On the entrance exams at universities and colleges only questions from the general course of the secondary school can be asked.Universities and colleges accept students according to the results of entrance tests, and not according to their marks at school, though having excellent marks can help (for example, you would only have to pass 1-2 exams instead of regular 4).This is why they maintain more friendships than an average westerner.They often have to rely on their friends to help them out.The standard secondary school program includes studying of a foreign language for 6 years (grades 5-11), usually it is English but also can be French, German or Spanish.
Since both education and culture facilities used to be widely available, Russians can be considered a highly cultured nation.
At the same time the majority of Russians don't have what you call in the west "good manners". Russia is quite a tough country and Russians usually do not hesitate to say what they think in a way that doesn't leave room for any misunderstandings.
During the Soviet period having "good manners" was considered as a bourgeois survival. When they meet or phone each other, they seldom spend time on questions like "How are you? They are not rude, it's just a way of doing things. Russia has the highest educational level in the world (more than 40% of the total population have college or university degree).
Intellectually, Russians are interesting people to talk to and enjoy deep subjects.
Philosophy is still a mandatory subject when you study for a degree and one of the 3 compulsory subjects for Ph D qualifying exam (the other 2 are foreign language and the specialty itself).