The Faculty of Economics: The Oldest at a Young University

The November issue of The HSE LooK continues our series profiling the new breakdown of HSE Faculties. This time we will bring the Faculty of Economics into the spotlight. The Faculty’s Dean, Oleg Zamulin, explains how the faculty was formed and outlines the current major development priorities.  This article is based on a conversation with Prof. Zamulin.

This is how the university emerged…

The Faculty of Economics was founded in 1992 and at that time it was known as the Higher School of Economics. The body of professors was created as a result of a campaign aimed at gathering Russia’s best economists under one roof. Some of them came from Moscow State University, others had worked at research institutes in Moscow and other cities. The basic principle was formulated at the outset: “We try to teach economics as it is known in the international academic world. There should be no difference between economics taught in North America, Europe, Russia or any other country. There is one common economic theory,” explains the dean. This objective encouraged active cooperation with European universities such as the Sorbonne and Humboldt University. International agreements were signed and HSE professors were frequent visitors to western universities to learn how to create progressive academic programmes and curricula. As a result, an educational institution was formed where economic disciplines were studied in a completely new way for Russia.

“For obvious historical reasons Russian economists had been significantly isolated from the international academic community. Consequently, Russian economic science was not integrated into the global profession. Moreover, there is hardly a common ground shared by Russian economists inside the country,” Prof. Zamulin adds. “There is a tendency for many colleagues in Russian universities and institutes to work in the framework of their own economic theory which they apply and develop. Because of this, many of our Russian colleagues remain separated from the economic science as it is taught at Harvard or the HSE. Despite such obstacles we are continuing to work on improving the situation in higher education in Russia as far as economic disciplines are concerned. We promote the international integration of Russian economic science, and hope that the very term “Russian economic science” will cease to exist. There is one common economic science studied by economists all over the world, and we are either part of it or not.”

Going international

Following the pioneering International College of Economics and Finance (ICEF), the Faculty of Economics moved to a new level of development by hiring their first full time international academic in 2008. Later on, the faculty moved from hiring on an ad hoc basis to international recruitment as a regular strategy. “This influx of ‘fresh blood’ with PhDs from leading universities from abroad is essential, as unfortunately there is no similar resource at home. This is what helps us set goals and reach them. We are especially interested in attracting colleagues specializing in the areas underrepresented at our faculty. International economics, for instance, is not our strongest field, and we need to hire experts in international trade, capital flows and other similar areas,” says the dean.

Structural reform

In many ways the Faculty of Economics was a pioneer of transformation – they were the first at the HSE to eliminate the old kafedra system (“kafedra” is a traditional division in a Russian university devoted to a particular discipline) and move towards the internationally universal department system.  The Faculty of Economics currently consists of five academic departments: the Department of Theoretical Economics, the Department of Applied Economics, the Department of Finance, the Department of Mathematics, and the Department of Statistics and Data. The structural reform connected with the formation of “big” faculties will influence the Faculty of Economics to a smaller extent than other faculties undergoing this transformation. The change will reveal itself in the fact that the faculty will gain several associated units in the form of research institutes, international labs and expert centres. The International College of Economics and Finance (ICEF) will also become an associated unit of the Faculty. Prof. Zamulin explains: “ICEF is a separate faculty, so in our case it will be an alliance of equal entities. ICEF will remain independent regarding such issues as faculty management, academic programmes, and academic staff recruitment. At the same time ICEF as well as other associated units will start taking a more active part in the joint work of expert committees, academic commissions, and councils of different kinds.”

“The goal is clear and we know how to reach it”

Beyond their direct duties the academic staff is involved in various community service at national or local level: “I believe it’s an essential part of our mission to work for the benefit of the city and the country as a whole. Many of the things we do as part of our profession is devoted to this aim. If I understand something in macroeconomics, it’s my duty as an academic to participate in public discussions on this topic. The same is true for my colleagues working in other spheres,” the dean says.

As for the primary activities of the faculty - research and teaching - the dean is optimistic: “We strive to meet the best international practices and standards. Of course, there is a long way ahead of us before we gain recognition from the international academic community as one of the leading economic faculties, nevertheless, the goal is clear and we know how to approach it”.
Oleg Zamulin defended his PhD thesis in economics at the University of Michigan in 2001. Before joining the HSE Zamulin worked as an Assistant Professor at the New Economic School (NES) where he also held several administrative positions from 2001 – 2011, as lead economist at the Centre for Economic and Financial Research in Moscow, and was a visiting lecturer and researcher at Stockholm Institute for Transition Economies. Since 2011 Zamulin has been the Dean of the HSE Faculty of Economics and a professor at the Department of Theoretical Economics. Zamulin teaches courses in macroeconomics and runs a freshman seminar in economic thinking. He was selected by students as being one of the best instructors in 2011, 2013 and 2014. Beyond work Prof. Zamulin enjoys spending time with his wife Olga, who is also a professor at the faculty, and their three children.

The full text of the issue can be found in Issue 9 (16), November 2014. If you are not on our regular mailing list yet, please subscribe and get fresh issues of The HSE LooK every month!