Russia Needs a New Generation of Skilled Workers to Help Revitalize the Agricultural Sector

Public-Private Partnerships Key to Modernizing Russia s Agricultural Curriculum

20 October 2010, Moscow - Cooperation between the public and private sector is crucial to reinvigorate Russia's agricultural education system, a study presented in Moscow today finds. The study was commissioned by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and carried out by the Investment Centre of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). It was presented at an experts' round table about "Public-Private Partnerships in Russia's Agribusiness Education", organised by EBRD, FAO, the Ministry of Agriculture of the Russian Federation and Moscow's Timiryazev Agricultural Academy.

Lack of Agricultural Expertise

The study identifies several challenges in Russia's agricultural sector, which currently suffers a lack of adequately-trained skilled workers and a decreasing rural population. The lack of attractiveness of the agricultural sector means that many young people leave the countryside and this leads to a reduced number of applications to agricultural universities.

As a consequence there is a mismatch between teachers and students which is overcome by lowering admissions standards, which result in a decrease of the quality of education. The situation is aggravated by the fact that the agricultural education system is underfinanced and lacking corporate expertise in design of curricula, producing graduates with little practical training and ill-equipped to enter the modern agricultural industry.

Rural Areas Suffer

According to the EBRD/FAO report, unemployment rates among Russia's rural population are above the national average. The unemployment rate in urban areas in 2009 was 7.5 per cent, while in rural areas it was as high as 11.3 per cent. Additionally, life expectancy in rural areas is traditionally lower: In 2008, urban life expectancy was 68.5 years, whereas rural life expectancy was only 66 years.

A thriving agricultural sector is therefore an important way to improve livelihoods in rural Russia. As many round table participants commented, the agricultural sector cannot thrive without properly-trained skilled workers, particularly specialised managers. However, the report finds that less than 60 per cent of agricultural enterprises have graduate economists and managers and only 20 per cent have marketing experts.

"There is a need for greater involvement of agribusiness and financial institutions in the preparation of specialists in break-through areas of agricultural science and education," said Vladimir Bautin, Rector of Moscow's Timiryazev Agricultural Academy.

Public-Private Partnerships Provide a Way Forward

As the public agricultural education sector lacks finance and knowledge to revive the sector, a combined public and private sector approach offers a solution to reinvigorate agricultural education, the EBRD/FAO report finds. The paper outlines several strategies to overcome the current situation:

• Agribusiness ideas and preferences must be taken into account when designing curricula for public agricultural education.

• Business representatives should be involved in establishing new educational standards.

• Competence Based Education, focused on outcomes that are linked to workforce needs, should be included as part of the new curricula.

• On-site practical training should become a standard component of education to allow students to adopt full-time work in the sector.

• Additionally, agribusiness corporations can provide financial support for students and teachers

The report proposes several strategies including agribusiness-sponsored scholarships for students, grant programmes to expand the research activity of faculties and endowment funds at public universities to provide support for operating costs.

"We want to see Russia's agricultural sector thrive and contribute to an improvement of living standards. Synergies from combining agribusiness expertise with public agricultural education are a powerful step towards revitalising a sound agricultural sector and life in Russia," said Natasha Khanjenkova, EBRD's Managing Director for Russia.

A Sustainable Solution

The recommendations presented by the EBRD/FAO report as well as by the participants of the round table are solutions that will contribute to sustainable growth and improvement of Russia's agricultural education. "When agribusiness corporations see a new generation of skilled workers adapted to current modern agriculture, they will see the value in continuing to fund these programmes," commented Eugenia Serova, Senior Adviser at the FAO Investment Centre. "Additionally, improved quality of education will create a new generation of teachers, ensuring sustainability of this reinvigoration."