'ICEF shapes the way of thinking and opens horizons'
What’s in store for an enrollee of HSE and University of London Double Degree Programme in Economics? Recognition from Russia’s and Great-Britain’s top universities, great career prospects, contacts in the academic world, as well as the business community and financial sector. All this becomes a reality because ICEF is pushing the boundaries for its students. We talked to the Programme’s Academic Supervisor, Oleg Zamkov, to find out how ICEF students become international.
ICEF offers a double degree from Higher School of Economics and the University of London. Why two degrees are better than one in the finance sector?
The degrees within our programme, British and Russian, should be not counterposed. They are designed to complement each other and benefit their holders by giving them a better competitive advantage in job markets worldwide. With qualifications that are globally recognized and underpinned by in-depth knowledge of both domestic and global professional environments, our double-degree graduates enjoy excellent employment outcomes. Moreover, the career resources that are available to them from two of the world’s largest universities, have proven to be a tremendous support, which comes also from our alumni association.
LSE and HSE, the two nations’ leading providers of economics education, have given their programme greater quality and contents. By combining the cultures of two universities, we arrived at novel curriculum models and increased training standards.
How can enrollees know if their English language skills meet the level you require for your English-taught programme?
We expect our enrollees to have advanced English language skills and to have obtained a high score in the Unified State Exam. We offer a solid English Language course, which is delivered mostly by native speakers of English. Enrollees are expected to do an intensive course in English for academic purposes in their first year of studies and be able to use the necessary terminology. The course leads to the IELTS exam for students to demonstrate their English language level meets the enrollment requirements of the British university. There haven’t been any cases of language being an obstacle to entering the double-degree or further training programmes abroad.
How would you assess the outcomes of training and employability of ICEF students who choose to continue in, say, London? London seems to have the largest network of ICEF alumni community.
You’re right. We have a lot of students who chose to continue their education at master's or PhD level in Great Britain. Not only do they obtain places at LSE and other British universities but they also secure jobs in Britain’s finance and banking sectors.
We have more than one hundred students and alumni studying or working in London, so the venues for reunions are always two — Moscow and London
Just to give you a few examples: our alumnus Mikhail Sprogis has recently received the position of Vice President at Goldman Sachs; Yuri Kiselev has been hired by Societe Generale as a director in its DCM team covering Russian and CIS Eurobonds; Alexander Frolov is General Partner & CEO at Target Global. Svetlana Bryzgalova and Victoria Dobrynskaya chose careers in academia and completed their PhDs at LSE. No less successful are our alumni in countries other than Russia and Great Britain – Germany, Switzerland France, USA, Netherlands, to name just a few.
How do employers and graduate schools distinguish the best applicant from good one?
There’s an honors degree system for undergraduates in the UK. Those awarded with a First Class Honours can expect to be bombarded with offers from employers and grant/scholarship givers.
First Class Honours are awarded to more than 30% of our students, who comprise 4% in the total number of UoL First Class Honours holders globally. Therefore, our undergraduates enjoy a better chance of being enrolled in graduate programmes across the world.
The outstanding performance of its undergraduates has brought ICEF the highest status of UoL’s recognized centre of excellence. We are proud to be recognized by LSE, the University of London and its Chancellor, Her Royal Highness Princess Anne, who visited us in 2014. In 2015, the University of London awarded ICEF Director, Sergey Yakovlev, an honorary degree of Doctor of Science in Economics. The recognition letters we receive from the University of London every year are testimony to our lasting commitment to high international standards and hence unconditional trust from the world’s top universities and employers.
What helps ICEF maintain a performance level as high as this?
First of all, the challenging admission requirements. The 2019 enrollment had to have a minimum score of 240 in three Unified State Examination subjects. ICEF is the most popular choice among winners of the All-Russian Economics Competition among school students. We have enrolled as many as 56 of them in different years. Many of our enrollees hold prizes from other contests. The intake includes, for the most part, the best-performing students from all over Russia. This helps us to create an environment where students who are not contest winners can grow fast, academically, to a level much higher than at the beginning.
What also contributes to ICEF’s high performance is the faculty staff. While in the early years the faculty consisted mostly of HSE lecturers, who had been a tremendous help in our work to set up the BSc programme, later our recruitment efforts shifted more to the global market and were much supported by LSE. We currently have 30+ lecturers who earned their PhDs abroad. Many of them pursue research at the global level, their publications appear in top scientific journals, and they are very well qualified to supervise students’ research papers.
