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Regular version of the site

Lev Lubimov: A Warm Human-Being at the Heart of the HSE

Dr. Lev Lubimov, Professor Emeritus of the HSE’s Chair for Macroeconomic Analysis, helped found the University in the early 1990s and since then has been instrumental in its development by heading the Educational and Methodic Association in Economics and Management, the Scientific and Methodic Council of Education, and the Methodic Association in Logistics. Recently, Professor Marion Wyse of the HSE’s School of Asian Studies met with Dr. Lubimov and, afterwards, filed this special report for the HSE news service.

Dr. Lubimov and I sat in his Pokrovka office on comfortable chairs, sipping green Chinese tea. I felt soothed by his choice of the older style of wood and plush furniture, arranged in a way to make the best use of light coming from the large windows. The huge strong desk in the office was completely covered by papers and books, and the tall bookcase was full of acquisitions made during a life spent researching international sources on the wide range of topics that capture his interest.

 My question to Dr. Lubimov was two-fold: How have the HSE’s branches developed, both institutionally and educationally, and what will their future be, especially in relation to post-graduate research? In a courteous, quiet, and warm manner, he conveyed his deep passion for his life work which is embodied in the building in which we sat and in those located elsewhere, housing all that is the HSE. What he shared with me allowed me to appreciate the deep meaning of the creation process, which enlivens everything he does. He went on to explain what can be called “the heart of the HSE”. 

I hope HSE news readers will enjoy, as I did, learning more about the HSE’s founding, evolution, and future hopes and dreams from Dr. Lubimov’s valuable and varied perspective as a pioneer and leader of this great University. Our conversation is presented in monologue form below and carried in full by the HSE News Service. 

—Marion Wyse

 Dr. Lev Lubimov

 On the HSE’s Beginnings

Today, the HSE has three branches, one in Perm, one in St. Petersburg, and one in Nizhny Novgorod. However, I very much dislike referring to such institutions as “branches” because after 1991, when Soviet power was no more, Russian universities created many branches for the purpose of fabricating diplomas. In the United States, diploma mills adopt the names of Harvard and other Ivy League schools. Unfortunately, as a rule, Russian universities are diploma mills because they were created by the universities themselves. But all of the HSE’s branches were established by the government, exactly the same way Moscow State University’s six branches were. Each new entity of the HSE was founded in reality—with buildings, financial resources, etc. Each started out at the same level and each had the same relationship with our Moscow headquarters.

Why did our government take this route? They had serious reasons for doing so; during Soviet times, economics was a phantom not a reality, not at all close to the mainstream world activity in scholarship as a science. Marxist political economy didn’t stem from Adam Smith!

The day came in 1991 when our country was challenged by the market economy because then Minister of Economics Yegor Gaidar set our prices free forever. What could we, who work in the field of education, do in this situation, having no specialists in market economics? Our universities started teaching our young people right away about the market economy, but unfortunately we didn’t have any real vision of what that meant in reality. At that time, 20 years ago, we had just several dozen people who knew what economics meant at a Harvard level of scholarship. So what emerged was a pseudo-education, with thousands of branches nationwide emerging as diploma mills.

So, in 1997, our government decided to establish the HSE’s three external branches: Nizhny Novgorod, Perm, and St. Petersburg. This was done with the help of then Vice Prime Minister Yacov Urinson, a partner of our current academic supervisor Evgeny Yasin.

On the Perm Branch

The city of Perm
The city of Perm
The Perm branch, which is the farthest from Moscow, is located in a city of one million in a region that is home to three million. None of us was familiar with “real” economics. However, just before 1997, we won a 15 million euro grant from the EU technical assistance grant program to educate adults to teach in high schools, universities, and pedagogical universities. Over the course of those grant years, we prepared about 1,000 school teachers in 600 program hours of intensive training. Simultaneously, using the services of educational institutions from Great Britain (The London School of Economics) and the Netherlands (Erasmus), we launched an educational initiative in the area of higher education. To start with, we prepared 60-65 people. Once the projects were completed and financial resources used up, we invested our own funds to maintain and further develop the professional skills of our staff, especially those in Perm.

