ICEF 2009: Achievements and Prospects
Recently the HSE and the London School of Economics signed a new agreement on the activities and development of the HSE International College of Economics and Finance (ICEF) for the next 4 years .
In early July several LSE representatives visited the ICEF - Richard Jackman, ICEF Project Director at the LSE, and LSE external examiners Christian Julliard (Lecturer/Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, LSE) and Margaret Bray ( Reader in Economics, Department of Economics, LSE).
The main purpose of this visit was an independent external evaluation of the implementation of ICEF Master's programme in Financial Economics.
We asked them and the ICEF Director Sergey Yakovlev a few questions on the achievements of previous years, on current ICEF activities, and on their plans for the future.
Richard Jackman, ICEF Project Director at the LSE
- What is the purpose of your visit to Moscow?
- I am the Project Director from the LSE. I've come with Christian and Margaret, the external examiners. I've come mainly for meetings with the college director about the development of the programmes, about the undergraduate and master's courses and to talk to some of the academics. The external examiners have a purely academic role, whereas my role, as Project Director is primarily, but not exclusively, academic.
- What do you think about the results of HSE and LSE cooperation over the last two years?
- The college has been going for twelve years, and certainly, during the last two years there's been a significant development of the master's programme and indeed there's also been an improvement in the academic staff to the college, so we now have a very highly qualified group of teachers. However, they are not very experienced, because nearly all of them have only recently completed their Ph.Ds. Mostly they are Russian teachers, although some are from other parts of the world. In the last couple of years in particular there's been a lot of cooperation with the Higher School of Economics in the recruitment of teachers, and three of them now have joint appointments with the Higher School. Which means they spend some of their time teaching in the Department of Economics and some time doing research with the Center for Advanced Studies in the Higher School of Economics, as well as time here in ICEF, both teaching and doing research. So I think that's been the main achievement in the last couple of years - the establishment of the master's programme and the recruitment of full-time academic staff.
- What are your impressions of the master's programme? This year will see the first students graduating.
- Yes, there are sixteen graduates. It's a very impressive group of students. There have been some quite outstanding students. The average level has been reasonably good, so the number of students who've been unable to complete the courses has been fairly low. In the first year we recruited twenty students,, and of those, sixteen have been awarded master's degrees. This year the admissions to the master's programme are much improved, there are more of them and they are of very good quality and they come not only from Moscow, but also from other parts of Russia, and I think some are from other countries as well. For example, in the second year of the programme - those who have just completed their first year of studies, one of the most outstanding students is from Serbia. But mostly there are Russian students as you would expect. This year one of the reasons of course that recruitment has been stronger is because fewer students are going to universities in the West, because of the financial crisis. It's cheaper for them to stay and study in Moscow. And the quality of the degree is good by Western standards. So this has boosted recruitment and enabled the program to become more fully established.
- What do you think, are any students from Western countries interested in coming here to study?
- We are thinking about that. There is the issue of location:some Western students would be interested to be in Moscow rather than in the West, but that is a minority of students. Then, there is also the question of the academic program - whether or not it can be accredited in Western universities, so that they are not losing the progress of their degree. I think it is much easier with the American system where we can get our courses accredited by American universities. And if American students are interested in coming here, then it's quite possible. With the English standards system it is much, much more difficult, because they have to do their degrees, they have to take their papers as notes for the credit system. But when we start talking about Americans studying abroad and programmes to attract them here, I think that the Higher School is also interested in this possibility. So we can do this in collaboration with the HSE.
- What are the plans of the master's program graduates for the future?
- One or two of them are going to go on to Ph.D programs, but mostly they are finding work in Moscow, mainly with international firms within the financial sector and in Russian firms which are operating in the international market. So overall, they are doing very well.
- What do you think about the level of the undergraduate students?
- A good proportion are exceptionally good. Last year 24 out of 80 graduates got first class degrees, which is extremely good, a very, very high proportion. And we think this year it may not be quite as high, but it's very good again 20 out of 85 or something like that. And a substantial proportion go on to do master's programs, a lot go abroad, about a third go to universities in the West to do a master's programme. Most of them come back again, and some of them stay and work in Western countries. Some of them go on to do Ph.Ds. And most of those who are not going on to master's programmes are finding work of one sort or another. So, the undergraduate program is doing well.
- What are the next goals of the HSE and LSE collaboration?
- I can only speak for ICEF, since there are other collaborative activities between HSE and LSE, other than this college and this program, in the area of research and others, for example, in sociology.
