Plugging the brain drain

22.12.11

Plugging the brain drain

Источник: «The Moscow News»

Ask any Russian old enough to remember life in the Soviet Union what was the biggest victim of the country’s transition to a market economy and the answer will probably be education.

A rapid brain drain sparked by the combined factors of the lure of high-paying universities in the West and a massive drop in funding caused what was once one of the world’s best education systems to fall to its knees. And while things have picked up slightly in the past decade, the country’ educational institutions are still a shadow of what they once were.

But that could soon all be about to change as the government amends legislation to encourage private endowments of the kind that prop up the U.S. education system.

The amendment, which comes into force on Jan. 1, liberalizes current legislation that blocks commercial organizations from making direct donations to universities.

Currently Russian higher education establishments receive very little of their funding from private endowments. The Moscow State Institute of International Relations holds the biggest endowment of all Russian universities, with 800 million rubles ($25 million). The fund was established in 2007 by billionaire metals magnates Vladimir Potanin and Alisher Usmanov, both ex-students at the institution.

The university got around the strict legislation by registering a charity to receive the donation in its name, Evgeny Biryukov, the head of its endowment fund, told The Moscow News.

 But while the sum is hardly a small one, it barely comes close to Harvard University’s $32 billion endowment for 2011.

Too restrictive

Currently there are some 50 endowment funds in Russia serving educational, healthcare and cultural establishments, which vary in size from around $200,000 to $25 million, according to the investfunds. ru website.

Under Russian law, sums held in endowment funds cannot be lower than $95,000 and the funds have to be managed by independent management companies.

Otkrytie Management and Gazprombank Assets Management are the leaders in the segment, each running several endowment investment funds.

«Managing endowments is not as strictly regulated as, for example, pension fund management, but it still has some restrictions," Roman Sokolov, director of Otkrytie Management told The Moscow News.

Skolkovo backing

The sphere was given a boost on Monday when the Skolkovo Foundation held an international forum on fundraising for educational institutions. The issue is of prime importance for the fund, which is seeking to raise a $1 billion endowment for a new technological university it is opening in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

«Companies, created by the MIT alumni or those having roots in MIT have a combined turnover, which exceeds Russian GDP," Ken Goldman, MIT head of corporate relations, told the conference. «But on the background of declining governmental support, the money coming from donors and from the government shouldn’t be taken as a gift, it has to be won.»

Goldman added that MIT is an important part of Boston’s economy and that Russian universities should try to follow the same path.

Oleg Kharkhordin, rector of the European University in St. Petersburg, told the forum that the endowment system has potential in Russia since there has been a shift in the way businessmen view the country’s educational establishments.

«At first we saw people leaving academia to pursue business goals, but now, having earned some money, they are coming back," Kharkhordin said.

Oleg NIKISHENKOV


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