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Regular version of the site

HSE Keeps International Faculty on Their Toes in Friendly and Competitive Environment

Carol S. Leonard, Leading Research Fellow at the HSE Institute of Regional Studies and Urban Planning and Professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences, School of Public Administration, Department for Spatial Development and Regional Studies has been at the HSE since 2011. She talked to HSE News Service about the things she likes about her job, the cultured and energetic environment at HSE, and about the changes she sees across Russia since her undergraduate days when she first became interested in the country, its language and people.

— You've been with HSE since 2011. What are the changes at the university within this period that you would recognise as positive and dynamic?

— ​HSE has broadly, intensely and continuously improved offerings and standards of teaching at all of its campuses in the past decade. The students in the Moscow campus, where I teach, are excellent: their standard preparation includes economics and statistics, in both undergraduates and Masters' candidates, they ask sophisticated questions in class and write impressive theses based on year-long exhaustive research. I am also impressed that faculty in my department (Public Administration) and others show special concern for methodology, and they foster publications by undergraduates after training seminars.

HSE also fosters a lively academic environment. The administration has done well to give  a boost in salary to those who publish in peer-reviewed journals, a highly effective research improvement design. ​Personally, I have really liked the internal communications about extracurricular activities, talks, seminars, and clubs, which are advertised daily.  The faculty and students clearly enjoy their experience at HSE: it is a vibrant, modern university that leads the country in many fields of teaching and publication. HSE Moscow, in my field, is the Harvard of Russia.

— How did your cooperation with the HSE start? How is your working life arranged today?

— I was invited to begin with for a year to assist with a project initiated by the Research Foundation to assess research ​that had received government support. That project gave me the opportunity to work closely with administrative officials and faculty in my field, and I enjoyed the experience tremendously. I am indebted to Vice Rectors Lev Jakobson and Maria Yudkevich, who gave me this opportunity, and Leonid Gokhberg, with whom I have worked closely in years since. At  present I work on an HSE contract as a professor and researcher in the Department of Public Administration in a kafedra where students focus on Regional Studies: we offer courses, supervise student theses, develop projects for the students, and we assist undergraduates in applying for their Master’s degrees. In my research, I am able to connect my colleagues to researchers abroad, who are, in turn, eager to work with Russian scholars.  In my teaching, I am fortunate in my teaching for the Master’s programme, "Governance of Science, Technology and Innovation," where I provide assistance in the area of Regional Innovation. My experience in these master’s programmes is as exciting as in the undergraduate classes. The students from a range of countries have generally mastered English, they are keenly interested in a wide variety of topics and actively participate in classroom discussions. I owe enormous thanks to my colleagues at ISSEK, where I have also assisted in their production of the first-rate journal, Foresight.

 HSE Moscow, in my field, is the Harvard of Russia

— You speak 7 foreign languages and Russian is among them. It definitely helps to live and work in Moscow. What is challenging and what is rewarding for you as an international expert in Russia?

— Developing expertise on Russia has been a lifelong challenge, first of all, learning the language, which I started at the University of Minnesota. I have not yet fully acquired a top standard in writing and speaking, but I am still aspiring for mastery of Russian,    "великий, могучий, правдивый и свободный русский язык," (the great, powerful, truthful and free Russian language) as  the writer Ivan Turgenev described it.

During and after getting a PhD in Russian history at Indiana University, I studied Russian history and culture more broadly, and with some advanced training in economics at Caltech, I added economics of transition to my field expertise.

The most ​challenging aspect of teaching lies in the expectation that I can indeed develop high level lectures in the language. My reading of current Russian HSE working papers and publications ​reminds me of how much more there is to know about my field, literature with which I would not have grown familiar, had I not been living in Moscow. ​The challenge of working at a university in Moscow is of course also a pleasure: my colleagues both value my company and keep me competitive. I suspect that foreign faculty in Russian studies, who might work in Russia, would also benefit from the rigorous competitiveness, the high bar set for doing social sciences in Russia.

​The​ thing I have loved is that my Russian colleagues are  so supportive, and that they have a vibrant collegial community. The academic environment in Moscow is remarkably rich, and my colleagues organize joint work, many conferences, ​and seminars.​ I have worked closely with some, just to mention Lev Jakobson, Dirk Meissner, Professor Irina Ilina, Director of the Institute for Regional and Urban Development, and Elena Vakulenko, and I have found that collaboration to be very fruitful.​ My Russian colleagues in Regional Studies, particularly the deputy head of kafedra, Olga Khoreva and Professor Dmitry Lopatnikov have shown me how smoothly the administration of teaching can work within a system of substantial reporting requirements. I have particularly enjoyed working with the "thesis" system--student works at all levels that require tutorial meetings.