Regarding this college, I think that the most important things are to continue over the next few years to properly establish the MSE - the master's programme, and to ensure that we have enough teachers - well-qualified full-time teachers. And the other thing linked to that is to develop more effective support for their research, which means essentially setting up a research centre which will provide the infrastructure, research assistance, organizational support for research activities and coordination between the research the different academics are doing. And the Higher School has supported that initiative and is assisting in funding the first stages of it. So the cooperation with the Higher School has been very important in that regard.
- What do you think about the development of the Ph.D program here, in this college?
- It is a little too soon to talk about it:the academics here themselves have just finished their Ph.Ds, and they haven't yet, except in one or two cases, established a strong professional reputation, which one would need for Ph.D programs. I think that the research centre comes first:when they start doing research, publishing papers and building up a reputation for themselves and the college, then they will attract postgraduate students. So, it is an objective, but it can't be achieved immediately.
- How would you assess the situation at the ICEF?
- I'd like to emphasize that the standards are good. Since the idea is to raise the international standard of education in Russia, I think that they are doing a pretty good job and they are setting the bar at the right level. It's more demanding, there's more teaching - and also students are doing pretty well.
- And what are your impressions of the teachers of the HSE?
- The teachers that have been teaching courses here for three years are doing pretty well. Obviously, there are some areas with room for improvement, but generally things are going well.
- As far as I know, you had some conversations with the students, what did they say?
- You know, they are happy! I would love my students to be so happy! Maybe they are happy just because they are finishing, you know, they are going to graduate in a couple of weeks. Obviously, they are also stressed about finding a job, because it's a tough market, but everybody is.That's the situation now.
- What did you like about the standards, the education and what did you not like?
- Let's start from this point of view - I'm totally biased. I like that the curricula are of a high standard. Why am I totally biased? - because I haven't yet tried the curricula for the students, so I'm not the most objective person from this point of view. What I don't like? Well, I think that faculty teaches too much, they should have more time for research. We at the LSE have more time for research, since the teaching load on each of us is lower than the teaching load here. I think that the young faculty here have the potential to be good researchers.
- Sergey Mikhailovich, could you tell us why the external examiners from the LSE came to ICEF and what their job is here?
- In Great Britain two teachers check a student's work, not one. This way the evaluation system becomes more open and objective. Here at ICEF, like at LSE, we have examination commissions, consisting of Russian and British teachers who discuss examination tasks and together develop evaluation criteria. Every year examiners from the London School of Economics come here to check and, together with ICEF teachers, evaluate the work of students on the master's programme. We focus on implementation of the coordinated evaluation criteria, especially in terms of the best and the worst work. Such a system allows us to provide an objective evaluation of ICEF students'knowledge. It should be noted that this year as well as last, evaluations by our teachers and by the external examiners were almost the same. This proves that the level of teaching and evaluation criteria in ICEF complies with international standards. By the way, Christian Julliard and Margaret Bray, who came here, are prominent researchers.
Examinable works of ICEF undergraduate students as part of the external programme are compiled and checked by teachers of the University of London, which organizes final exams on the subjects included in this programme, in May and June.
- As far as I can judge fromChristian Julliard's words, they are impressed with our students'level of knowledge. What were the most important achievements of ICEF students in the past year?
- First of all, in 2008, the total number of students exceeded 500. It was the first year when we had so many graduates:78 people;and 24 of them received first-class degrees with distinction from the University of London. Moreover, the total number of graduate students with two diplomas for the whole period of the ICEF's existence has been 357 people.
I want to particularly mention the achievements of Vladimir Mukharlyamov, who was the first student in ICEF history to receive an External Study Award - the University of London's prize for the best student of their external program. Now Vladimir has graduated with honors from the master's programme of the London School of Economics and was the first ICEF graduate to enter the Ph.D programme of Harvard University.
More graduates go on to universities abroad:19 graduates have gone to study in Great Britain, 3 to Europe, and 2 to the USA. Among them, 8 graduates entered the LSE and 4 went to Oxford University.
In September, 2009, the first ICEF master's programme graduation will take place. The graduates will receive their HSE diploma (Master of Science in Economics) and an official letter signed by the LSE Director Howard Davies and the HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov. The Master's programme also has its leaders. Svetlana Bryzgalova who graduated from the HSE Nizhny Novgorod branch (she was acknowledged as the best HSE student at that time), now is successfully completing the ICEF master's programme and has accepted an invitation to participate in a Ph.D at the LSE. Despite the difficult situation in the labour market, graduates of the ICEF master's course attract the interest of employers and many have already been invited to work at the Central Bank of Russia, Sberbank, Russian Bank of Development, UBS, HSBC, Raiffeisen Bank, KPMG, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and other leading Russian and international banks and companies.
- What is your opinion of the teachers? As far as I understand, there have been some changes?
