Capitalism is Popular with Students in Moscow
Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad published an article on the HSE .
NRC Handelsblad - 6 JUNE 2009
By Michel Krielaars
RUSSIA - ALSO IN TIME OF CRISIS OF CAPITALISM OPTIMISTIC STUDENTS FLOCK TO BUSINESS SCHOOL IN MOSCOW FOR AN MBA
CAPITALISM IS POPULAR WITH STUDENTS IN MOSCOW
In the old Soviet-Union economics was not a science but theology. A new university started in 1992 with a new approach of the study. The students are optimistic "We hold the future in our own hands".
"Discussing, confronting each other - that is what politics is about"says Valeria Kasamara. "That was the atmosphere in the nineties in Russia. People had disagreements about political issues and did not want to meet each other anymore. Nowadays people only get wound up about extremism."The 33-year old political scientist is almost at the end of her lecture "The party system in modern Russia". She walks through contemporary Russian history each week for two hours, from the abolition of absolute power of the Communist Party and the rise of democracy during Gorbachev's rule to the reversal of democratic reforms under Putin. "For my students the era of Gorbachev is something that belongs in a museum", Kasamara tells me.
The students applaud the enthusiastic Kasamara at the end of her lecture. "It is so interesting to find out more about how things used to be", says 20-year old Anna Doroukina as she leaves the auditorium. "Only then you can understand what is really going on in our country nowadays". However, as most of the other students at the political science faculty of the Higher School of Economics (HSE) she does not judge these developments. "That is the way it goes in Russia"she says approvingly. What does she want to do later in life? "Political public relations, for example with the pro-Kremlin party United Russia."
Valeria Kasamara is one of the many young lecturers at HSE, a top university in the heart of Moscow with 11 000 students en branches in Perm and Nizhny Novgorod. A degree from HSE is a guarantee for a successful career in Russia or abroad. Former students have jobs with banks and on stock markets around the world, from Wall Street to London City, Frankfurt and Tokyo. They are representatives of a modern generation of Russians that is totally different from the nationalistic, conservative image that Putin and Medvedev present to the world of their country.
"About 10 to 15% of our graduates want to work in the West with a preference for a bank or multinational", says Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov in the main building of HSE in Moscow's Myasnitskaya street. "Another 10 to 15% want to become civil servants - a growing number. And 50 to 60% will opt for a job as manager or economist with a Russian company. Their initial salary is about 1000$ per month. And despite the crisis none of our graduates have lost their job."
HSE was created seventeen years ago - with the financial support of the EU and intellectual support of the Erasmus University in Rotterdam - by a group of liberal, democratic economists such as Evgeny Yasin, Yegor Gaidar and the then 35-year old economic historian Yaroslav Kuzminov. "All of a sudden Russia had to study market economy and Western economic theories"says Kuzmionv remembering this exciting but chaotic time. "In Communism economy was not a science but theology of the State. All this changed after 1992."
In all aspects HSE is a modern university, although not all staff is pro political and economic reforms. A part of the 750 lecturers gives advice to the current government, one person is an ideologist of the pro-Kremlin party United Russia others strongly criticize this same government. Kuzminov adds "HSE is the analytical centre for the Medvedev administration and prime minister Putin. We have given them advice for the past three years. Professors such as Yevgeny Yasin are part of the Social Advisory Board of the president and we consult various ministers on possible political and social reforms. In the end it is their decision what to do with our socio-economic advice. Next to being a university HSE is also a socio-economic research centre with a budget of about 200 million dollar. "Half of this income is generated through projects for the Russian government"discloses Kuzminov.
Freedom of speech is preciously cherished within the HSE buildings. When four student were arrested earlier this year during a demonstration of opposition parties and the police requested that the students would be banned from the school professor Kasamara told a radio station that no such measures would be taken. A spokesperson for rector Kuzminov said that as long as the students have good grades there would be no reason to oust them.
Where it is quite easy to enter the other universities in Russia, entering HSE is rather difficult. The entry-exam is hard and once admitted the rat race begins. "About seventy five percent of the students finish their education successfully"says Kuzminov. "This is not a high percentage compared to other universities where the success rate is close to hundred percent. At HSE you can fail, but that just strengthens our image. You have to work really hard here. For example, our students write two to three essays a day."
In a small room two economy students check their Spanish homework. Twenty years old Kiril Vinokurov wants to become a stock broker or financial analyst. He says "I came to HSE because it is a renowned institution, with education on a very high level. I had to take the entry-exam three times. Because I failed two times I have to pay thirty percent of the tuition fee. If you pass the first time you study for free".
The other student is Viktoria Tjernobrivjets, eighteen years old. She was admitted straight away because she won the Mathematics Olympiad in high school. Viktoria tells "I chose Spanish as extra course. Maybe I would like to work in Latin-America. Spanish is one of the leading languages in world finance. After I graduate I hope to work for a big company. I might like to study abroad for another year, although I doubt it, because I am a patriot. And most of all I would like to marry a wealthy man."
Vice rector Tatjana Tchetvernina heads, amongst other activities, the HSE career centre where the seminar "Career in times of crisis"just finished. "Initially when we opened the centre the students collected information on interesting companies and invited them to come and present the company"explains Tchetvernina. "Now the situation is reversed. Twice or three times a year companies give master classes at the centre. That way they can see what kind of students we have here. Nowadays Russia especially needs people with economic knowledge."
The magnitude of this need becomes clear at the HSE Business School located in a very distinguished building in the centre of Moscow where students are prepped as Master in Business Administration. Every night the students park their German and Japanese mid-range cars in front of the door. Dozens of employees from banks, insurance companies and project developers take three courses a week and the entire Saturday for two years in order to get the diploma.
Inside, seventy-eight year old professor Entov is having tea with deputy director Aleksandr Poesjko. Entov is internationally known in the financial world. "If I write a complex formula on the blackboard around nine thirty the students are not able to follow anymore"he says. "I present the difficult issues at the beginning of the course. I keep the anecdotes for after the break."Poesjko stresses that the institute does not have an academic approach. "We also invite specialist from the central bank or leading financial institutions to teach our students the specific knowledge on banking."
"Most of the time the students do not exactly know what they are doing at their work. We explain them, for example by following specific procedures, they can improve their work. Sometimes they tell us they have been doing things following certain procedures without understanding why. If they finally understand they become much more productive." A few minutes later the lecture of professor Entov starts. It is an inspiring combination of his monologue and a dialogue with the students. Based on a graph Entov illustrates how market capital works and until what level you can invest without risk. He quotes Laertes, the misled murderer of Hamlet symbolizing the way things can you wrong.
During coffee break, at eight thirty, Vladimir Ploninov, a 28 year old employee of Alfa Bank relaxes a bit. "It is so hard, but this course is good for my career. Every week I have ten hours of classes all this outside working hours". He is very enthusiastic about Entov. "He is a good professor. He stimulates us to discuss things". His 31 years old collegue Michail Kritsjnov agrees "I am legal expert and have been working as an economist for Alfa Bank since 2001. It is true I have a lot of professional experience but you never know what the future brings. That is why I take this course which I pay for from my own money and which keeps me away from my wife and kids."As many students at HSE he is positive about the future not withstanding the economic crisis. "Our country is not at war and still has many possibilities. We hold the future in our own hands."