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‘Our Key Advantage is the International Nature of the Programme and Unique Combination of Theory and Practice’

Master’s programme in Financial Economics of HSE’s International College of Economics and Finance is taught entirely in English and strives to attract applicants who are interested in macro and microeconomics, corporate finance, and econometrics. Maxim Nikitin, the head of the programme has talked to HSE News Service about the programme.

— How does the Financial Economics programme differ from others programmes offered by the Higher School of Economics, the New Economic School, and other universities in general?

— Our key advantage is the international nature of the programme and our unique combination of theoretical and practical courses. I’ll start by describing the international format. Firstly, the programme is taught in English, and secondly, our staff is formed by full-time instructors who hold PhDs from top universities in the U.S. and Western Europe. This includes professors from Australia, Argentina, Germany, Greece, Italy, Russia, and Ukraine. ICEF was the first in Russia – a year before the New Economic School – to start hiring foreign citizens as full-time instructors. I was one of the first international hires, and our master’s programme now has a team of 17 instructors with PhDs. Thirdly, our students are given the opportunity to participate in various exchange programmes, some of which are HSE-wide, but some of which are specific to ICEF programmes. Each year we send two of our best students to an LSE summer school, and tuition plus room and board in London are fully paid for by ICEF. In addition, many students spend one or two semesters at a partner university. These include schools such as Tilburg University in the Netherlands, the University of Essex in Britain, Humboldt University of Berlin, and the Sorbonne.

As for more practical courses, our forte is practice with Western education. As one example, Vyacheslav Ivanov, who teaches a course on company valuation in mergers and acquisitions, received his bachelor’s from the University of Toronto and MBA from the University of Rochester. Mikhail Moshkov, who teaches investments analysis, got his MBA from the University of Notre Dame, and the list goes on and on.

Our key advantage is the international nature of the programme and our unique combination of theoretical and practical courses. We select our students very carefully, and the atmosphere that an ICEF student enters into, as well as the peers he or she interacts with, is what keeps students applying

— What was the hardest part in creating the master’s programme?

— The hardest part was bringing everything in line with the high standards of international master’s programmes. The programme was developed in partnership with the London School of Economics (LSE) – a university that along with Harvard, MIT, and Stanford has the world’s strongest Economics and Econometrics programme. We set the bar high for ourselves from the very beginning. Not only do our instructors have PhDs, but they are also true scholars who are known internationally. They have extensive international experiences and have published in leading academic journals. We are proud of the fact that our staff includes many financial scholars who are typically difficult to find. In addition, the team is young and multinational, which allows us to create a unique atmosphere for a Russian university – an atmosphere of intellectual freedom and constant creative growth.

— What’s it like being an ICEF student?

— It’s very difficult, but also very rewarding. I’ll tell you right now that in order to do well in the programme academically, you have to devote a lot of time to your studies, which is why it’s not a good idea to try to combine our master’s programme with a full-time job. But for those who really want to study, we do whatever we can to help you discover your potential. We have a mentoring programme in which every student is paired with an instructor who acts as a mentor, walking the student through the academic process and helping the student decide on his or her future. In addition, we have a career centre that works with each student individually and carries out meetings with companies and alumni.

We select our students very carefully, and the atmosphere that an ICEF student enters into, as well as the peers he or she interacts with, is what keeps students applying. In March 2015, a team of four ICEF master’s students won the CFA Institute Research Challenge, beating students from the New Economic School, Moscow State, and the Financial University. In September 2015, our alumna Svetlana Bryzgalova defended her PhD at LSE and began working at Stanford Business School, one of the best business schools in the world!

We set the bar high for ourselves from the very beginning. Not only do our instructors have PhDs, but they are also true scholars who are known internationally. They have extensive international experiences and have published in leading academic journals. We are proud of the fact that our staff includes many financial scholars who are typically difficult to find

— How hard is it to get into ICEF and do you have state-funded spots in the programme?

— Getting into ICEF is completely realistic. We selected 48 students this year, 35 of whom were state-funded. Next year, we plan on taking up to 50 people, which is the optimum number of students for us. We typically get students from some of the strongest economics and mathematics universities and faculties in Russia: HSE, Moscow State, Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, but we are also expanding our geographic reach. For the first time ever, this year’s students included graduates of Ural Federal University, Novosibirsk State Technical University, the University of Rochester, and even Oxford. You can get into the programme in several ways – through the portfolio competition, through the HSE Olympiad, and by scoring high on the GRE General and GRE Subject tests. In addition, foreign applicants can apply for a quota funded by the Russian government. It’s best to start preparing early, as we are reviewing early applications starting November 1. You can send applications to Icef_MScAdmissions@hse.ru.

— Can you tell us more about students’ career prospects after ICEF?

— The majority of our students go on to work at banks, investment funds, niche financial institutions, and in strategic consulting. Two students in 2014, and three in 2015, received job offers from top banks such as Morgan Stanley, Barclays, and Credit Suisse. Three 2015 graduates are currently PhD students at top U.S. universities – the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California, San Diego, and the University of Pennsylvania.

The majority of students prefer to stay in Moscow for work, mostly in the financial sector. In 2015, three graduates immediately went on to work at Sberbank CIB, Sberbank's investment banking division.

— Finally, what would you tell potential applicants for the Financial Economics programme?

— Admission to our master’s programme happens earlier than for other programmes, as exams have been replaced by a portfolio competition. This is why even if you do not get in, you can still get a state-funded spot in another programme. I would tell anyone thinking about applying for our programme to go for it; after all, a master’s degree is a huge advantage when building your future career. And the ICEF master’s programme will help you gain critical knowledge to understand what kind of career you want to build on the path towards finding the job of your dreams. We hope to see you in the programme!

Maksim Nikitin completed his PhD in Economics at the University of Pittsburgh in 1999. Prior to this, he graduated from Moscow State University’s Faculty of Economics in 1987 before receiving two master’s degrees from the European University Institute in Florence. Nikitin has worked at the Russian Academy of Science’s Institute of Economics and at the World Bank, and in 2000-2005 he was an Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta in Canada. Nikitin has taught at HSE’s International College of Economics and Finance (ICEF) since 2005. He has published more than 20 articles in leading Russian and international peer-reviewed journals.

Prepared by Irina Agafonova, specially for HSE ICEF

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