Today, our Perm branch is one of Russia’s leading universities; it’s among the top 10-15 schools of higher education. What’s more, it’s a young university. Thirty-eight is the average age of the professors, while in the rest of Russia the average age is 55-60, so this is a major achievement for us. We spent the first 10 years developing high-quality (by international standards) teaching qualifications to create a really top-level teaching entity at a good international level. Ten years is not much time. After that, we started the next programme, doing our best with respect to applied research projects and applied business, which is a bit easier to undertake than theoretical research. I think our Perm branch is a true leader because it has many project agreements with the district’s authorities, deals with different industries in the district and various government activities, and so on.

On Academics, Achievements, and International Connections and Influences

The HSE started out with two levels of educational programmes: the baccalaureate level and the master’s level. At the moment, we have five master’s level programs in Perm in the fields of economics, management, and public administration. And, incidentally, the district government’s specialists are highly involved.  The Perm branch was under the personal leadership of the former district Governor, and sixty high-level government staff members, as well as numerous high-energy, English-speaking young people, have participated in our programmes.

We are very serious about our students’ level of English meeting international standards. We spend, on average, 620 hours on teaching English, and after their sophomore year, students must pass either the IELTS or TOEFL exam. Ours is the only university in Russia with such high standards, and we have them so that our students can communicate with real scholars around the world. Our library and information resources, which are on par with Harvard’s and unique in Russia, have contributed to our success. We subscribe to probably around 100,000 scientific journals in electronic format. Any student or alumnus has complete access to these resources, no matter what city they live in or where they are physically located—such as on a train. Of course, this produces good results, and it’s because of those good results that our Perm branch is, using any set of indicators, the absolute education leader in the district of Perm.

Lev Lubimov at the HSE Perm
Lev Lubimov at the HSE Perm
We spend a lot of our budget, the part that does not include government funds, on bringing international scholars to the HSE and on student mobility—so we fully support all different types of academic mobility. My own small Chair, which focuses on microeconomic theory, has graduates who have gone on to become PhDs at the London School of Economics [the LSE], the University of Canberra, Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Bocconi University in Milan, and the International University of Venice, where professors come from the US. Right now, we also have five young people studying at Stanford University, Bocconi, l’École Normal in Paris, and Erasmus’ Timbergen Research Institute. I hope that in three to four years, my Chair will have a dozen or so PhDs; that would be adequate for the years ahead. As a rule, our students come back to us, but some don’t return. We have an HSE “colony” in the Central Bank of Russia as well as in the International Monetary Fund, and that’s understandable given the starting salary at the World Bank is $100,000, tax-free. That’s real temptation!

At the HSE, we look at the methods used at Stanford and the LSE. My dream is to establish ten professorial contact hours per week per student. The HSE’s entire staff is extremely against this idea, which is understandable since it’s common in our country to assume that students should hear lectures in groups of 25. However, I believe that the only effective method of learning is through one-on-one contact between professor and student, in the professor’s office. One obstacle we face is the poor condition of our buildings. We need fully equipped, adequately sized offices in order for professors to be able to meet for 15-20 minutes daily with students for supervision and consultation. But, of course, for students, self-education is the number one education method.

While serving as First Vice Chancellor of this University during its first ten years, I introduced the principles of Bologna even before the Bologna Conference adopted them in its 1999 Declaration: five modules per year instead of the semester system, and a credit system rating for teachers and students that includes both current and cumulative ratings. This university, the HSE, is an organization and a culture. Incorporating those principles immediately created a special atmosphere for workaholics. Students should be workaholics because even one absence is very dangerous; a red light comes on. After the initial six or seven years of taking this approach, our “buyers”—those who hire our undergraduates and graduate students—told us that, compared to other graduates, our graduates are completely prepared for the working world; they know how to work, and they are ready for real, hard work. All of our graduates have relatively good jobs and good careers so the methods used at Harvard and the LSE are also effective here.

