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Regular version of the site

'Those Who Choose Sociology, Political Science, Psychology, or Governance Today Cannot Do without IT'

HSE Faculty of Social Sciences celebrates its tenth anniversary

© HSE University

In late April 2014, the Faculty of Social Sciences was established at HSE University by integrating four existing faculties of sociology, psychology, applied political science, and public administration and governance. Today, over 5,000 students are enrolled in its educational programmes, with more than 300 instructors teaching classes. In this interview for HSE University Life, Professor Andrei Y. Melville, Dean of the Faculty, discusses its evolution over the past decade, its achievements, expectations for applicants, the upcoming admissions campaign, and why every humanities scholar needs to study computer science.

— Professor Melville, how did the idea of creating this faculty originate?

— In 2014, a structural reform was implemented at HSE University, leading to the establishment of megafaculties, with the Faculty of Social Sciences becoming one of them. Attached to the megafaculties were the so-called associated subdivisions. Today, the Faculty of Social Sciences comprises seven research centres and institutes, and five laboratories. These include the Institute of Education, the Institute of Demography, the Institute for Social Policy, the Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience, the Institute for Public Administration and Governance and others, all of them quite prominent at HSE University.

— Could you describe the educational programmes offered by the Faculty of Social Sciences?

— The faculty currently offers 24 bachelor's and master's programmes, and their development continues primarily through the introduction of new educational tracks. Additionally, there are five doctoral schools, one of which specialises in education.

We offer four traditional bachelor's programmes, including 'Sociology,' 'Psychology,' 'Political Science', and 'Public Administration,' and a new one in 'Computational Social Sciences' (CSS), integrating subject instruction with comprehensive training in digital tools and services. This year marks the third enrolment cycle for the latter programme. Students enrolled in any of the four traditional programmes can transfer to the CSS programme in their first year by passing a mathematics exam, but there is no separate enrolment in it based on the results of the USE and Olympiads.

The launch of this programme has been a significant victory for the faculty. Its graduates will earn degrees in two fields of study: the one they originally enrol in, as well as 'Applied Mathematics and Information Science.' There are plans underway to develop a similar master's programme.

— And how are things regarding the master's programmes? Are there any particularly noteworthy ones?

— Our master's programmes are distinguished by ongoing updates aimed at integrating the latest advancements in science, meeting employer demands, and aligning with the expectations of prospective students. The faculty offers nearly 20 master's programmes in five areas.

One example is the master's in 'Politics. Economics. Philosophy' created eight years ago through efforts of various faculties at HSE University. Its content undergoes continual evolution, with new tracks emerging, and it still draws significant interest from European and American applicants. Its Academic Supervisor, my first deputy Mikhail Mironyuk, is deeply dedicated to the programme, adeptly manages the educational process, maintains continuous engagement with students, and provides guidance to applicants. Indeed, all of our academic supervisors are highly committed professionals.

© HSE University

Within each field of study, two types of programmes are represented to varying degrees: some emphasise in-depth methodology, while others focus on applied problem-solving. In Psychology, certain programmes are designed to train researchers, while others focus on training consulting psychologists, psychotherapists, and more broadly, practicing psychologists. There are programs for sociologists that emphasise the methodology for in-depth analysis of social data, while others focus on specific aspects of our society, such as demography.

I believe this balance of content enables us to attract a diverse range of students, thereby enriching our community and fostering conditions for productive advancement of social sciences.

Full-fee paying master's programmes also thrive at the faculty, with the most sought-after and commercially successful ones being in Psychology.

— How is the integration of various subject fields achieved at the faculty? Is there any interaction, for example, between sociologists and political scientists?

— Interdisciplinary collaboration is notably prominent in our laboratories, as evidenced by their names, such as the Politics & Psychology Research Laboratory, the Laboratory for Psychology of Social Inequality, and the Laboratory for Studies in Economic Sociology headed by Vadim Radaev. Studies at the intersection of sociology, psychology, and public administration and governance have been conducted, for example, by the Institute of Education.

In the mid-2010s, we initiated the annual international conference of early-career scientists 'Alliance of Social Sciences' to bring together students from various educational programmes related to social issues, not only within HSE University but also from other institutions. The seventh conference, held last November, was centred around the theme 'Social Sciences in Transformation: Interdisciplinarity and Practice Orientation as Vectors of Development,' showcasing primarily interdisciplinary research.

© HSE University

In general, establishing a regular scientific dialogue at the faculty posed a significant challenge for us. Due to the diversity of fields of study, creating a single scientific seminar encompassing all of them could be too challenging. Therefore, we opted to maintain diversity by hosting a multitude of scientific seminars. We have devised a special format for working groups comprising faculty members, as well as graduate and undergraduate students. These working groups convene to conduct regular seminars on specific topics. Among other benefits, this approach facilitates the creation and development of new teams comprised of early-career researchers, with the potential for eventual transformation into dedicated laboratories.

