MBA (Master of Business Administration) programs have been becoming increasingly more prominent in Russia for the past thirty years[1]. In this article, we explain who will find an MBA useful and why, as well as how Russian programs differ from foreign ones. We will also tell you how to choose a suitable university in Russia and enroll in it. Additionally, we have a more general article about MBA.

Briefly about MBA in Russia

  • What is an MBA. MBA is a business-oriented applied Master's degree program. Its goal is to prepare rational and assertive senior and middle managers. Students of such programs learn from cases: they analyze real problem situations and offer ways to solve them. Other characteristic features of an MBA are the minimal number of theoretical lectures and the correspondence of educational tasks to today’s business problems.
  • How to apply for an MBA. Admission to an MBA differs little from admission to a regular Master's program — it also requires a bachelor's or master's degree. But work experience in a managerial position is just as important as previous education, which is the key difference from a regular Master's degree program. It is often necessary not only to provide relevant documents but also to sit through an interview.
  • Price for an MBA in Russia. The cost of MBA programs all over the world is higher than for other master's programs. In Russia, it starts from 4,099 USD and can go up to 68,314 USD. On average, you should account for 8,198 USD in tuition fees.
  • Russian MBAs. The peculiarity of MBA in Russia is a large number of specialty programs. In most countries, the MBA programs at different business schools vary little, and the choice depends mainly on the quality and reputation of the educational institution itself. In Russia though, it makes sense to choose a program with additional courses in your specialty. For example, MBAs can specialize in real estate or the digital economy. The important thing to remember is that you will almost definitely need to know Russian to study there.
  • Afterward employment. MBA programs are not designed for those who are just starting their careers, they are for accomplished professionals and leaders. The goal of admission to such programs is either to move up the career ladder or to learn how to better manage your own business. And it works: after receiving an MBA, salaries increase and promotions often follow[2].
  • Should you get an MBA in Russia? Studying MBA programs in Russia is preferable if you are going to work in this country in the future. The programs are closely related to existing business practices, and teaching is based on real business cases, so a Russian program will better prepare you to work in local economic realities. However, the key skills of MBA graduates are universal, so the degree will also be useful for working in the international market[3].

MBA Education

The Master of Business Administration is a form of Master's degree program aimed at training business managers. MBA graduates are able to make informed management decisions, have a deeper understanding of the principles of marketing and financial management, and know the techniques of personnel management and negotiation. Such a person is indispensable in a managerial position because they can very quickly optimize the work process even when they come to a new company.

Unlike other Master's programs, the goal of the MBA is to provide graduates with the knowledge and skills that will enable them to succeed in business. Regular Master's programs are most often designed as a link between a bachelor's degree and a PhD program. They deepen the knowledge of students in their area of specialization, but great attention is also paid to preparing for academic activities — this is not the case with the MBA.

MBA programs originated in the United States at the end of the 19th century, and in the spring of 1902, 7 students from Dartmouth College in Hanover received the world's first specially trained business diplomas. Back then, their degree was called Master of Commercial Science. The oldest proper business school in existence, the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, was founded in 1881. The first business schools in Russia appeared at the end of the eighties when the Central Committee of the Communist Party adopted a resolution "On demonopolizing foreign trade". In order to train the heads of Soviet enterprises to negotiate with foreign partners, “Higher Commercial Schools” were created at certain universities. For example, at RANEPA and MGIMO. After Perestroika, representatives of private business schools in the country created the RABO (Russian Association of Business Education) organization, which, together with the Ministry of Education, formulated state standards for MBA programs by 2000. Since 2012, MBA programs have been accredited not by the state, but by public organizations — state diplomas are not issued for this specialty. This brings the Russian MBA standards closer to international practices, where the reputation of a business school is a key indicator of its quality. The exceptions to this rule are Moscow State University and St. Petersburg State University. These universities have a special status of federal significance, which is why their MBA degrees are considered state-standard.

MBA curriculum

Russian MBA programs usually consist of two parts — the so-called "core" and specialization courses[4]. The core, or General MBA, shapes strategic thinking and a wide range of business and management-related competencies. These include management, financial management, an introduction to marketing, and the basics of international economic activities.