— One of your research interests is about governance and regional resilience in Russia. How have you been developing and maintaining this interest recently?

— ​I work a great deal on this topic.  It is exciting that so many government agencies, along with academic institutes and departments, are engaged in the subject of Russia's regional expansion and development. In my teaching, I contribute a comparative perspective, from my work on European, Russian and US regional issues; in research, I and my co-authors, including Elena Vakulenko, an HSE econometrician and Zafar Nazarov from Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne, show the extent to which regional growth benefits from sub-national institutions. For the period 2000-2008, persistent traditions of good governance account for a substantial portion of growth, despite considerable centralization; some centralization was  essential for improved governance and uniformity of law across the county. But the quality of subnational institutions still mattered in the pace of advancement. We are publishing an article on that topic in The Economics of Transition in 2016.

It is a problem that the study of Russian abroad has declined, since the experts are fewer, they do not travel as much as before to Russia, and they can misperceive events, based on too little information, and they tend to draw hasty conclusions about long-term trends

— Some of your research reports are on well-being in Russia. What can you tell us about this issue in 2016?

— ​The period we study, through 2008, was one of rapid advancement of the Russian economy. The pace was such that even now, with some economic turmoil, there is still far greater confidence than there was in the 1990s.  Russians, it seems to me, still expect consistency and progress, and that confidence is a great source of stability. It is also reflected in the steady restoration and new building in the capital. Moscow is one of the most glamorous and exciting cities today in Europe : for visitors, especially around New Year’s and Russian Christmas, the city blazes with sparkling rings of light on buildings, in squares, all along the interior ring road. The city government has vigorously engaged with key problems: parking, traffic, and public transportation. New developments, including numerous parking spots, parking fines, pedestrian only streets, bicycle promotion and instructive signs are very impressive.

Of course, as in almost all advanced countries, inequality--rural/urban and other regional disparities--remains a problem. In my research, I look at well-off, well governed regions, contrasted with those that have experienced negative growth. The Russian economy as a whole, of course, has suffered from low oil prices and the budget cuts are serious. This environment, however, as Vladimir Mau points out, could serve as an incentive for further diversification to counter effects of resource dependence and continued reform of governance, an impressive ongoing project which I follow in various publications, including the public journals of government agencies. Some sectors are doing very well, for example, aviation and pharmaceuticals; some of the clusters in ongoing pilot (industrial and innovative) cluster initiatives promise a great deal, once macroeconomic conditions stabilize. The Russian government can still, certainly, count on the reserves of goodwill and confidence that were produced by the dramatic rise in income and major structural reforms earlier in the 2000s. 

Moscow is one of the most glamorous and exciting cities today in Europe

— What would you say to potential international students who are considering coming to HSE to study?

— This is a great time to be in Moscow for students, as I am told by international students at HSE and at RANEPA, who take photos of central Moscow, skating, dining out; some have traveled North and take pictures of themselves fishing. For those interested in museum culture, Russia is and has always been a city with enormous investment in its past, including writers' home museums, the Pushkin and Tretyakov galleries. In icy weather, there is not a day when the line does not stretch out in front of the new Tretyakov gallery for entry into the spectacular Serov exhibit. Foreign students will find, as I have, a collegial and warm welcome at HSE, where the students are required to know other languages, including English. The Master’s-level student body is very international. Nina Belyaeva's programme in Public Policy (and the rival programme under Robin Lewis at RANEPA) have attracted Russian and foreign students. These programmes warmly welcome students from all countries, and give them excellent training for public policy.

— Could you please recommend a few ( or at least, one) book on Russia which might help the international community to understand the country better?

— It is a problem that the study of Russian abroad has declined, since the experts are fewer, they do not travel as much as before to Russia, and they can misperceive events, based on too little information, and they tend to draw hasty conclusions about long-term trends . I read BNE for good economic articles, and I note that the editor, Ben Aris, who has lived in Russia and still does, is my preferred source of news in English. In my view, ​some ​misunderstanding​s​ ​in the non-Russian press ​about Russia go very far back, drawing deeply on past perspectives. This is a mistake. There is now and will be more evidence of new generations emerging. There is the Russian millennial, who is very similar to US millennial in concerns about social welfare, and who was educated entirely in the post-Soviet era. This generation embraces the students I teach at HSE.  Also the Russian press should be more closely consulted. It ​is always very interesting in its presentation of long analytic essays; the western press does not often reflect the substance and intellectual dialogue demonstrated in these essays. ​

​As for western works, a Russian colleague once recommended any book on Russia by Geoffrey Hosking, who has written a great many, including on the Soviet era, and I agree. Richard Sakwa and Thomas Remington have also written a great deal, and their work is scholarly and wary of the vicissitudes of media coverage.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News Service