How Private Investment Moves Education Forward: The Experience of Andrey Berezin

In the UNESCO Education Index, the USSR was in third place in the world in its last year. Thirty years later, Russia is only 42nd. Even if we stick to the opinion that our country is biased in international ratings, this is an important signal that the attitude to this sphere should be revised. It is pleasant to note that many Russian private companies accept this challenge and contribute to the development of the system.

First of all, as far as prejudice is concerned, it is undoubtedly expressed not so much by the personal human attitude of some UNESCO officials toward Russia as by the poor integration of domestic institutions into international ones. This does not allow us to make an entirely objective assessment: experts simply overlook many things, proceeding from the same standards for everyone. 

Russia is among the global leaders in the share of specialists with higher education. This is not just the leaders, in the world for this indicator among young people we are in the first place. For example, 58% of young people in Russia between the ages of 25 and 34 have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Only Lithuania (55%) and Switzerland (49%) are close to this percentage. The index’s leaders, Australia and Finland, have a result that is almost 20 percentage points lower. 

Nevertheless, such observations do not affect the overall picture. It is enough to look at our neighbors in the Education Index: Bulgaria and Switzerland. While Bulgaria is a good fit for the aforementioned criteria, Switzerland is unambiguously one of the centers of the European world. It also has a high percentage of people with higher education, but its positions are very modest.

The secret is simple: the main shortcoming is not the structure of education, but rather in the start-up capital that it puts into schoolchildren. Together with China and the USA, we are in the top three countries with the most significant number of winners of international school and student Olympiads. 

This transition from theory to practice is failing in our country. This means that the existing education system lives in isolation from the economy. In turn, this inevitably leads to the degradation of the education system; students are little motivated to get higher education, which does not help implement professional skills. After all, this time and money could be invested in acquiring practical skills in a more in-demand direction. 

For this reason, the education system needs as many people as possible from the practice field. They can help build the most effective method that creates a relevant workforce. It is also important noting that there are many enthusiasts in this part; look to the lists of basic departments in all leading universities. Nevertheless, you can count on the fingers of those companies that invest in all levels of education. One of them is Andrey Berezin’s company, Euroinvest.

Development Legacy

Euroinvest is a large holding company that works in many areas. Its interests include development, agriculture, industry, scientific developments, venture investments, and medicine. The fundamental basis for the whole group of companies is given by the construction of residential quarters, one of the oldest spheres that Berezin deals with and where many of the latest practices and innovations have been accumulated. 

The development is currently engaged in principal projects ranging from residential complexes in Murino and Kudrovo settlements. These are dynamically developing towns whose population in 15 years has increased from 5 to 150 thousand people. Such a jump has badly affected the whole local infrastructure: from roads to education. The regional government sees the construction of a new city, but it is still hard to respond to the emerging challenges. 

Murino has already managed to get choked in traffic jams. The sharply increased load on the road to St. Petersburg caused an actual traffic collapse. To solve the situation, only Euroinvest, in the framework of the public-private partnership, began building a new exit ramp to the St. Petersburg Ring Road. The first project has already been realized, and at the moment, the holding is developing the design and estimate documentation for the next stage, another exit to the KAD, but from the other side of Murino.

This illustration gives a good idea of the state of the educational infrastructure of the new towns. In short, it is disastrously lacking. Logically, the developer Euroinvest took responsibility for solving this problem. After all, the first thing he took in kindergarten was the first step that opened the child’s educational system. The level of children’s development and readiness to integrate into society largely depends on them. 

Within a month, the first kindergarten in Kudrovo will be put into operation. It is designed for 200 people and includes everything necessary: spacious bedrooms, dressing rooms, and spaces for activities and games. In addition, there will be rooms for doctors and speech therapists, canteens, and sports and music rooms. The developer has already announced that new ones will follow this project; the construction of two more preschool educational institutions in Kudrovo is currently reported.

Secondary Education

In continuation of the previous point, the developer plans to build a school with an impressive 825 seats. For understanding, similar projects in other regions cost about 1.6 billion rubles. These are standard projects with ready design and estimate documentation. Instead, Euroinvest is aiming for more; both the new school and all kindergartens are being built in a single restrained Scandinavian style. This would reflect the author’s design projects for the exterior. Instead, the interior will also have to be developed from scratch.

This project does not yet have a specific deadline. Therefore, Euroinvest shares its forecasts in this part only when it is sure of the project dates. At the same time, kindergartens and schools are being built within the public-private partnership framework. This means the presence of a partner that is not the most reliable; funding under national projects and state programs is very vulnerable to the rapidly changing market.

This is why the company is already actively involved in upgrading the material and technical base of schools in the Leningrad Region. For example, in September, the company purchased innovative furniture for a gymnasium in Gatchino, the largest city in the region. This furniture was created according to the methodology of Vladimir Bazarny, a well-known Russian scientist, doctor, and pedagogue, Doctor of Medical Sciences. For understanding, in some regions, the author’s pedagogical system developed by him is the main one for local schools.

