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Regular version of the site

'Learning What You Really Need'

Anastasia Likhacheva shares her thoughts on some applicants' fears, the turn to the East, and the 'new internationality'

© Daniil Prokofyev/ HSE University

Anastasia Likhacheva was appointed Dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs in November 2021. During her first six months in this position, she has faced numerous new challenges. In her interview with HSE University Life, she explains how she and the Faculty have been coping, why she spent just one year working outside of academia, and how prospective students can rethink their future careers in international relations.

—The first few months in your new position must have been rather intense. What was it like for you?

—These months have been anything but relaxing, but we are doing okay. Having spent most of my adult life with HSE University, I am certainly not a novice here, and without the advantage of knowing the University from the inside out, I would have had a much tougher time. During these months, my colleagues and I needed to take a fresh look at how the key processes at the Faculty are designed and managed – in particular, in the educational sphere. We spent quite a lot of time on academic committee discussions to get a better idea of how our Bachelors' and Masters' programmes should be modified and updated. Now that most students do not know for sure where and in what position they will work after they graduate, it is essential to teach them new approaches, knowledge and skills. Rather than outdated content from old textbooks which was relevant yesterday or the day before yesterday, students need to learn things which are relevant today and will be relevant tomorrow. This means that our programmes today address many questions which are still open and unresolved, but this makes them all the more interesting, I believe. We are setting a very ambitious goal – not to simply adjust how world economics is taught, but to work together with our students and researchers to examine the emerging new contours of the world economy in real time and to teach young people to operate within this new uncertainty, always being ready to respond quickly and to discover new markets. We will be entering the upcoming academic year with a whole range of exciting new courses taught by the brilliant professors and young researchers who have recently joined us. 

—In what direction are your educational programmes changing? What is the situation with double-degree programmes?

—The double-degree programme with the University of London has changed its name. Our London partners will keep their commitments to the students already in the programme, who will receive double degrees. New students will enrol in a programme with a different name: the International Bachelor's Programme in World Politics. It is essentially the same programme, with its tried and tested courses in academic disciplines, an international academic council, compliance with all the standards of international programmes, instruction in English, and numerous innovations implemented since the programme was first launched – but without a degree from the University of London. The tuition fee will be lower without the second degree, but the quality, as I have said, will be maintained. Indeed, the programme quality has to a large extent been upheld due to HSE faculty’s commitment; according to students, their teachers in Russia were often more demanding than those in London.

As for our other Double Degree Programme with Kyung Hee University, it will continue and expand. We expect a high degree of interest in this programme, because students will earn a second degree from a prominent Korean university; instruction is in English starting from the first year of study, plus an oriental language is taught, also from year one. The programme’s area of study is Asian economy and politics, and each student selects one of the tracks available. Students will spend at least one semester in Korea in their third year of study, and those who have chosen the Chinese or Japanese tracks will spend their second semester in one of the programme's partner universities. We had our first graduates from this programme this year. We also offer a Master's programme with Kyung Hee University and look forward to expanding our cooperation. 

In addition, we have been working on launching a joint programme with Chinese universities, and we have been in consultation with several of our partners from BRICS countries, so there are other options available as well. The reason for engaging with international partners is not only to be able to offer double-degree options, but also because, in our experience, international cooperation in education with committed and interested partners adds value. If anything, in some countries we are seeing even more interest and willingness to work together.

—What about other programmes? What kind of changes do you expect?

—The main change, of course, will be associated with the long-talked-about turn to the East and to some other regions. Generally speaking, people who are learning French can now see that they need to expand their expertise and look not only to France but also to certain regions of Africa, for example, and those who are learning Spanish are increasingly looking towards Latin America. It is our objective to add as many projects and partners as possible to broaden such opportunities. We are now launching a series of strategic dialogues with China, India, Latin America, and Iran and expect to build foundations that will increase the number of our partners and internship opportunities for students. Over the past six months, we have developed new approaches to international mobility and updated some existing ones. Unfortunately, during the two years of the pandemic it became the new normal for our doctoral students and young (or not so young) researchers not to travel to their studied regions. Today, we are trying our best to send people out again to do field research whenever possible.

Unfortunately, China is still closed due to the pandemic, but this year a few of our students have won an All-China competition to study there. We have actively participated in remote internships with China and are now making every effort to send people there in person so they can build their networks of contacts. This is essential for orientalists and other specialists in international affairs. 

We will also conduct a series of field studies in Central Asia, India and Turkey; this May, we held a large conference involving many Latin American countries, attended by ambassadors, international and Russian researchers, and, most importantly, by our students who were able to network with peers from that region. The Centre for African Studies has been active recently, and we held a round table with our African colleagues. On both sides, we are interested in expert exchanges and are considering creating a centre of regional expertise and a centre for transfer of competencies. We are taking a broader look at the world map, and I really like it. 

—Eastern studies have traditionally been a strong area of focus for your Faculty. Is it possible to say that people who are not interested in the East have nothing to do at the Faculty today?

