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Financial Minds at HSE St. Petersburg

In 2016, HSE – St. Petersburg’s master's programme in Finance was included among a prestigious consortium of European universities on the International Masters in Economy, State, and Society (IMESS) project, thus opening new avenues for cooperation between HSE and well-known universities across Europe. The programme is accredited by the Association of Certified Professional Accountants (ACCA) for Financial Management, and within this specialty has established a double-degree track with University College London (UCL). Master’s programme’s full compliance with the international standards of ACCA, PRMIA (Professional Risk Manager), and GARP (Financial Risk Manager) provides its graduates with excellent career prospects at international companies. Professor Elena Rogova, Dean of HSE St.Petersburg School of Economics and Management and Academic Supervisor of the programme, has talked to HSE News Service about its distinguishing features and the benefits it offers.

— What kinds of professional activities does the Finance programme prepare specialists for?

— Finance is a sphere that is quite focused on practical activities. There are, of course, elements of theoretical finance, the financial model of the economy, and so on, but it is most likely that our graduates will ultimately not work in academic environments, but in the real economy, at businesses, enterprises, and financial institutions. That is why we try to strike a balance between theory and practice. This is what our students expect of us, and it is what they like about the programme.

— And who is this programme targeted towards?

— Our main goal is to prepare financial middle managers who will go on to become senior managers in non-financial companies, both international and Russian. That is not to say that our graduate cannot and will not be able to work in banks or investment funds, but, on the whole, practice has shown that our graduates gravitate towards other businesses. Many have already found a job in either international companies or their Russian offices, and we are satisfied with these results. It was in fact for the sake of this that we developed our programme into its international format.

Our main goal is to prepare financial middle managers who will go on to become senior managers in non-financial companies, both international and Russian. That is not to say that our graduate cannot and will not be able to work in banks or investment funds, but, on the whole, practice has shown that our graduates gravitate towards other businesses

— What have your graduates learned that makes them so qualified for positions at international companies?

— First off, we give them a solid understanding of corporate finance that stretches across all aspects of business activities. We teach using foreign textbooks and follow foreign standards, although the models are generally the same everywhere. Beyond that, we teach international financial management as its own discipline. Risk management is another area where we adhere to international standards, and our courses on taxes have been certified by ACCA, an international association responsible for granting accreditation to financial analysts. Our corporate tax courses are similarly accredited. All of that means that our graduates can work in any international office, because they possess the wealth of knowledge and competencies that meet international expectations in every way. What’s more, while studying with us, students have the opportunity to spend a semester abroad learning at a foreign university and understanding how to succeed not only with academics, but with employers as well.

However, that in no way takes away from our studies of Russian standards. The tax code we study is the Russian one. Case studies used in key courses are also Russian. Risk management takes into account uniquely Russian factors.

— Tell us a bit more about risk management.

— We offer several courses on risk management specifically related to non-financial companies, and we know that puts us at a unique advantage, as no one else here in St. Petersburg seems to offer that. That’s sort of the unique point of the programme. It is important for international companies. It is also important, because now, in the midst of a financial crisis, companies are tackling completely different financial activities compared to what they faced in times of heightened investment growth. Now companies are up against the task of optimising costs, identifying sources of short-term funding, risk management, and working capital management. We keep our content as up-to-date as possible, create necessary separate courses, and do all we can to ensure that students receive the best education.

— What other advantages mark the Finance programme at HSE – St. Petersburg?

— We have introduced courses which are essential for any international master’s programme, but which we did not have before, such as corporate and social responsibility, business ethics, and management of non-profit projects and programmes. We are probably also one of the few institutions who teach these subjects, which we do because these courses are vital to making responsible – both socially and ethically - financial and strategic decisions.

We teach using foreign textbooks and follow foreign standards, although the models are generally the same everywhere. Beyond that, we teach international financial management as its own discipline. Risk management is another area where we adhere to international standards, and our courses on taxes have been certified by ACCA, an international association responsible for granting accreditation to financial analysts

— What appeal does our programme hold for foreign students?

— As practice has shown this year, it is quite a lot. Now, out of the 37 people who are current students in the programme, nine are from other countries. That is almost a quarter. But beyond that, we also have a double-degree programme with UCL and the IMESS consortium.

