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Regular version of the site

Always in Dialogue

Professor of the Department of Higher Mathematics at the HSE Faculty of Economics, Alexander Belenky was acknowledged in 2012 to be one of the best teachers at the university.

Professor Belenky is author of a number of books on the mathematical and systemic analysis of the US Constitution and decisions of the Supreme Court of the USA in regards to how American presidents are elected. His monograph on the subject was published in 2012 by the international, academic publisher, Springer.  In October 2012, Professor Belenky was the chairman, moderator and speaker at the international “Second MIT Presidential Election Conference”, at MIT in Boston, Mass.

— You spent many years teaching abroad. Do you find that Russian students are different from their American and British peers?

—I’d say that there is a difference in how clear students’ motives are for going to university. As a rule, students are motivated by the idea of their future job prospects and the chance of having a successful career in business. They chose university courses according to what will help them achieve their aims. While in universities in other countries, there are quite a lot of students who are actually interested in studying for its own sake. A lot of young people, who study applied mathematics, try to get new scientific results and make their own discoveries and not just learn how to use their knowledge for job requirements. Also, by the end of the first year, or the beginning of the second, students in Western universities are clearly divided into future practitioners and researchers.  

With us the boundaries are blurred. Talking about the students at HSE, I’d say that we are “listing” a bit towards the first; our students tend to come to “Vyshka” – one of the most prestigious Russian universities – with a future career in business in mind. Unfortunately the number of students who wish to devote themselves to science are far fewer than in leading Western universities. Among my students there are some who are interested in scientific work but they think they can combine academic research projects with getting ahead in the business sphere.    

— Maybe the differences between Russian and foreign higher education is more discernable in the teaching methods?

—For me dialogue with my students is the most natural way to teach and that’s true in Russia and abroad. For students who are really interested in a particular subject, interactive teaching is the most effective because it allows them to discover their strengths and let’s the teacher give them a deeper knowledge of that discipline and the way it is applied. I think the most important thing in teaching mathematics is to help students believe in their own abilities, to convince them that they can develop their own mathematical reasoning to solve standard and non-standard problems. It’s essential to create an atmosphere in class where students feel free to show their knowledge and skills and if I manage it, that’s when students can get really hooked. 

Sometimes I get carried away during a lecture and am surprised to find that we’ve already gone way past the mid-lesson break and no-one has stopped me. I think that shows that students are also caught up in the subject, and that they want to follow my argument and maybe compare it with their own intuition and thoughts on the matter.

— At what stage should students get involved in the work in scientific seminars?

—I think students who are studying applied mathematics should be thinking about their futures at the beginning of the third year. The course I teach to third years on “Theory of management and system analysis” is very timely for them. A student who has mastered the basic disciplines of mathematical analysis, linear algebra, differential equations and probability theory will learn about real applications for the math, and about methods of analysis, and will have the opportunity to see that the knowledge he has acquired is essential for research in a wide variety of economic, technical and social problems.

This is the time when students can get really excited about analytical work. It is very important. The desire to understand the peculiarities of one phenomenon or another, and the wish to analyse a problem thoroughly and apply your knowledge and skills to find an effective solution – that is equally important for someone starting out as an academic scientist as for those who are thinking of a successful career in business. 


  1. Alexander S. Belenky, Operations Research in Transportation Systems - Ideas and Schemes of Optimization Methods for Strategic (Applied Optimization), Springer, 2010, 452 с.
  2. Alexander S. Belenky, Understanding the Fundamentals of the U.S. Presidential Election System, Springer, 2012, 444 с.
  3. Alexander S. Belenky, Who Will Be the Next President? A Guide to the U.S. Presidential Election System, Springer, 2012, 151 c.


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