- ICEF has continued hiring teachers with approved international qualification. This year Roman Zaharenko, Anna Yurko and Igor Muraviev, who are all Ph.D graduates of foreign universities, came to work at the ICEF. Starting from September, 2009, Fabian Slonimchik, Massachusetts University (USA) Ph.D graduate and Marie-Ann Betschinger, Stokholm School of Economy Ph.D graduate will start work here as associate professors. By the way, they will teach not only at ICEF, but also at the HSE faculties of Economy, Management, and World Economy and Politics.
- London School of Economics is famous for its active scientific research. What is the situation with research at ICEF?
- First of all, scientific workshops at ICEF have become really regular. During the past academic year, over 30 of them have been held, and among the participants were researchers not only from Moscow (HSE, Russian Economic School, Center for Economic and Financial Research, MSU etc.), but also from universities of Great Britain, Switzerland, Austria, the USA, Hungary and many other countries. It was the first time that all staff made presentations at the HSE conferences, and two sessions on finance were run by the college teachers and their colleagues from LSE (Professor Sudipto Bhattacharya) and Oxford University (Professor Dimitrios Tsomocos). ICEF scientific program coordinator Alexey Belyanin and ICEF students took part in the international conference on rational behavior and experiments which hosted about 10 international researchers. A research laboratory in this field has been set up
Three of our teachers - Maxim Nikitin, Sergey Gelman and Vladimir Sokolov - had publications in international scientific magazines (in "Banking and Finances", "Journal of Empirical Finance"and "New Economic Association Journal"respectively). An article by Jeffry Len Lokshin and Oleg Zamkov was published in "Policy Futures in Education"magazine.
- Have any new programs been started?
- In 2008 a new double award program was initiated at ICEF - a program of professional retraining in Economics, targeted at those who don't have a higher education in economics but want to learn its basics. The first graduates of this program will get their diplomas from the HSE and University of London in September, 2009.
- What other forms of cooperation between ICEF and LSE exist? Is it only external examiners coming here to check work?
- Not only that, no. LSE professors come to us 6 or 7 times a year to read lectures and participate in scientific and methodological ICEF seminars. During the 2008/2009 school year, all the top managers of LSE and the University of London visited ICEF including Graeme Davies, Vice-Chancellor of the University of London, Janet Hartley, Director of London School of Economics and Political Science, and Jonathan Kydd, Dean of the External System of the University of London.
The University of London has started developing a new procedure for universities working within the framework of the University of London external program. In spring 2009 ICEF received a letter with confirmation of the intention to register ICEF in the highest group of "authorized universities". I'd like to say that ICEF is becoming acknowledged as as a model of collaboration:a new International School of Economics was created a couple of years ago in Kazakhstan.in ICEF's likeness and with the support of the LSE
- HSE is known for its students'organizations. Is ICEF following this tradition?
- In March 2009 ICEF English Theatre was formed. This initiative was enthusiastically supported by ICEF students. In the framework of our theatre project students take classes of acting technique, elocution, personal development training, and, of course, they rehearse performances in English.
Last April ICEF students carried out the first student Open Day "Learn Everything about ICEF", where the college entrants could learn details at first hand about the studies and everyday life at the College and also sample the atmosphere.
In 2008/2009 school year ICEF students showed excellent results in sports:our team took 2nd place among the faculties teams in the 2nd HSE Sports Contest.
- What are the plans and main directions of ICEF development for the next period?
- Together with our colleagues from HSE and LSE we have created a concept of ICEF development for the medium term. It underpins the new HSE and LSE contract on ICEF development.
One of the main tasks is the future development of ICEF research potential and creation of a research laboratory in financial economics, as well as improving the effectiveness of the current ICEF teachers'research and further hiring of teachers with internationally approved qualifications. Such actions should allow us to improve the standards of the master's programme, introduce new specializations in our undergraduate programme (including new subjects), start preparations for creation of an ICEF postgraduate programme in economics, as well as publishing an electronic research magazine. Why did I say just ‘start preparations'for postgraduate programme opening? Because we are talking about a programme which could be comparable to similar Ph.D programs at leading international universities. The Bologna Convention (which is supported by Russia) implies three levels of higher education:undergraduate programme - master's programme - Ph.D programme. At ICEF we have succeeded in creating the first two levels of higher education which are comparable to universities abroad. These are the first two floors of our building. I hope that eventually, together with our colleagues from HSE and LSE, we shall also be able to build the third floor.
One of our priorities is our intention to attract international students.
Overall, I believe that ICEF development programme is an integral part of the HSE development plan and will play a significant role in its realization.
Interviews by Yekaterina Rylko, HSE Web News Service
Photos by Ivan Moryakov