In accordance with the IMESS programme, we are already waiting for four additional students, who have been accepted, but will arrive next year. Their programme is designed so that they spend their first year in London and the second at the university of their choice. So, that means our international student body is already growing to represent thirteen different countries.

— Where do these students come from?

— We cannot boast that a large number of economically developed countries are represented, as our students often arrive from developing countries, such as former Soviet ones (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan), as well as Tunisia, Ghana, Nigeria, and others. There are students from South Korea and China. But I think that we just need time to ensure that the programme has established its reputation and has garnered a higher level of international acclaim. This is only our first year working as an international programme, and we strive now to demonstrate that we are competitive, that we provide a high-level content, and that our graduates master those exact competencies that are of interest to employers. Once we achieve this, we will begin to see international students from around the world. Russia is an intriguing place to the world, and a lot of foreigners want to understand what is happening here.

— What are the advantages foreign students have when studying in Russia?

— We have a weak rouble, and that helps to ensure that studying here has a distinct advantage from a financial point of view. We will, I hope, provide and will strive to continue and provide an internationally competitive education. Our programme is already an internationally accredited one, and maintaining that is a large endeavour, requiring continuous improvement on all aspects of the programme - the content of the courses, quality assurances in the educational process, integration, employer relationship building, corporate partnerships, and a variety of extra-curricular student activities.

As for the level of interest on the part of students from the former Soviet Union, Southeast Asia, and Africa, it is already quite significant, so our task now is to select the best applicants.

— Perhaps to better know the specifics of the Russian market it is better to learn here?

— Yes, that is one of the reasons why many foreign students look to us for training. They are interested in the Russian market, or they want to work at home in organisations connected with Russia: investing in Russia, creating Russian branches, etc. To do this, of course, it is best to be familiar with the specifics of the Russian market.

This is only our first year working as an international programme, and we strive now to demonstrate that we are competitive, that we provide a high-level content, and that our graduates master those exact competencies that are of interest to employers. Russia is an intriguing place to the world, and a lot of foreigners want to understand what is happening here

— During their internships, the students closely interact not only with teachers, but also with practitioners?

— Naturally. Firstly, we have guest lecturers. Those people, as a rule, work at consulting companies and come to speak about finance. In addition, we are currently developing an internship initiative that leverages the large number of our teachers with practical past experience in the areas in which they teach. Thirdly, we cooperate with private companies. Here, of course, there are problems for foreign students, because not all Russian companies are ready to take on foreign students as interns. But we are making a concerted effort to resolve this issue. Our foreign students are taught Russian language with great success, and they like it.

Our alumni network includes many successful graduates who are happy to visit us, network, and offer internships and employment opportunities, and we work hard to maintain these connections.

— And do graduate students take part in research?

— Yes, master's students, and especially foreign ones, are happy to participate in the work of research centres and laboratories. For foreign students, this is a way to better integrate themselves into the environment. Some compete for positions as trainee-researchers and analysts, while others get involved in project work whenever a laboratory is organising such projects.

— Are there any statistics on what students do after graduation?

— The first cohort graduated in 2011. That is to say, last year marked our fifth anniversary. Somewhere around half of our graduates go on to pursue careers in the business world. Most often they go to work as financial analysts and financial managers. They are employed by companies such as Megafon, Beeline, MTS, Gazprom Neft, the X5, as well as many multinationals, including Maersk, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International, MetLife, and General Electric. Other graduates go into banking and join Sberbank, VTB 24, the Bank of St. Petersburg. They have formed a sort of “colony” of HSE graduates. Now the circle is expanding to include other banks and investment companies.

Then there is the other group of graduates, who tend to either continue their education at our doctoral school or have gone abroad and are building a career there, or have developed their own business. A perfect example is Eugene Frolov, who was among our first graduates of the programme in 2011, after which he organised a number of interesting start-ups here in St. Petersburg. He then moved to the Czech Republic, where he has created a company and is also very active in promoting the Higher School of Economics brand across the Czech Republic. I cannot say that any of our graduates of the programme had to sit around without work. They are all gainfully employed.

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