‘Professionals Who Have Studied Outside Their Home Countries Should Shape New Narratives’
Studies in lockdown, the fun of Russian classes, and the hardships of learning microeconomics: the HSE News Service talked to three international students of economics who are getting their master’s degrees from HSE University this year.
Syeda Ulya Ehsen Kazmi from Pakistan is about to graduate from the Faculty of Economic Sciences with a Master’s degree in the Economics: Research Programme (now part of the Economics and Economic Policy programme). Ayodeji Babatunde Ajibola from Nigeria is finishing up his studies for the Master’s programme in Applied Economics (now part of the Economics and Economic Policy programme), this June. Vahhab Irani from Iran is a second-year master’s student in the Strategic Corporate Finance programme.
The Choice of HSE University
Ayodeji: I got my Bachelor’s degree from Bowen University in Nigeria. My research interests are Economics of Knowledge and Innovation, and Applied Econometrics. HSE University is ranked among the top three in the field of Economic Research in Russia and other Eastern European countries, and it is a new gateway for students from African and other developing countries to experience quality education to further their careers.
During the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020, I was looking at various opportunities for my academic career outside of Nigeria and got to know about HSE University via Twitter. I researched the university's academic programmes to see which one best fit my research interests, and chose the Applied Economics Master’s programme. The choice of HSE University was easy based on the reviews of its alumni, the research interests of the professors in my field, and the possibility of studying with a full government quota scholarship in Russia.
Vahhab: When I was finishing my Bachelor’s degree in Project Management at Payame Noor University in Tehran, I wanted to choose a master’s programme that would supplement my bachelor’s degree. I also wanted to learn another foreign language.
I decided that it would be interesting to learn Russian, which is widely spoken around the world, and so I turned my attention to top Russian universities
HSE University caught my attention as one of the most internationalised universities in Russia, with programmes taught in both Russian and English with a focus on economics and finance. I contacted Oxana Budjko, Head of Economic Faculty’s International Office, for more information. I figured that my background in project management and education in finance would be a good combination that would allow me to pursue a career in project finance, so I decided to enrol in the Master’s programme in Strategic Corporate Finance at HSE University.
Studies at HSE University: On-Site and Online
Syeda: I was impressed by the structure of the Economics: Research Programme. The research seminars were particularly encouraging. The studies at the Preparatory Faculty were great, and then COVID happened. It was overwhelming. Overnight, the classes shifted to Zoom with the same number of hours, and it was affecting my health.
My favourite was Russian language. Much credit goes to the teachers. I had five teachers, three during the Preparatory Year and two during the Supporting Year: Anastasia Zinchenko, Elena Levi, Yaroslav Pototsky, Zoia Maslennikova, and Ekaterina Borzenko. During the lockdown, classes were the only time we got to speak Russian. My Russian is now close to B2 level—in other words, good enough to get the job done. Russian History was my second favourite. Our teacher, Nadezhda Rodionova, would ask us to find paintings of the times and people we were studying and show the best of them in next class. She knew how to add colour to the otherwise black-and-white textbook.
Ayodeji: Initially, studying was tough, as I was new to online learning and faced a lot of challenges like internet connection issues and clashes with my role as a university lecturer in Nigeria.
I think online learning comes with a lot of distractions, and sometimes takes away the thrill of practical learning, especially in the ever-evolving field of Economics
Studies were fine after some adjustments on my part. The microeconomics class in the first year was gruelling. I enjoyed the practicality of the advanced econometrics class, and I must confess that the lecturers have pushed me to be better and have all been very helpful.
I had an opportunity to work with patient and understanding supervisors—Dr Dmitry Veselov and Dr Cemal Eren Arbatli—who are both dedicated and have helped me better understand research methodologies in my term paper and master’s thesis. I enjoyed the microeconometrics classes by Dr Maria Sheluntcova, particularly her diligence and practicality in terms of the econometric software used in her classes.
Vahhab: The programme turned out to be more challenging than I had thought. Microeconomics is the most difficult subject I’ve ever had—it is very abstract and hard to grasp. Despite this, I find Game Theory and Utility Theory to be very interesting and helpful for understanding many phenomena in real life. Other subjects such as macroeconomics and corporate finance were less challenging, but they still require a lot of time and attention.
Professors at HSE University are strict, but I believe this style of teaching can help students boost their knowledge. A good example at HSE University would be Alla Fridman, Professor of Microeconomics. She demands that all students review previously taught materials and are prepared for quizzes during each lecture. Veronika Vinogradova, Senior Lecturer for Corporate Finance seminars, is responsible for the revision of our case presentations and she has always been able to pinpoint our mistakes and provide recommendations for improvement. Teachers at HSE are strict, but fair, and I believe that this keeps educational standards high at HSE.