Challenges, Reflections, and Hopes for the Future

One of my dreams is to see a self-study-based educational process at the HSE. Here, in my office, I have journals from all around the world that I purchased myself; the UK, Australia, the US, and Canada. I’ve read them all—with a quantitative and qualitative focus. The HSE is a young institution, not yet ready to research educational issues seriously because education is a kind of an industry. But in the last forty years, is has also become a science like math or physics. Unfortunately, the people who created our educational institution didn’t understand that the scientific sphere of education has a special methodology that includes philosophy, sociology, psychology, and IT. Our people are still held captive by the mythology of pedagogy and so-called “methodology”, where one’s personal style plays a role similar to that of a conductor, as if it is some kind of craft and nothing more. The philosophy of education is something totally different, and that’s why I consider our institute to be in a nascent state right now.

I have many dreams, and I don’t know whether I will be able to see any of my dreams come true someday. The things that are really lacking in the current educational process at our university drive me to want to attain a solid level in the humanities sphere: philosophy, classics, psychology, sociology, and history.

Our brains have two hemispheres; the left is used for analysis—it is a space for math and logic; the right is responsible for intuition, imagination, associative linkages, and insights. Its link is to the humanities. We have the best faculty of philosophy in Russia, but unfortunately it is very small. We need another five to six years to nurture another generation in regard to quality. We have the same situation in sociology. You know, we have specialists in Marxist sociology but no specialists in Plato, Kant, Hegel, and so on. We have the best in the country, but in terms of quantity it’s insufficient. As for history, it’s probably difficult for us to completely do away with our standard approach because Russian historians adhere to very old traditions, viewing history as a set of events and people, nothing more. The mainstream of historical scholarship begins with Hegel. We want Karl Popper and Baudelaire, Foucault, Karl Mannheim, and so on. And, of course, we need the psychology of history. When we were establishing our school of history, we gathered together the people who were familiar with these issues; from the entire country, we assembled 15 or 16 people total. Seventy years of a Bolshevik desert proved catastrophic.

Today, we have a wonderful faculty of history. We didn’t organize a Chair of Russian or Western History but structured it into the Chair of Social History and Economic History, so it doesn’t look like “history” but ‘historia sophia’ as in Buckle’s History of Civilization. Taking this approach with a faculty that includes famous researchers is a radically new phenomenon, and there is only one place in the whole country where this is happening, and it is at our university.

The HSE is something special and unique to the whole country. Presenting the humanities like this in the University is my kind of headache (some may think I’m a bit crazy in that regard). In Russia, many people are talking about a “national idea”, and I think such an idea exists—it is the reconstruction of education in the humanities as general education. Literature, both national and international, takes top priority because literature is the generator of personality—literature is the source of information about the social experiences of other human beings; it is a real solid source for the formation of personalities. Our high school teachers belong to the Soviet era. Russian literature is a great bank of individual social experience, while Western literature is a great bank of society-oriented social experience. Take, for example, Shakespeare, Dickens, and Byron. Unfortunately, our schools are far from taking this approach. In order to form personality, we need literature the way the ancient Greeks created it. We need every child to participate in real, creative activities.

Our resources are, of course, very limited at the moment. But, recently, we bought some Steinways (and they’re not cheap) as the basis for organizing piano competitions with international juries and contestants. Everything is going well so far; we just need more time. We are planting seeds, nurturing our garden. I had hoped this year that we could establish a conservatory in Perm, which has an opera house. The main conductor is Teodor Currentzis who hailsfrom Greece. He has assembled an entire symphonic orchestra and opera singers from Russia and all over the world, and when Teodor Currentzis asked for a conservatory, the former Governor of Perm agreed to fund one. But that Governor is gone now, and a new Governor has taken his place, so my beloved Perm branch has no conservatory.

We interact with a lot of different businesses in the Perm region. I spearheaded the establishment of High School No. 10, which uses the Geneva International Baccalaureate system, the highest level diploma programme. I also spearheaded the establishment of two other schools, not just in Perm. When I stop to think about it, I’ve helped establish a lot of schools in many other cities. I guess you could say it’s my hobby.

Lev Lubimov at High School #31, a HSE's partner in Perm
Lev Lubimov at High School #31, a HSE's partner in Perm
On a recent Saturday, my colleagues and I were brainstorming with respect to Russian education. To me as an economist, education is based on two fundamental principles that were recognized centuries ago: rationality and the maximization of pleasure, or following one’s bent. The “boss” principle does not work anymore here in Russia, so we need a new theory based on those two principles.