Specialization courses are supplements to core courses. They tie the curriculum to the industry that is relevant to their students. For example, in the MBA program with a focus on the hospitality business, the international market is not viewed in its pure form, but with a strong emphasis on tourism. Likewise, the pharmaceutical MBA program will teach its students not just the basics of marketing, but the intricacies of promoting commercial drugs.

Education in MBA programs is based on "business cases." These are real situations from corporate practice. Students in the classroom try to find the most effective management solutions for them. After that, their way out of the situation is compared with how things went down in reality, the pros and cons of both paths are analyzed and conclusions are drawn. An alternative option is the so-called “live cases,” when students share their own work experience and collectively think over solutions for managerial problems. In this case, students not only learn to make strategic and tactical decisions but also get the opportunity to hear the opinions and advice of colleagues in relation to their own business.

Who Needs an MBA

According to a survey by Hays[5], Russian employers believe that an MBA is an over-qualification for ordinary employees. One-third of the respondents say that such education is needed only for board chairmen, another third — only for top-managers, and the last third believe that an MBA degree will be useful for employees in a position not lower than the head of a department. It should be noted that only 2% of respondents are convinced that such training is needed for CEOs. So if you are already leading a structural unit in your company, but have not yet risen to the rank of CEO, it is very likely that studying for an MBA will be an impetus for your career growth.

What are the MBA programs?

MBAs can be divided into types according to the duration, format of studies, and learning objectives.

  • By duration:
    • Regular programs are close to the traditional format of higher education, with lectures and seminars. They last from several months to two years;
    • Intensive programs are usually modular and last for several days or weeks. Executive MBA programs are usually done in this format.
  • By format:
    • Full-time — classic face-to-face 5/2 programs;
    • Part-time — teaching in the evenings or on weekends. It is well suited for those who cannot combine work and study in the full-time department.
  • By learning objectives:
    • Generalist MBA programs are classic MBA programs that develop the interdisciplinary skills and soft skills necessary for any leader;
    • Special MBA programs are similar to the first type but are designed with a focus on a specific industry — retail, real estate, pharmaceuticals, etc. Thanks to such a narrow specialization, you can get skills that are useful specifically for your job;
    • Executive MBA — unlike ordinary MBA, these programs do not issue a diploma, and they usually last no more than a few days. This is due to the fact that they are intended for top managers and company executives. These are intensive courses designed to update the knowledge and skills of already successful leaders, expand their expert horizons, and place them in non-standard problem situations.

  • Professional retraining — a program for obtaining additional competencies in the professional field;
  • Mini MBA — several times shortened courses based on MBA programs, equivalent to refresher courses;
  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) — a program focused on the scientific understanding of business problems;
  • Specialized Master’s — generally one-year-long Master's degree programs designed for recent university graduates with no work experience. They allow you to study the chosen profession deeper and prepare for a job search;
  • Master in Management (MiM) — Master's programs, built similarly to the full-fledged MBA, but designed to accelerate development at an early stage of the career. They do not require work experience;
  • Master's (business education) — classic Master's degree programs, but with a greater focus on the current needs of businesses. Training most often takes place in the areas of “Economics,” “Management,” “State and Municipal Management,” and others. They have more theory and more general disciplines than the MBA.

MBA in Russia

MBA programs originated in the West, and American business schools are still considered the standard of quality. However, one should not assume that getting such an education makes sense only in the United States. All countries with large economies have a need for skilled managers, and their educational systems inevitably respond to this demand. Moreover, universities in such countries take into account the experience and mistakes of existing leaders. Russia is no exception. Russian MBA programs use all the developments of American and European business schools, adding innovations that are relevant to Russian reality.

Information is exploratory. For accurate information, refer to the official website of the school.

Advantages of MBA in Russia

  • Price — MBA programs in Russia are cheaper than abroad. Considered the best business school in the world, Harvard has a tuition fee of approximately 70,000 USD. For studying in business schools at the RANEPA, which many consider the best in Russia[6], you need to pay about 13,622 USD — less than in an average European business school, such as a Spanish ESERP. Do not forget about the cost of living, which is also much lower than in most European countries. On the other hand, the price range is very wide, and education for an MBA from Skolkovo is not much cheaper than from Harvard.
  • A variety of programs — unlike Western countries, where MBA programs are usually not divided by industry, in Russia you can choose a program specifically for your work tasks. You can find a program with a focus on the insurance industry, or even on marketing.
  • Local flavor — Russian business schools teach how to do business in Russia. If you plan to work primarily there, this can be a key benefit.
  • Ease of admission — the competition to Russian business schools is much lower than in the USA or most other European countries.
  • Networking — One of the most rewarding features of an MBA is the ability to build valuable connections. Future business partners, managers for your growing company (or those who might hire you), third-party consultants — all of them you will get to know during your training.