It is now a requirement that all our faculty staff are reviewed and appraised by ICEF International Academic Committee that has LSE among its members. Our team of hired experts and professors represent research centres, banks, businesses, LSE, Oxford and other overseas schools.
Are there courses you could describe as truly unique or representing ICEF’s speciality?
Our BSc programme offers six specializations – Economics, Economics & Management, Economics & Finance, Banking & Finance, Accounting & Finance, Mathematics & Economics. Each of them unfolds through a set of core courses and with instructional quality to be found nowhere else in Russia. The core courses are delivered by tenured professors, all of whom are PhD holders and have their research interests concentrated exactly on the topics that they teach. This makes their expertise truly unique.
The most ambitious, and those who are aspiring to step into the field of academic research are free to join ICEF Academia, which is a great source of extra training for careers in academia as well as advanced research opportunities. The latter can be customized based on participants’ individual interests. Every year, ICEF Academia’s in-depth courses in mathematics, economics and interdisciplinary areas are undertaken by more than 50 students. Students are free to pursue research as early as their first year of studies – under the guidance of our international experts. All this leads to excellent research performance, making our students successful applicants to MSc and PhD programmes globally.
Are there opportunities for personalized learning paths? Can students customize their studies by adding electives to their study plans?
Our electives are available in all majors, and range from fintech to humanities to advanced mathematics. So, there is ample opportunity for personalized learning paths. Increasingly popular are the electives in advanced programming methods, data analysis, trading techniques and soft skills, the latter encompassing negotiation techniques, leadership and communication skills.
Also, there are elective courses in business engineering, psychology, Russian literature, history of arts; in addition to English we offer courses in six other languages. They make the learning process a truly captivating experience.
The practice-oriented courses that are being delivered by ICEF in cooperation with Deloitte, PwC, McKinsey, Unilever, are a good chance for students to meet the industry and be offered internship opportunities
How are the so-called ‘soft’ skills embedded to your curriculum to complement proficiency?
We are trying to maintain a balance here. Our curriculum contains area-specific courses, a requirement of the British programme, which imply the in-depth study of a relatively small number of subjects. At the same time, there are Russian educational standards and traditions to be observed, which require the curriculum to encompass diverse areas of knowledge in a way that would foster personal growth. The development of soft skills unfolds also through university events, student initiatives and social activities that students at ICEF have a wide array of.
ICEF operates a Career Centre. It has a programme of training events which is designed to introduce students to the industry and the entire range of occupations that it offers. We provide guidance as to the employment opportunities in investment banking, the real economy, counselling and careers in academia. Students are welcome also to ask for guidance with preparing for a job interview or an internship interview, or applying to international graduate programmes. We provide them with reference letters. The Career Centre is partnered by major international companies where ICEF alumni have proved themselves to be reliable workers. The Centre regularly invites banks and businesses to host career competency workshops for students.
Have there recently been any updates to the programme?
Our range of core area-specific courses is updated every year in cooperation with the University of London. The 2020-2021 academic year saw the start of the online elective Machine Learning. A few sections were added to Asset Pricing and Financial Markets. Corporate Finance has been thoroughly redesigned. Contract Theory has been added to our complementary competence courses, and Data Science continues to be tremendously popular among students.
We are enhancing student learning through the technologies being maintained by the University of London’s VLE system (note: Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is a Web-based platform which is used by the University of London to deliver its internal courses and which can be accessed by students at ICEF), as well as using our own resources.
How did moving online alter the learning process?
In moving the instruction online, we tried to make the most of the online format. With lecture recording option, students no longer need to be physically present in the classroom. They have had more time to work with lecture material and it is quite easy to rewind videos to parts that might have appeared difficult to understand and go through them again as may be most convenient.
Students have had online access to all sorts of learning resources, databases and e-libraries. We’ve had a successful experience with Examus, an online proctoring tool which we have used as a platform for examinations. Online thesis defense has proved a success as well. We wanted as much feedback from students as possible when moving the instruction online. We wanted to know what they thought and how digital services could be improved. It came as a surprise that instructional quality has been better online than offline, according to students. Those online teaching practices that have proved a success will continue to be in use.
What study abroad opportunities do you offer to students?