These days, the world follows a speculative economy, a mixed economy, because the eastern genie is unfortunately freed from the Keynesian bottle, walking around the world in the financial sphere, and is extremely dangerous. The world domestic product is about $20 trillion, and the speculative one is much higher. This is not rational behavior. What should be done? Nobody knows, and today’s famous economists are afraid to deal with this, however, Keynes warned us.

I don’t see any decisions being made, and the only approach that can work in education is a cross-disciplinary one. This requires some other theory, some other concepts, like entropy from physics. It makes sense to look at society as an object for social entropy, since society is a great set of linkages and interrelations, and a bank of interactions; some are constantly being added while others are melting away Which tendency will dominate? The tendency to add or the tendency to melt? What can you do with entropy? This is an issue nobody is risking to research right now.

Take populism, a new ideology of the last fifty years, which I think is very important for a new political economy; forget Adam Smith. This is a moment not only for economics but also for political science, anthropology, and criminology because populism belongs to bureaucracy, which is a whole industry, a great bank of services not linked with real cost accounting. Alicia Munnell of Boston University and Larry Summers, Clinton’s chief of the US Treasury Department, are the only ones to have considered this, five or six years ago after the crash in Argentina. I’m trying to compile a list of cross-disciplinary concepts from different writers, scientists, and scholars, from physics, Habermas, Michael Baktin, and Fromm as well.

As Chair, I recommend to my young colleagues that they include in their research issues pertaining to political economy. Populism is only one issue. Corruption is a second issue. Leisure time is also a point worth considering: just twenty years ago, someone was talking about working time and noted that the average US worker put in 3,600 working days in the first decade of the last century, and in the last decade—just 1,800 days. So leisure time has doubled.

We are similar to the US with regard to retiring baby boomers and corporations not hiring senior citizens. For our educational profession, the first priority has to be education for older people. It’s a headache now for the US and for us; not yet for China, but just wait—that will change! We would bring the old in with the young. You know, Marx had this thought, and he called it “direct sociality”, which accompanies my own vision of human history. Look, I’ll show you. [Dr. Lubimov began to draw.] We have multiple angles, different determinations of development: biological, security, economic, then direct. Which one is dominant? The answer is the biological one with a focus on reproduction. Second comes security, and, after that, the economic one. In the 19th century, you could not distinguish who was who from people’s clothing due to mass production, the satisfaction of this economic determination. Later, FDR started social programs; I can’t recall who did that in your homeland Canada. Then we were faced with the leisure time issue. Marx called this “direct sociality”, when in a perfect world humanity could devote such time to self-development, music, and the arts. Is this happening in reality? No, not really.

So this is the issue: what’s happening with leisure time? Have you heard of the Italian socialist Antonio Gramsci? He said that the 10 amendments to the US Constitution were the corps of human rights, from the golden age of America. Gramsci knew that no revolution could win such rights, so he proposed another way to mend the value system of capitalism. Max Weber reminded us that the real creator of capitalism was Martin Luther, so what method can melt this corps of human rights, to create instead rights for the ‘sins’ of marginal groups: the deviants, the poor who are not capitalists? This is how leisure time is being used, to obtain rights for others who two centuries ago were not even a speck on the horizon for the authorities. No one could have imagined two centuries ago that parliaments would include such ‘sins’ on their agendas. What was a sin is now a virtue.

So we have much research to do on this new agenda, and we are responsible for this as a University. My dream is for the HSE to be an integral part of the world of academia because I believe that academia is the greatest human achievement, the greatest Christian achievement. It is an alternative to the church. It is a temple where what is true is created, where truth is disseminated, where the treasury of truth is academia and the god of the university is “ethos”, setting up ethics as the pattern for human morality—the moral code for all humans. The problem is that Russia’s higher education system dropped ethos. Ethos only exists when education includes the humanities.

But, that said, we are heading in the right direction. The HSE is the only university in the whole of Russia where you’ll never hear of drugs, bribes, or cheating. We have a special anti-plagiarism programme so that no student can turn in an essay or special writing assignment without first having earned a certificate from that programme. That’s putting a spotlight on a potential negative. To showcase the positive, we need the humanities.

June 03, 2013