As one of the world’s largest rail companies, Russian Railways employs over one million people, of whom 60,000 work with SAP software. The company therefore requires a high number of well educated employees with SAP knowledge. That is why it specifically invests in training future employees. It supports a number of universities across Russia and has been involved in the SAP University Alliances program for a number of years. In this way, students learn about best practices in the transportation industry using SAP software. The effort is paying off for Russian Rail: Many students start their career there after graduating.
Companies and universities in Russia are increasingly adopting this successful model because the economy, and thus the demand for practically trained employees, is booming. The SAP University Alliances program began in 2004 with State University Management and Higher School of Economics. Now, SAP supports around 20 institutes of higher education in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Companies benefit because graduate employees already have the necessary knowledge of business processes and SAP software while students benefit by gaining practical experience while still studying, which improves their chances on the job market. In turn, this strengthens the universities’ reputation.
Combining business and education
Dr. Victor Taratoukhine is responsible for the SAP University Alliances program in the region: “My role is to put universities into contact with suitable customers and partners.” SAP offers different curriculums for the different types of universities and the focus of their teaching. The universities receive a global template in English that they then adapt to their needs and can translate into their local language. Some programs of study focus on SAP applications and others are business oriented. “We give them the newest version of the software and offer to host it in one of our global centers,” explains Taratoukhine.
Saint Petersburg State Polytechnical University also participates in the program. “We train engineers, so the integration of SAP software with CAD and CAM systems, as well as topics such as product life-cycle management and data flow models, are important to us,” says Dr. Nikita Golovin, Deputy Pro-Rector of the university. “But a successful engineer also needs to know the business context. This is where SAP helps. What’s more, we use the latest in technology because we use the most recent versions of the SAP software. In return, we act as a kind of innovation lab for SAP because we are in contact with SAP customers and can therefore filter their requirements for SAP.”
The next step is to establish an SAP University Community in which institutions can exchange experiences and knowledge. “We are also developing the Global SAP University Alliances portal currently,” explains Taratoukhine. “It will be accessible to potential academic partners, enabling them to get a taste of what the community offers.”
Demand for practical experience
As in the past, the Russian education system is designed to provide a broad range of general knowledge. The SAP software provides the practical element. In a recent project, 10 students from the Universities of Münster and Moscow teamed up with researchers at the European Research Center for Information Systems to investigate how IT could make the processes of a Russian automotive company more efficient.
“This is particularly important for the business courses,” says Taratoukhine. “Here, we work closely with the management schools at the Moscow and Saint Petersburg State Universities.” SAP is represented on the advisory committee of the Graduate School of Management in St. Petersburg. This body makes the school’s financial decisions and discusses concepts to be taught, too. SAP helps the school find professors and lecturers from abroad and thus be more involved in the international network of renowned business schools. Dr. Ilja Gorbunov, IT director of the Saint Petersburg Graduate School of Management reports: “We use SAP software on bachelor and MBA programs. During the practical part, students learn how to manage a company with business software. SAP supports us by providing the necessary software and helping us design the syllabuses. For example, we worked together on an IT program for MBA students.”
The SAP University Alliances program supports innovative learning methods such as international business games. Students map the business processes of a fictitious company in SAP software. International university teams take on roles in the company, such as in purchasing, marketing, and controlling. They have to communicate between countries and universities and hold virtual meetings. “This educational method enables us to recreate the reality of working for SAP very well,” says Taratoukhine. This awakens students’ entrepreneurial spirit: “Many of them want to know how they can support SAP’s small and midsize enterprise business by starting up their own companies. Today’s students will be the driving force for Russia’s further economic growth.”