—Of course not. All experts in other regions have retained and even strengthened their specialisations, and the demand for their expertise has been growing. But in today’s world, a lot of people share an interest in Eastern studies. We can feel it, for example, during our annual Orientalist Day that we celebrate at the end of May. This year, we had more than 700 visitors, including prospective and current students and other people with an interest in the East. Our colleagues at the School of Asian Studies run a project entitled 'The Asian Century' that provides plenty of useful knowledge, even for non-orientalists, and attracts enormous interest. We have also observed a change in applicants' attitudes. Oriental studies used to be considered a tough choice, because learning the language was seen as so difficult. Today, applicants are enthusiastic about this field and choose it with what seems to be a sense of adventure. The number of student initiatives in Eastern studies is almost overwhelming, and we are happy to encourage them. These initiatives focus on various aspects of Eastern culture and include cinema clubs and projects in visual arts, sometimes implemented in collaboration with museums, and also translations and digital oriental studies. This is a new and different perspective on the East which is more in line with the role of the East today. In a sense, we are picking up this enthusiasm from students, and this is great.

—Let us talk about you. You mentioned having spent almost all of your adult life with HSE. Could you expand on this?

—Actually, not quite all of my life. When I was twenty, I went to work for a large consulting company and spent more than a year with them. But since my final years in secondary school, I had been preparing to enrol in HSE's Faculty of Economics. I enrolled, and while I was studying Economics and Company Finance, I found the corporate world really captivating: the harsh, dramatic reality of mergers and acquisitions, stylish offices and tough professionals. I passed a fairly rigorous selection process, got a prestigious corporate job, and combined work and study during my fourth year at HSE.

It was hard, but I was euphoric: my company served the frontrunners of Russia's business sector, and I worked on some really challenging cases. I was immersed in corporate culture to the extent that if someone was unable to keep up a conversation about stock prices or the due diligence process, then perhaps we had little else to talk about. While remaining in this mode, I defended my degree and passed my state exams at HSE and was promoted twice at work. Then I quit my job and went on to study something totally different without any clear plans for my future career. 

What was the reason for this change?

—After my state exams, I took a brief vacation and travelled with my parents to visit their diplomat friends over the May holidays. Suddenly, I found myself among people of a completely different culture: historians, architects, art critics and writers. They knew nothing at all about stock prices but looked suspiciously enthusiastic and happy. Suddenly, this caused me to reset my focus: I imagined myself as someone ten years older working in the profession I had at the time, and did not like the picture. I wanted to work with, and to learn from, people of a different mindset, and to look at the world through diverse lenses other than just finance. I decided that international relations was a great option for me.

What was your vision of a career in international relations?

—I had no vision at all, that’s the point. I remember having a conversation with my father about it. Being a specialist in international relations himself, he asked me, 'Why, what do you want to be? You don't want to be a diplomat, do you?' - 'No, I don't'. - 'What do you want to be then?' - 'An expert!' — 'What kind of expert?' - 'A good one ...'  Not knowing exactly what I wanted, I intuitively followed my interest – which was to examine the interaction of economics and politics in international relations, because neither of them alone seemed to provide a good explanation of current events. After the first semester of my Master's programme, my academic supervisor invited me to work as a research assistant at the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies (CCEIS), and I happily accepted, because that was exactly what interested me. Indeed, this sense of creative freedom in studying the subjects of my interest determined my choice of career in academia. This applies to all aspects of an academic career: research, expert consultancy and teaching – all of it is about doing what you are passionate about.

How did the offer to lead the Faculty come about? What was it like to become a dean at very young age?

—The idea first came from Sergey Karaganov several months ago and became reality last November. When we were ready to make the transition, it went really quickly thanks to support from colleagues at all levels. I had been with the University for 13 years but was still unfamiliar with some processes and needed to catch up rapidly. As for my age, it is a longstanding practice for both the University and for my Faculty to promote younger people – for example, when the founder of a certain field of study becomes an academic supervisor or chooses to focus on a small-scale and complex educational programme, their former doctoral student often replaces them as the head of the unit.

This has always been the guiding principle for CCEIS: originally a very small team, they took on young aspiring researchers, helped them grow, and eventually let them go to pursue projects of their own. By looking at the academic council of our Faculty, you will see a mix of ages – from very young to more senior. 

What are some of the fears you observe in your current and prospective students and how do you respond?

—The most straightforward and natural fear is shared by everyone but clearly expressed by applicants in particular: where will I be – and what will the world be like – four years from now? Our position on this matter is unambiguous: no one can tell with certainty what the world will be like in four years. Anyone who claims that they know in detail what the world will be like is either lying or ill-informed. However, we understand exactly what kind of knowledge and skills are relevant today and will be relevant later on. We also know that having spent several years with our Faculty and in our environment, having adopted our approaches to studying the world, its economy, politics and culture and our understanding of the role of the East and different countries' and companies' outlook on international cooperation, having learned to work hard (studying here is challenging), anyone will be better prepared to enter any door that might open up. Saying that they will graduate to take a specific job or position would be a totally different approach to education, and one which I do not find appropriate today. Instead, we guarantee to our students – and they trust us on this – that by choosing our Faculty, they will be taking a comprehensive view on the world which is not rigidly separated into economics, politics and culture but integrated in its diversity. They will have the opportunity to learn the right things from the right people and to apply their learning immediately in small and specific ways while still studying. I am sure that with this learning, they will have nothing to fear but rather will see expansive and exciting career paths opening up ahead for them. Yes, we all have this overarching fear of what might happen to this world and where it is heading. We cannot take responsibility for this, but we can teach students to deal with this fear and to understand the trends.

Photos by Daniil Prokofyev/ HSE University

June 30