The Way of Thinking
Dr. Udara Peiris received his PhD from the University of Oxford in 2010. He has been part of the HSE faculty for almost two years after accepting the position of Assistant Professor at the International College of Economics and Finance in 2012. Dr. Peiris spoke to The HSE LooK before the summer break.
— What have you been working on at the HSE?
— Broadly, I am working on issues connected with macroeconomics and finance. One strand of my work is on monetary policy. I have two papers dealing with this issue – one on quantitative easing and another topic is nominal GDP-targeting, which is being pushed as an alternative to inflation targeting. Then the other strand of research I have is financial stability: I am looking at defaults and how this affects the macro economy.
Part of my work here is teaching, of course.It's a valuable and incredibly fulfilling experience when students are really interested and engaged in what they study. There are times when students ask you questions and it pushes your own understanding. Other times, however, I find students very practical and pragmatic about the degree they are pursuing. I see this not only in Russia, but all over the world. They see a degree as just a means to getting a job. And I see this is as a wrong and misinformed attitude. Many jobs in the financial and commercial sphere don't require an undergraduate degree at all: the knowledge from specialist certificates such as the 'Chartered Financial Analyst' suffices. As a result, Higher Education will eventually return to what it was originally – an elite institution, a place where people go to develop their understanding, as opposed to knowing facts, which will push their careers further on, build a network and help formulate long-term flexible career goals.
— If it’s not about finding a job, then what should be the goal of higher education?
— The goal is to give students the skills to interpret what is going on in the world, and to understand what is happening in the commercial environment, if that's what they study. It's a way of thinking. Most people go through between two and three careers in their lives, they change their track completely several times. In the meantime they are also doing multiple jobs. This requires the ability to be able to interpret the way the world is changing and being flexible. This is really what the value of education is all about. It is disappointing when students don't really see this and fight against this sort of training. I find it quite strange, if not disturbing, that so many undergraduates are working full-time during their degree. The fact that so many students are working just shows what the whole attitude of the system is towards education, which is just a means to an end rather than a way to help shape a kind of thinking.
More interviews with HSE faculty can be found in The HSE LooK 6(13), July 2014