International College of Economics and Finance: 20th Anniversary

International College of Economics and Finance (ICEF) was created at HSE in 1997 with the academic support of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), with the aim to provide students with up-to-date and world-class education in economics and finance. The creation of ICEF became possible due to joint work of its director and originator Sergey Yakovlev and all the people that helped to make the dream of creating ICEF a reality from the beginning. These are Richard Layard, who was instrumental in coming up with the institutional  frameworks to integrate ICEF’s programmes with the University of London’s External Programme; Sergei Dubinin, who helped guarantee the support of Russian business for the project; Yaroslav Kuzminov, who gave the go ahead for a totally new type of college in Russia within the State University – Higher School of Economics. This year ICEF turns 20 years, and ICEF Director Sergey Yakovlev talked to The HSE Look about the milestones of ICEF development, its contribution to HSE as a whole and plans for the future.

ICEF is turning 20 this year and HSE celebrates its 25th anniversary - is there anything that HSE as a whole learned from ICEF’s experience?
We do our best so that our development advances Higher School of Economics and becomes a catalyst for changes across different departments and faculties. There’s been a lot of mutual influence over the years both in the academic and administrative issues, with some things originating in ICEF and spreading throughout the university, and vice versa.

For example, when we started looking for faculty members with PhDs we developed certain practices which affected the HSE local and international hiring tracks, e.g. the conditions of full-time tenure-track employment, guidelines for international faculty recruitment, review and promotion. As to the studies, the changes in undergraduate curriculum design at HSE, with its greater focus on self-study, have been influenced by the example of ICEF, as we had to make these changes to match our programme with the standards of LSE. Of course, ICEF also uses good practices which are first introduced by HSE at large, for instance, the system of tuition waivers based on the student’s academic performance and salary bonuses for faculty members based on their outstanding research results. ICEF has created a successful double degree undergraduate programme, and several other faculties have signed similar agreements with the University of London. In general, ICEF does its best to implement the internationalisation at home model, both concerning the curriculum and the university environment, and our experience is useful for other programmes at HSE.

What are the key milestones in ICEF history?
Though ICEF is a part of a large university, it started as a teaching college with one programme in 1997, and we’ve earned our good reputation as a quality Bachelor’s programme. The decision to start ICEF with a double degree undergraduate programme was of first milestone.

After ten years, though, we felt that it was time to expand our range and we wanted to open a Master’s programme. It was clear that we should start hiring people from the international academic market – and our second milestone was when we had several faculty members with PhDs who brought an entirely new quality of teaching to our graduate students.

Once the Master’s programme was up and running, it became clear that we should be investing more effort into building a community and providing support for our faculty, so that ICEF could become a successful research team. As a result, we opened International Laboratory of Financial Economics and worked towards transforming ICEF into a research-oriented institution.

What does ICEF’s development strategy look like?
I think that our core understanding of success is similar to the university’s development strategy: HSE aims to be a world-class research university, and ICEF shares these values and implements them on a smaller scale and in relation to Economics and Finance only. It is a mutually beneficial process: HSE helps us through the changes in university environment and policies, and ICEF successes count towards the cumulative results of the university.
Our priorities for development are threefold: first, to grow ICEF academic potential through enriching our academic environment, second, to increase the diversity and quality of the study programmes ICEF offers, and last but not the least, to enhance cooperation with other universities, research institutions and business companies. We are planning to continue international recruitment of faculty with PhDs and find around 10-15 new team members who can publish in top-5 and top-field journals and teach students. Regarding the study programmes, we are not going to increase the number of students we enroll, but we are looking to improve the ‘survivability’ percentage without decreasing the quality of education students receive.

What does ICEF do to keep not only its procedures, but also curriculum international?
To start with the obvious, our visiting professors give lectures to students, which allows them to see a different approach to a familiar subject and to learn from a person with a different mentality and cultural experience. When we consider the content of the courses, we follow the standards of the University of London and not only teach in English, but also consider the subjects in global context. Moreover, the study process itself is also in line with the best international practices: we place a great emphasis on self-study, reducing the number of lectures and increasing the hours spent on seminars in which students actively participate - ICEF library reflects this commitment and is well-equipped with both electronic and print resources.

What are the criteria of success for ICEF?
We look at things which can be verified by external assessment as well – for example, with students it is their knowledge and skills which are checked by independent examiners, and the University of London recognizes our Bachelor’s programme as one of the top among its double degrees in academic performance. Concerning research, ICEF faculty is working on making it more visible through publications in the top journals in the field, and we have several research groups in addition to the laboratory.

Naturally, the success of the programme is to a great extent measured by the achievements of its graduates, and ICEF alumni are ready to change their career paths, get additional education, e.g. MBA, and this is a great success of our programme and Career Centre, since we do not do job placements but instead teach our students how to stay competitive and get the opportunities they want. Our graduates get accepted to the best Master’s and PhD programmes in top-50 universities, including Harvard, MIT and LSE, and we are really proud that our graduates are globally competitive, meaning that they can successfully start a career both in the companies which work globally and in top academic institutions.

Multum in parvo, “ small but precious” – what does ICEF’s motto mean in practical terms?
Our students suggested the motto around 4 years ago when we were creating a new development programme for ICEF, and everybody liked it. It reflects that we strive for quality and excellence rather than quantity and scale. For me ICEF is a very important long-lasting project which is intellectually stimulating and allows ICEF team and me to implement our academic ideals.

Read more articles about ICEF in The HSE Look July 2017 issue.