There’s a whole array of study abroad opportunities available to students through exchange programmes at ICEF and HSE. They offer semester-long studies in continental Europe, USA, Japan, and there are scholarship/grant opportunities as well. The venues that have proved most popular of all are summer schools at LSE and semester-long exchanges at Bocconi University, Tilburg, Warwick, Humboldt, and НЕС Paris, among others. As a rule, students gain ground abroad rather rapidly by establishing close links with their host university and making friendships.
Student feedback, how is it organized at ICEF and how does it impact the learning process?
One source of feedback is the student council. It brings students together to have their opinions on issues such as programme contents, instruction methods used, information sources available and knowledge testing formats. The feedback we receive from the student council helps us to see where we could have done better and what can be done to improve the learning process. We use student feedback also to decide on the elective courses and our workshop agenda.
Also, there’s a tutorship programme at ICEF, which is a good way for junior students to receive guidance from their senior peers. This guidance encompasses not only studies, but also internships, future employment and networking. This is a way for junior students to learn how to start and continue with their ideas in a most effective way.
If we look at the career stories of your alumni, what routes do bachelor students take after graduation?
Our statistics show that more than one third of our graduates win scholarships to continue at master’s or directly PhD level abroad. Many get enrolled at top universities such as LSE, Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, MIT, The University of California, London Business School, Columbia University, to a name a few. Some who hold a PhD or have become full professors are employed by universities in USA (Miami, Georgetown, Oregon), Great Britain (LBS), France (PSB Paris School of Business, École Polytechnique), Switzerland (Lausanne) and Russia (NES, HSE).
Many chose to continue at business schools. Harvard Business School alone has enrolled some dozen of ICEF graduates. The most popular choices include also London Business School, Wharton School, Yale and HEC. Successful careers have been built by Dmitry Aksakov (Vice-President at Russia’s national economic development corporation VEB.RF), Alexey Sosnovsky (Senior Vice-President McKinsey & Company), Asan Kurmanguzhin (CEO at SberMarket), among other graduates.
Russian universities are chosen by some 20% of our graduates. Many opt to enroll in ICEF Master's Programme in Financial Economics, which is a very solid programme and has for several years been listed by The QS World University Rankings among the top 100 master’s programmes in finance. It was designed in cooperation with LSE. The MSc degree that its participants earn from HSE is supported by an official letter of validation signed by Director of LSE. What makes this program truly unique is that it builds on the traditions of two schools, LSE and HSE, and has a duration of two years instead of one, as is the case with British master’s programmes, allowing ample time for thorough learning and summer internship.
Many of our Masters in Financial Economics work in different capacities at banks, counselling and audit companies.
We follow their careers very closely and maintain personal contact with many online. Our alumni provide great support to our career guidance services by acting as mentors in our mentorship programme and helping to establish scholarships for the best-performing students. In 2017 ICEF had a celebration of its 20th birthday and published at the same time was a book of stories from alumni where they reflect on their career paths, lives and future plans.
What scholarships does ICEF offer? Are there tuition fee discounts and who can apply for them?
Winners of the All-Russian Contests in economics or mathematics among school students, as well as winners of prizes from the All-Russian Academic Competition are all eligible for free tuition. Since 2017, our best-performing bachelor’s students enjoy scholarship opportunities funded by VTB bank.
At ICEF, ten of the highest-scoring enrollees are entitled to an annual scholarship of RUB 120,000 from VTB
Similarly, eligible for scholarships are winners of All-Russian Contests in economics or mathematics among school students, winners of the Vysshaya Proba (Top Grade) contest in economics or mathematics, and enrollees with the highest scores in Unified State Examination.
The tuition fee discounts range between 15% and 75% and are enjoyed by more than half of our students. There is a high level of flexibility in our system of benefits. It helps us to increase enrollment and encourage better performance: with enrollees, the size of the discount depends on their score in Unified State Examination and performance in academic contests and can grow for those for excel in their studies.
How would you sum up the benefits of ICEF BSc programme?
As alumni themselves say, “ICEF pushes the boundaries of understanding the scope of opportunities in front of you.” The main benefit of the programme lies in the scope of opportunities it opens – employment in finance or consulting, business start-up, study abroad, getting hired by corporations like Google or J.P. Morgan. The programme does give unprecedented advantages. What is more, it leads to a broader vision, the global vision of the tasks and missions that lie beyond mere climbing the career ladder. Banal as it may sound but ICEF helps to make a difference. It shapes the way of thinking and opens horizons, it unveils the universal human values and potential for profound self-actualization.