Disadvantages of MBA in Russia

  • Prestige — a degree from an elite business school with a worldwide reputation almost guarantees that your resume will outshine most others even at the initial selection stage. Russian MBAs are generally appreciated only in Russia, and even there they are not perceived as something out of the ordinary[7]. Above all, you will receive valuable knowledge, not status.
  • Networking — since you will almost certainly be studying in a purely Russian environment, you are unlikely to acquire business connections that will help you enter international markets.
  • Language — the language of instruction in the vast majority of programs is Russian. If you don’t know it, your selection of business schools will be very limited.

How to choose an MBA program

When choosing an MBA program, you need to focus not only on the university's ranking but also on your own goals. What field do you work in? How much can you afford to pay for tuition? Is relocation acceptable to you and do you have time for day training? All this is important to consider. We have a separate article, where we explain in more detail why you should not blindly rely on positions in a ranking when choosing an educational institution.

Personal goals

Some universities cooperate with large businesses from specific industries, and their representatives participate in teaching. Communication with these people will definitely help you not only to acquire the skills you need for your job but also to make useful connections. It is in such universities that there is a higher chance of meeting colleagues with whom in the future it will be possible to cooperate in work. Also, take into account the location of the university and the form of study — someone will not be able to study on weekdays, for someone it is impossible to move to another city. Finally, look for specialization — if you can find an inexpensive MBA program specifically for your industry, it may be more useful than a generalist program at a more prestigious school. There are not very many sites for searching for MBA programs in Russia today, one of the more successful examples is mbastudies.com. Most of these sites have very limited options for filtering educational institutions by parameters. Additionally, they are all in Russian. To get help with the selection of a program according to your individual criteria, you can contact us.

Universities’ quality

The sad reality is that many business schools place more emphasis on marketing than on the quality of education. Often the name "business school" hides master classes, business incubators, and classic higher education programs in finance or management. When choosing a business school, you need to pay attention to the following signals:

  • Overly banal or exotic courses. You shouldn't see courses either like “The Art of Presentation” or “Life Hacking for Creative Managers” in quality MBA programs. Both suggest that the business school does not seek to quickly and effectively teach students important skills. You should see the benefits of the course as soon as you open the program description.
  • Abundance of lectures. MBA programs are practice-oriented by nature. If you have to listen and write down more than talk and do, this is not the place for you.
  • Double degree. In itself, it is more of an advantage, but you still need to pay attention — does the school promise a diploma from a partner because it does not provide a quality education itself? Also, check if there is really a cooperation agreement and whether it has expired, compare the lists of graduates of both schools for several years, if you can find such a list. If they do not match, then most likely you will not receive a full-fledged diploma — at most, a certificate of conformity.
  • Accreditation. While many business schools, especially non-accredited ones, argue that it is not important, it has at least one valuable trait — it shows that the business school is actively engaged in its own development. There is a Russian accreditation, NASDOBRnational certification committee in business education, and many international ones. The most reputable are AACSB, AMBA, and EQUIS. Be sure to check that if a school mentions any accreditation on its website, then it does have endorsement certificates.

Financial capabilities

Finally, cost plays an important role. MBA programs are traditionally more expensive than other master's programs, and Russia is no exception. The "cheapest" programs in Russia start at 4,099 USD/year, and the average cost is around 8,198 USD/year. Since this is primarily an investment, be sure that the education will bring enough additional income to justify the tuition fee. If not, then you should consider more budgetary options — professional retraining courses or learning a specific skill that you are lacking.

