially important to bring Russian fundamental and applied science to a [higher] level and to catch up the current backlog with Western countries,” Medvedev said recently.

“Such projects should be implemented in the shortest period, also through the allocation of private investments.”

As part of the plan, special boards – expected to comprise university managers and employers – would be established in all of Russia’s state universities.

Most Russian analysts have welcomed the new state initiative.

Yuriy Popov, a former associate professor at Voronezh State University of Architecture and Civil Engineering – one of Russia’s leading universities in the field of civil engineering – said it was possible that universities set up by companies could provide better quality higher education than the Russian average.

However, there were also some weaknesses in the idea, Popov said. For instance, such universities might emulate medieval guilds, with graduates required to work for the company for four to five years as a way of funding the university’s establishment.

Big companies already involved

Some of Russia’s big companies, such as those mentioned above, already have considerable experience in cooperating with leading universities. For example, oil giant LUKOIL has an agreement with Moscow State University that implements joint scientific activities.

The agreement includes cooperation in research, development and design work in geology, development and hydrocarbon production.

LUKOIL’s major competitor Rosneft has partnerships with 27 Russian universities, of which seven have strategic status, providing funds for the development of the academic base at universities, establishing new departments and laboratories, and conducting student training at the company’s plants and other production facilities.

Several years ago Rosneft provided about RUB1 billion (USD$33 million) for the establishment of a new teaching laboratory building at the Russian Oil and Gas Institute.

Representatives of Gazprom have expressed an interest in Medvedev’s proposal, but said they needed more time to study it.

Gazprom Export, an export division of Gazprom, has an agreement with the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, the diplomatic school of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, involving cooperation in training, research and information exchange.