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Reunion: Alumni Association at St Petersburg State University

“A man who doesn’t take risks loses opportunities for further development.”

 from the SPbU Reunion 2016

St Petersburg State University (SPbU) is the oldest university in Russia, and is consistently ranked among the country’s top three universities. Founded by Peter the Great in 1724, in what would become the heart of St Petersburg, the university now has 576 programmes, 350 partner universities and over 30,000 students. The university’s alumni body includes 7 Nobel Prize winners, 2 Fields Medal winners, 6 heads of state and many other distinguished leaders in their respective fields.

I graduated from SPbU in 1997, but it was years later when I studied at the London Business School that I fully realised the enormous importance of an Alumni Association. On the back of that experience, I am now happy to be actively involved with my first Alma Mater in my capacity as President of the St Petersburg State University Alumni Association. The Alumni Association has two key aims: firstly, to undertake projects geared at developing the University’s resources, improving its reputation and competitiveness; and secondly, to enhance professional, personal and academic connections between its members and within the wider alumni community. A lot has been achieved so far. In 2015, the Alumni Association raised 35 million RUB, helping it to launch a series of webcast interviews with distinguished alumni and a scholarship programme fully funded by the alumni. This year we intend to host the ‘SPbSU Marathon’ and the ‘Festival of Knowledge’, as well as other events.

Last Saturday 13th February, the Alumni Association of St Petersburg State University’s (SPbU) held their first ever reunion for graduates of the university. The reunion was the culmination of two years’ work, and was a very rewarding enterprise for all involved. It was reassuring to see that from amongst the Alumni Association’s growing membership, around 900 alumni attended the reunion, including graduates from as far back as the 1950s. The event was a success thanks to the dedication and enthusiasm of active alumni. A lot of the attendees suggested that they would like to become more involved in the Association’s activities. It is incredibly inspiring to have significant support from our own people, as it sends a signal that we are doing the right thing; this was reflected in the media coverage surrounding the event, in Pervyi Kanal, Life News, and Peterburgskii Dnevnik.

The event’s program included a keynote address on the future of education as well as various panel discussions covering topics such as knowledge-driven entrepreneurship, direction of education, social media, and the bridges and gaps between alumni and the university. The SPbU science professors held a captivating panel discussion on the future of science and the nature of reality. Prof Chernigovskaya, who featured on the panel, is a fascinating speaker. She is one of the leading promoters of science in Russia and a popular national figure. For anyone who would like to hear her thoughts, I would recommend listening to some of her lectures on Youtube here.

A former Russian Minister of Finance and a former member of the board of the World Bank Mr Alexei Kudrin – who graduated from the same Economics department I was to study at 15 years later – delivered a thought-provoking address at the reunion on the challenges and future of tertiary education. In his speech, Kudrin spoke about the demands of modern education on our society and what role a leading university should play. Education, he stressed, should be continuous, and SPbU should become a leader in education for alumni and people of all ages through specialized and tailor-made training courses. These courses would help people acquire specific skills, creating a highly trained workforce that can better compete in the global marketplace.

He also emphasized that, in the coming years, private donations from university graduates will become more important in helping the SPbU achieve its developmental goals and establish its international reputation. Creating a community of alumni who give back to their university is a well-established practice overseas but one that is not yet as popular in Russia. We are keen to join a distinguished club of global institutions such as the London Business School (my other alma mater), and the likes of Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale which carry out similar activities and serve as as inspiration to us in this regard. Furthermore, with the advent of social media, communicating with a global diaspora of alumni has never been easier.

SPbU is a university with a vast potential, and a growing endowment fund should open opportunities for further significant investment into academia, research facilities and its campus. The venue of the reunion, SPbU’s Higher School of Management, is a prime example of what SPbU can achieve. It is the only MBA program in Russia that is continuously making its way up the global rankings (the FT currently places it in the top-60 European business schools). As I mentioned in my speech at the reunion:

I am convinced that our initiative is about the future. It’s about how we would like to view our own future, how we can make it more rewarding, more interesting. It is about asking – ‘what role does the university play in this future?’ And how can we, in our future, interact with the university?

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