Online MBA in Russia

In addition to full-time and part-time MBA programs, the vast majority of Russian business schools offer online programs. This allows you not only to adjust your studies to the work schedule but also to receive a diploma from the desired educational institution without moving. For example, you can study at the Skolkovo Business School, one of the best business schools in Russia, from any place on the planet. In addition, such programs are cheaper than their face-to-face counterparts. An MBA for executives at RANEPA costs 10,206 USD, the same online program — 9,250 USD, almost 10% less.

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MBA ratings in Russia

The Russian market of business schools is relatively small — in total there are 80 business schools in Russia that have MBA/Executive MBA programs. 50 of them are located in Moscow. In total, there are up to 130 faculties and independent institutions in the country that train masters of business administration. This means that if you have already decided to apply for an MBA in Russia, you will be capable of researching all the existing programs. However, this is not necessary — you can initially reduce the selection to the best of the best. Therefore, while they cannot be relied upon entirely, ratings are a good starting point. You can find a selection of the best programs from UniPage here.

National rating from MBA.SU

In 2020, the portal MBA.SU surveyed 1,260 Russian business school graduates. They were asked to rate the learning outcomes of their MBA programs on a ten-point scale based on four criteria:

  • Increased income;
  • Career;
  • The usefulness of networking;
  • Personal development.

As a result, shortlisted included 34 business schools[8]. When choosing a program for yourself, you can browse the universities from this ranking from top to bottom until you find the one that suits you best. The table below lists the top 10 schools from this ranking.

MBA.SU rating

International MBA rankings

Russian MBA programs can be found in international rankings such as QS. Unfortunately, only two Russian business schools are included in the QS-2020 rating — one at MGIMO and one at Kazan Federal University[9]. The rest of the Russian universities can be found in the ranking under the "Management and Social Sciences" direction. This can only roughly reflect the quality of MBA programs.

Another rating in which you can look for Russian MBA programs is the Financial Times. There are many more Russian programs in it, but there is no sorting by country. Therefore, it will not be possible to compare those business schools separately, only together with educational institutions from around the world. In general, it is better to use ratings from domestic research groups — they not only better understand Russian specifics, but also use more criteria in their selections. If you know Russian, refer to such information. In addition to the aforementioned portal MBA.SU, such ratings were compiled by RBC and other specialized media. If you are not fluent in Russian, you can contact us for help.

Admission to MBA

Competition and deadlines

The specificity of Russian education on MBA programs is such that the relatively high cost of education initially filters out applicants[10]. In Western schools, admission to programs involves strict selection and difficult entrance examinations. In Russia, if an applicant can afford an MBA and decides to spend money on it, it is believed that they deserve admission. Waiting lists and competitions for places exist only in the most prestigious schools. The competition is not between applicants for schools, but vice versa. Therefore, the main thing is to collect all the necessary documents and submit them on time. Deadlines in Russian business schools vary from one institution to another. For example, at the Moscow State University Graduate School of Business, the applications are accepted until October 4[11], and classes begin in December. At the Higher School of Business of the Higher School of Economics, MBA programs start in the second half of October[12]. Check the deadlines with the admissions office of the university, and consider starting preparation for application at the beginning of July — many universities offer early-bird discounts to students who pay tuition fees in summer[13].

Documents for admission to MBA

The minimum package of documents that most business schools require is as follows:

For information on other documents, check the school website. The process of admission for foreigners tends to be complicated and non-standardized, but the schools are generally interested in enrolling such students. Contact the admission committee, and they will most likely assess your situation individually. Generally, be prepared to at the very least notarize all the necessary documents.

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Also, most business schools have work experience requirements. Most often they are nominal, and the selection committee looks first of all at the results of entrance examinations — interviews, questionnaires, and the solution of a test task. One instance is the business school of Moscow State University, where you need to assess a business case and send your solution in written form to the e-mail of the admission committee. And at the Kazan Federal University, they ask to pass a test on knowledge of the theory of business management.

But in some places, work experience is still required. For example, the IBDA RANEPA and the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management require at least three years of experience in a relevant position.

Unlike Western schools, in Russia, there is no need to pass international English exams and GMAT. One of the few exceptions is Skolkovo, where both are required. Instead of GMAT, you can pass "Talent Q Elements," a similar exam made in Skolkovo.

Other business schools conduct internal tests — most often they involve solving a business case. Finally, almost every school conducts interviews for applicants. You can also read our advice about preparing for an interview.