The International Center for the Study of Institutions and Development (ICSID)

The International Center for the Study of Institutions and Development (ICSID) was established in 2011 and is led by Andrei Yakovlev and Timothy M. Frye. It brings together researchers in economics and political science from HSE, Columbia University, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Emory University, Middlebury College and UCLA. Initially funded by a governmental grant for three years, the Center secured funding to continue its research and currently implements several projects: (1) Collective action;(2) Incentives for bureaucracy in Russia and China; (3) Social capital, trust, and cultural norms; (4) Political elites and economic performance in Russia; (5) Social Policy and Vocational Education.

Thomas Remington, Leading Research Fellow at the HSE and Goodrich C. White Professor of Political Science at Emory University, spoke to The HSE Look about the ICSID’s research projects.

Which topics is the ICSID working on?

We are united by the interest in political economy and in the ways in which the institutions affect social and economic results, and how political and economic conditions, in turn, foster the development of different forms of institutions. This is pure institutional analysis. Our work covers a broad range of research issues, and we implement several specific projects simultaneously. ICSID has an international team, so we always work not only to verify or improve a theory, but we also do it in comparative perspective. For instance, there is a rich amount of literature on institutional analysis, produced primarily in Western Europe or North America, and we test these hypotheses on data from Russia and China, and we do our best to broaden the scope of the existing theories and make them less one-dimensional. Thematically speaking, we are interested in relations between business and government, in electoral process, in regional and local bureaucratic elites.

Personally I have been focusing for six years now on comparative research on China and Russia. It is very interesting to trace how the institutions, which China borrowed to a large degree from the USSR, are transforming as they are exposed to the market, in both countries. One of the big questions for the researchers is how to account for the soaring economic growth of the last 30 years in China. A possible answer is that the Chinese government rewards its officials and governors for economic success. Often this explanation is discussed in implied or clearly stated comparison with Russia: its government does not motivate the governors to succeed economically, while the promotion and career of Chinese officials depends on it. At ICSID we have a project studying Incentives for bureaucracy in Russia and China in which I participate with Andrei Yakovlev, Michael Rochlitz (Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences), Vera Kulpina (HSE, PhD student and lecturer at the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs), and Alexander Libman (Frankfurt School of Finance and Management). We are the first to test this hypothesis empirically: our team thoroughly gathered information about career paths of Russian and Chinese governors, and studied how they related to economic success of the region.

Did you find the connection between economic advancement of the region and governors’ careers?

We discovered that Russian governors receive other incentives: their careers are dependent on other indicators, such as electoral results in the region. China does not hold elections, so this consideration is irrelevant for its system: they measure mostly by economic success of the region. Also, in Russia some governors have held their positions for a long time, while in China there is a so-called “up-or-out” system, meaning that after a fixed term the officials have to change to position: move up or down the career ladder.  We do not see preparation of policy recommendations as our main goal, but certainly we are aware that our research results can be used as a basis for policy.

You mentioned ICSID’s interest in the relations of business and government. Are there any current projects?

Yes, we have a project on Social Policy and Vocational Education which studies regional efforts on the part of businesses and officials to build effective cooperation with schools of vocational education. The system which existed during the Soviet period was quite advanced, but it requires a drastic transformation in the market economy.  I have a different team for this ICSID project: Israel Marques (PhD student at Columbia University), Irina Levina (Research Fellow at HSE), Denis Ivanov (Research Fellow at HSE ICSID), Andrei Govorun (Junior Research Fellow at HSE), Ekaterina Borisova (Leading Research Fellow at HSE ICSID), Vladimir Bazavliuk (HSE PhD student). For over a year we have been studying how different regions are reforming the vocational education system together with business associations, such as Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. We see that schools and the industry are looking for new forms of cooperation and reviving old forms, such as mentorship.

However, these new forms of vocational education require committed cooperation efforts, so, from a theoretical viewpoint, we deal with the collective action dilemma: every participant knows that joint action brings the best result for everyone but nobody wants to be vulnerable and to make sacrifices for the launch of the new project.  We study what companies, business associations and governors do on the regional level for the development of vocational education – it is an interesting policy problem, especially when not all the participants are proactive in the roles they have.

How many regions are successful in developing their system of vocational education? Do you study only Russia in this project or is it a cross-national comparison?

So far we focus only on Russia but the research might expand on other countries, particularly China and post-Soviet states. There is a rich amount of data about the projects and performance of Russian regions, and we want to explore it fully.

The federal government held around 5 different competitions organized by Ministry of Education and Science and Agency for Strategic Initiatives, and 30-40 regions were deemed successful in developing their vocational education system. About ten of them received awards and commendations. According to our estimate, half the regions initiate some innovative projects in this sphere: there is a lot of healthy competition and diffusion of practices.

Speaking of best practices around the world, currently everyone is interested in German model of dual education, including the federal government of Russia. The quality of vocational education and of cooperation between schools and industry requires a lot: tools and machinery should be up to date, and the content of teaching should match them as well. The technological level of the industry changes very quickly nowadays, and such education systems cannot be static. We see that some Russian regions study the implementation of this dual education model in Germany and assess the resources they will need, how the qualification assessment system for graduates of such schools should look, etc. On the side of business, they want to see some guarantees that the investment in such programs will be recouped, that the graduates won’t leave immediately for other regions.

How do you primarily present your research results – through publications of participation in conferences?

Both are necessary to present results to the academic community. One of the conditions of our funding is to publish research articles in world-class academic journals, but of course there is a lot of preparation before the actual article is published.  First of all, we discuss research results within the laboratory – we hold many seminars for that, and then we present them at international conferences. For example, in April I presented our research on governors’ careers and economic performance of the regions at the conference of Midwestern Political Science Association in Chicago. I received a lot of constructive criticism and feedback, and it will help our team to improve the work and its presentation. After that we’ll send the paper to a journal – an editor might ask us to work further on it or will simply tell that it does not fit the profile of their journal, and it’s a normal process. It takes a long time, but through these iterations we improve our written presentation of research.

Are there students in the laboratory’s projects? Do you find them through open calls or is it them finding you?

We find research assistants among the students who are interested in our research topics, and we use HSE’s program for funding research assistants. However, when we see that one of them has a lot of potential, we often invite them to take a position of junior researchers at the laboratory. Besides helping to gather and clean the data, such students also help to analyze it and to describe their findings. We include their writing, edited, of course, into the full paper, and they become co-authors of the final paper and learn how to work with presentation of research results to the academic community. It’s beneficial for both sides: research teams get an assistant who helps with collecting and analyzing data and helps to broaden its scope, and young colleagues get to work on research problems together with more experienced researchers and learn how to present their findings. 

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