Eurasian Studies is on the Rise
HSE launches its new graduate programme, Comparative Politics of Eurasia. To understand just why Russian and international students and academics are taking notice, we spoke with Academic Supervisor, Dr. Dmitry Goncharov, who shows how the demand for specialists is pushing growth in this field.
— Could you give a brief overview of what this programme is about?
— The best place to start is with the idea which is behind the design of the programme. Not too long ago, we started thinking about a political science programme that would be good for a more globalized educational audience, and so we took several programmes to serve as our models - mostly from American universities, but also from European universities. When those institutions provide this training, they call it “Russian studies” and it falls into a particular academic category, the so-called “area studies”. Area studies in those countries tend to place a heavy focus on history of their geographical regions, as well as culture, such as arts and literature, and then perhaps add something about politics. After looking at this picture we began to form a conclusion that this focus tipped the scale towards what we would think of as a supplement to our discipline. We wanted to provide an education that would give students something more specialized, more professional. Here we try to explain contemporary political life. And that is how the Comparative Politics of Eurasia programme was formed.
— In practice, what kind of skills does that mean you are providing to your students in this programme?
— There is a large amount of theory and empirical research that our students go through during the course of our programme, which is very helpful in shaping them into analytical thinkers. The reason we have tried to make our programme unique in its reach is so that our students have the clearest understanding of the events and players in their region of study so that they have a practical perspective, not just in the past and the culture, but in how public and private players operate and interact so that they can provide relevant insight to others, whether they pursue governmental, non-governmental or academic careers. Whether a student is interested in studying Russia or CIS countries or Eastern Asian countries, we provide a unique view into the relationships and factors that drive developments in these regions. At the same time, we offer the language skills, both in Russian-language courses and English-language courses, as well as region-specific linguistics that unlock the learning outcomes at our university to new and wider audiences.
— What about the main focus of this programme? Why Contemporary Politics of Eurasia, and not only of Russia?
— When we envisioned this programme, we saw the potential not to limit ourselves to the specifics of only one country, but of a larger region that shares some commonalities. This kind of geopolitical, ideological unity we saw in studying “post-communist” countries. There are many similarities between these countries, all of which had a communist government for much of the 20th century and now are at differing levels of “post-communism”. Some, such as China and Vietnam, are still ideologically rooted in communist governments, but they are also showing departures from those systems in their markets and societies that mirror other countries, such as those in the post-Soviet space.
— Here we reach an interesting point for many prospective students. If the programme explores the realities of past countries and systems, many of which dating back to the 20th century, is there still any relevance to today’s 21st-century world?
— When we study these countries and regions, we use their common history and shared experiences as a foundational block from which we can dig deeper into the unique paths they have taken. As I mentioned, we want graduates of our programme to be specialists in truly contemporary political systems and to understand current affairs, their influences and their potential impacts. In terms of relevance, one has only to read many of the headlines and look at stock exchanges to see that there are growing and re-emerging powers among the countries that we study. China, of course, is one of particular interest to many people worldwide, both as an economic and geopolitical player, and one that continues to see an increase in power and influence on global markets. Russia is another good example, especially in the geopolitical realm. The end of the 20th century saw the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and a move away from investment, both financial and intellectual in understanding these countries. However, the result of this is a lack of true specialists in this field.
— Why do you say that there are too few specialists?
— Beginning in the 1990’s, in countries like the United States, where there were many obvious reasons for a large demand for academics and officials with a deep understanding, there was a sharp decline in the number of people pursuing careers in this sphere. In recent years, as a result of a number of developments in geopolitical, energy politics, societal changes, and other factors, this trend has begun to change, although that change has been slow. What we have today as a consequence is a generational divide in professionals. There is a large group from my generation who were interested in Soviet studies and they are many of the individuals that occupy important governmental and non-governmental positions connected to these countries. On the other side of the gap is a much younger generation who are now beginning to finish their studies and enter into the professional world, where they can see those differences in ages and mentalities quite clearly.
— When we talk about careers, does this “generational divide” have an effect on career prospects for young people looking to pursue a career in Eurasian politics?
— It undoubtedly has a very large impact on these young people, and often in good ways. That older generation is beginning to retire and leave important positions, which is creating gaps that governments, businesses and other organisations are eager to fill. Because that middle generation is missing, the best hope for those institutions is to hire these younger specialists. This comes at the same time as an expansion of resources and interest in Eurasia, meaning a wider array of career prospects for anyone in this field. Yet, this does place a burden on these young applicants to rise to the challenge of greater responsibility. They must be fully prepared and top experts in their fields, which is why HSE St. Petersburg is a wonderful option for anyone wishing to go into a career in this discipline. We offer a comprehensive, contemporary education that prepares our students for any job they want in this field.
— And what kind of jobs do graduates of the programme end up getting?
— I must point out that our programme is rather young, so there are limited examples so far of what our graduates end up doing in their careers, but that number continues to grow and the career path many will follow is often clear. Many of these students will work for governmental organizations, joining diplomatic corps or working on government-funded initiatives. Others will work for private companies that are interested in building or expanding their presence in Eurasian markets, which are very attractive to enterprises at the moment. There are numerous non-governmental organisations and media outlets that desperately need specialists with the kind of knowledge our graduates have, and some even continue into the academic world, getting other advanced degrees and will go on to teach the next generation. Overall, the career prospects of an HSE St. Petersburg graduate right now are quite bright, and we continue to work towards offering just the kind of education that professionals with a Eurasian focus need.