I found online studying to be beneficial
Despite most courses being online due to the COVID-19 pandemic and my desire to meet my groupmates more often, I found online studying to be beneficial. During the first semester, online education allowed me to save time commuting and dedicate more time to study. In later semesters, the online format allowed me to attend courses from my workplace and have a full-time job.
Living in a Dorm
Syeda: I live in a dorm. My day starts with breakfast. If I don’t have to go out for work—which is most days—I sit in front of my laptop and study until lunch, which I have in the kitchen on my floor.
The kitchen is where we all catch up
After lunch, I continue working for a few hours. Then, I go out for a walk or groceries, talk to friends, call my family, or do a leisure activity. Then, I have dinner and go to sleep. This is what my ideal days are like, but a lot of the time, it is just work, work, and work.
Ayodeji: I live in a dormitory, which is convenient and relatively affordable compared to other accommodation in Moscow. I like the arrangement and security of the HSE dormitories. It is a conducive environment for academic learning.
Vahhab: I live in Dormitory 7 in Tekstilshiki, which is about 40 minutes away from HSE’s main campus. It has all the necessary infrastructure, including a gym.
Moscow: Living in a Big City
Vahhab: When I came to Moscow, it took me a few months to get familiar with the city and how everything works in Russia. But later, when I could find spare time from study, I explored the city and other parts of the Moscow region.
I like outdoor activities, so I have joined biking clubs to explore the scenery in Moscow’s outskirts during the summer. This summer, I plan to learn yachting in Moscow.
ESN HSE Moscow organises interesting activities that help international students find something to do during their free time and to learn more about Russian culture and history. With ESN HSE Moscow, I have visited the Gulag Museum and Lake Seliger. I believe people with hobbies and interests can always find interesting activities during their time here in Moscow.
Syeda: I have seen Red Square, St Basil's Cathedral, and the new and old Arbat Streets. I have visited museums such as the Tretyakov Gallery, the Museum of Cosmonautics, and the Museum of Illusions. There are also many parks in Moscow.
With Moscow, documentation is the hardest part. International students have to spend a lot of time on documentation, the utility of which is arguable
What surprises me in Moscow? Once, I saw a person in the metro with ‘SORRY’ tattooed on his face. It has stuck with me, and nothing has surprised me more over the years.
Language can still be a barrier sometimes, but more so might be the dilemma of what to say and what not to say during these testing times.
Moscow has one of the best public transport systems, so navigation is not an issue
Ayodeji: I came to Moscow about a month ago. I have already adapted to the weather and am starting to pick up some Russian phrases. I am a firm believer that if where you are going is better than where you presently are, then you make the move. I made a lot of sacrifices leaving my job and family to come to Moscow. I believe Moscow can offer me better career opportunities both in the short and long term.
I have been around Moscow, especially during my job-hunting phase and other organised student activities, and I like the city in terms of planning, co-working spaces for new businesses, recreation centres for kids and adults, and the very affordable metro.
Would You Recommend HSE University to Friends?
Syeda: It depends on their situation. Some HSE programmes would be a good fit for some of my friends and not for others. Being an international students’ representative at CISA (the Council of International Students Association—the student government body of international students at HSE University), I am often contacted by prospective students to discuss their prospects at HSE University. Things that discourage students from choosing HSE are insufficient opportunities for employment, financial and academic support. Things that attract students are HSE’s ratings and international recognition.
Ayodeji: Yes, I would gladly recommend studying at HSE University to friends, colleagues and students, as I believe it is an avenue to change your life for good.
HSE University remains a world-class institution and a degree here would certainly open career and professional opportunities
I would like to thank the Russian government for this great opportunity to study in a country that is friendly to African students. I also want to thank the Study Office of the Applied Economics programme, notably Natalia Puzyr and Oxana Budjko for their advice and assistance throughout my studies. I am very grateful.
Plans for the Future
Syeda: I plan to pursue a Doctoral degree in Economics or a related multidisciplinary field.
Ayodeji: The next step for me is to enrol in a doctoral degree with HSE University. I have been involved in academia for close to a decade, and my motivation remains strong. I see myself in the next five years as a tenured professor in my field at a top university, and also as a key player in world public policy, especially relating to issues in developing countries.
A doctoral degree is not the end in itself; it is just an entry point into the public space in terms of participatory politics, nation building and contributing to the development of my continent.
I am now of the strong view that professionals like myself who have studied outside their home countries should join participatory politics to better the lots of the upcoming generations to shape new narratives and achieve sustainable development
Vahhab: As I’m completing my current programme, I have decided to apply to another HSE master’s programme: Business Analytics and Big Data Systems. I believe that knowledge of big data will be crucial in developing future business processes, and I am sure that another education at HSE University will help me acquire the necessary knowledge in this sphere. In the future, I would like to be able to contribute to the development of international projects.
Cemal Eren Arbatli
Associate Professor, Department of Theoretical Economics
Senior Lecturer, School of Finance