Among the developments of Vladimir Bazarny was the furniture, which helps to liberate children in an educational setting and prevents the growth of numerous pathologies. In 1999, the Ministry of Health recommended it for all schools and kindergartens. Unfortunately, a corresponding program was never developed. Despite this, Euroinvest purchased these desks and visual and vestibular simulators. In the future, similar assistance may be provided to other institutions.

The largest project in this area is the announced plan to build a new physics and mathematics academy for gifted children. It will be made within the framework of public-private partnership in the Leningrad region, at an equal distance from Kudrovo and Murino. Euroinvest has already prepared the design; it considers buildings for teaching and living, as well as a gym, a swimming pool, a studio for three-dimensional modeling, and a greenhouse.

The academy will be built on the shore of Lake Bolshoye near Vsevolozhsk, so the project considers the presence of its pier. It is assumed that children and teachers will live in the academy permanently. Moreover, the teaching staff has already been selected as the company has done it in advance. After that, the move is up to the regional government. According to Berezin himself, the financial details of the project are still being worked out:

“We did a pre-project, received the terms of reference, and started the project. The project is moving slower than we would like it to, but it is moving forward. We will pay for the design and support the team of teachers who will come to work there when the school is ready. Although it must be a public educational institution, we are prepared to sponsor it. Why do I focus on the teaching staff? In the Soviet Union, for example, a professor’s salary was comparable to that of the deputy director of a major manufacturing enterprise.”

Higher Education

Euroinvest is a large holding company that includes assets in several industries. That is why its manager is particularly aware of the gaps in Russian education, which does not supply the economy with the necessary personnel. It is essential to understand that they are not necessarily bad, but simply not adapted to the realities in Russia and the world today. For business, however, there is no difference, and the state is well aware of this.

In 2020, the Ministry of Education and Science launched a new project to develop university career centers. Their task is to monitor the employed graduates and their salaries to understand better the contribution of universities to the economy of the whole country and each region separately. The Ministry has already launched such centers in its subordinate institutions, and the first data received has been used to reform its training programs. We will see how effective this will be in five years.

Berezin speaks about the need to develop higher education directly: “I think that the most important thing is education because right now nothing but education will be quoted in the world. Have you read the book Technologies of the fourth industrial revolution? It was written by one of the founders of the Davos Forum, Klaus Schwab. What used to matter was a territory, markets, and raw materials. All this is gone and does not mean anything anymore. What matters is the human capital, the intellectual potential of a country. The only thing that counts in the world is what you invent yourself”.

The businessman’s words don’t differ from his deeds. Euroinvest actively supports the alma mater of its founder, the Baltic State Technical University, named after Dmitry Ustinov. In particular, it has established a scholarship named after the famous Russian cosmonaut Georgiy Mikhailovich Grechko. Typically, it is given to the students who have distinguished themselves at the center of scientific and technical creativity. These students have been honing their skills to create innovations since they were students.

At the same time, the company widely sponsors one of the largest foundations in Russia that supports scientists, the Euler Foundation. The public organization reciprocates by assisting in recruiting teachers for Euroinvest’s educational projects. Together, the foundation and the holding company also help to organize children’s and students’ educational camps and forums.

Venture Investments

Berezin speaks highly of the Soviet educational system quite often in his interviews. The fact is that the businessman himself absorbed the best from it. He graduated with honors from the prestigious Lyceum 239, one of the best schools in the country, which now has presidential status. He also graduated with honors from the Voenmech above, after which he planned to graduate. However, after writing several scientific articles, he decided to go against the flow and try his hand at business.

Nevertheless, he has enough foundation to see and understand all the weak and strong points of the modern education system. One of them he solved personally for himself and his holding company: was the lack of infrastructure to support start-ups. Euroinvest launched its venture fund with an initial investment of $10 million. With such a reserve, the company started analyzing all its assets for promising developments and quickly found them.

One of the industrial enterprises in the holding structure has impressive scientific potential in medical equipment. The employees offered to develop one of their patented technologies into a separate hardware and software complex for the treatment of oncological diseases. The company’s fund, Euro Venture, took the idea into circulation and actively helped the developers for several years. As a result, they finalized the concept, defended it in front of experts, created a prototype, and brought it to the stage of clinical trials.

The experts’ preliminary estimates are the highest, but even more potential for the development can be seen against the background of the sanctions war that broke out: medical equipment is becoming more challenging for Russian health care with each passing month. In this part, it is simply amazing how timely the development was completed. Today, the hardware complex is already installed in one of the country’s leading cancer centers. Without the help of Euro Venture, this would not have happened for a long time.

Euroinvest is a clear example that businesses can not only make remarks to the educational system, but that it can also actively contribute to its reform. Moreover, not the largest holding company in the country works on the whole chain at once: from kindergartens and schools to universities and venture investments. Such an approach became possible thanks to the brilliant education of the company’s founder, and we can be sure that Andrey Berezin will continue to work in this direction.