Russian pioneers spread OU gospel

March 9, 2001

A visit to the museum at TsAGI, Russia's institute of aerohydrodynamics in the formerly closed town of Zhukovsky, is a sobering experience for westerners. There they can contemplate models of planes that might have killed them had the cold war turned out differently.

There is neither a sword nor a ploughshare on show, but they came inexorably to mind as a group from the Open University was shown the museum. The OU group was there for the graduation of its first masters in business administration students.

Ten years ago TsAGI's directors decided management training was the key to survival in post-Soviet Russia. Viktor Tyurin, deputy director, recalled:

"We were totally unprepared. We had to find a way of educating our people in the new rules. We saw the OU and realised this was what we needed."

A group of 20 was enrolled on the OU's effective manager programmes. Since then, about 10 per cent of TsAGI's 5,000 workforce have taken OU courses and the share of state funding in its income has dropped from 95 to 25 per cent.

But the most important consequence of that first course was that students, led by Sergei Shennikov, decided to go into management training themselves and created Link -now the OU's Russian partners.

TsAGI contacts helped Link create its range of 90 regional centres. Translated OU modules -problem-solving rather than traditional Russian rote-learning -form programmes taught by 1,500 tutors, all of whom take the courses themselves.

The MBA, a three-year part-time programme with fees set at $10,000, started in 1998, a year of economic collapse. Igor Yevtishenkov, one of the 13 new MBAs, recalled: "It is traumatic to see your bank account vaporised." Fees quintupled as the rouble lost 80 per cent of its dollar value.

Most of the group work for foreign companies. Mr Shennikov said: "We started with limited publicity, so it was expected this would happen. Future groups will have more students who work for Russian-owned companies."

Tatiana Morosova, an analyst at Standard Bank, admitted to finding the course very demanding: "You cancel your social life and family life." And Olga Balanova said she had been promoted by 3M while taking the course: "I found the strategy section very useful and would not have got the current job without it." She considered four distance MBAs offered by British universities, but chose the OU because it had agents in Russia.

The main note of scepticism was struck by Mr Yevtishenkov, who moved from a German-owned computer company to set up his own business a year ago: "I feel it has been in vain. For a small company it is not necessary to have the MBA." But he said he still found some elements useful.

While Link is recognised by the Russian government as an institute of higher education, the OU remains the senior partner. But that should change with plans to have Link fully accredited by the OU as an independent degree-awarding institution by the end of 2003.

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