Social sciences perhaps do not fall within easily commercialised fields of knowledge. An important objective during these years has been to establish infrastructure and incentives for the implementation of not only fundamental but also applied scientific projects by the teams. To achieve this, the faculty has established an Applied Research Support Programme, offering additional financial incentives to teams that secure external funding.

I would like to stress that the Faculty of Social Sciences is not isolated academically; we are open to collaboration not only with other faculties at HSE University but also with various research centres and universities. It is no coincidence that the Faculty of Social Sciences leads in the number of mirror laboratories established at HSE University with other Russian universities. However, we not only use cooperation formats which already exist at HSE University but also introduce new ones. With our faculty's active involvement, HSE University signed a consortium agreement with MGIMO, establishing a format for scientific, educational, and expert cooperation between the two institutions as part of joint efforts to implement a large-scale study in the field of political sciences.

— What new subdivisions have emerged at the faculty over the past decade?

— There have been numerous new subdivisions.

These include the Centre for Stability and Risk Analysis, established in 2015. Initially, its status was that of a laboratory, and today it specialises in studying various manifestations of socio-political destabilisation, both at the global level and within macro-regions. In particular, they have a strong focus on studying the Afrasian zone of instability, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, and the post-Soviet space.

The centre’s researchers conduct both quantitative studies using specialised databases and qualitative research, drawing on unique data collected during numerous field studies.

© HSE University

In the same year 2015, we launched the Joint Department with the Centre for Political Technologies established by Igor Bunin. At the Joint Department, students gain practical work experience by participating in the centre's projects, serving as a prime example of industry engagement.

— How are international relations developing? What changes have taken place in the last two years?

— The types of our foreign partners have, of course, changed, and we are actively engaged in establishing relationships with universities in several countries across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. For instance, the School of Politics and Governance has been particularly active in cultivating relations with colleagues in China. There are prospects for creating joint educational programmes with African, Brazilian, and Indonesian universities. We are still at the outset of this journey and are making every effort to enhance the dynamism and efficiency of this process.

In addition to our international contacts, we have been active in cultivating ties with universities in the Russian regions, such as the Republic of Bashkortostan, Krasnoyarsk Region, and others.

© HSE University

— How is the situation with human resources at the faculty? Are young people joining your team?

— Over the past ten years, an exceptional team has formed at the Faculty of Social Sciences—comprising highly creative, responsible, and dedicated people for whom I feel deep respect and gratitude. This team comprises individuals of various ages. Thanks to their efforts, our faculty consistently ranks among the leaders in the annual KPI assessment.

That being said, I firmly believe that young people are our hope, and it cannot be otherwise. Members of the new generation typically have a good grasp of modern AI technologies and are willing to apply them in their work. Among the young individuals currently working at the faculty, there are those who have chosen HSE University after receiving education abroad, foregoing promising positions at Western universities.

— How popular are social sciences among school students and applicants today, considering the competition from the IT field?

— There have always been and will always be young people inclined towards social and humanitarian knowledge, and the demand for IT is unlikely to significantly reduce their numbers. Another point to consider is that those who choose sociology, political science, psychology, or governance today cannot do without IT tools. There is a growing interest in quantitative methods and artificial intelligence in our fields, and a graduate who has mastered these tools gains added value in the labour market.

This applies not only to the CSS educational programme but also to any education in the field of social sciences.

— Are you satisfied with the quality of applicants?

— Yes, we are content with the enrolment. Similar to other faculties at HSE University, our applicants are winners of Olympiads with high USE scores. Our faculty enjoys a well-established system of school outreach—this used to be the responsibility of Kirill Sorvin, who has since been appointed Deputy Vice Rector of USE University and replaced by Sergey Kurginyan in this former position.

© HSE University

We have been offering a field school for high school students, and it is in high demand. Parents are willing to pay for their children to attend, which indicates its popularity. Our faculty has launched 'Teacher as HSE Faculty Partner' project focusing on social studies teachers. Recently other faculties have been adopting this practice, and additional subject areas have emerged in our project.

— In about a month, prospective students will begin submitting their enrolment applications. What qualities would you hope to see in applicants for the Faculty of Social Sciences?

— We hope to see applicants who are highly motivated and passionate, who have chosen a particular social science as their top priority. In my opinion, psychologists are the best at attracting passionate applicants, but our other fields of study do not lack such applicants either.

A couple of months ago, we conducted a School of Social Sciences for high school students at the Voronovo Training Centre. The competition to attend was significant. I gave a lecture there, and afterward, the audience kept me engaged for more than an hour. I was amazed at how well-read they were and at their ability to listen and ask good questions. These 10th and 11th-grade students from various regions knew the names of political scientists from different eras and referenced their research. This indicates that they find time to read books beyond the school curriculum and stay informed about current events, which I find very important.

May 21