International College of Economics and Finance

“Time has come to start hiring senior professors”

The HSE Look, supplement to the informational bulletin "Okna Rosta", November 6, 2013: Carsten Sprenger, Assistant Professor at ICEF and the Head of the International Laboratory of Financial Economics, speaks about academic life at HSE as well as brings some current issues to the spotlight >>

The HSE Look, supplement to the informational bulletin "Okna Rosta", November 6, 2013:
Carsten Sprenger, Assistant Professor at ICEF and the Head of the International Laboratory of Financial Economics, speaks about academic life at HSE as well as brings some current issues to the spotlight.

You have worked in HSE for six years already. How can you describe your experience?
I was among the first full-time academics that were hired by International College of Economics and Finance. Over the last six years ICEF has made a great progress from being a pure teaching college to an institute which tries to integrate both research and teaching at high international standards. I see it as a kind of pilot project within HSE where, with the help of our partners from the London School of Economics, best international approaches to the organization of research, teaching, hiring etc. can be tested on Russian ground. Overall, I feel very comfortable working at ICEF.

I appreciate the good atmosphere among colleagues and the attention of our administration to the needs of faculty members to be productive in their research. Speaking about myself, during the first and the second year in HSE I was very busy with teaching because I had to create all my courses from scratch. Only after almost two years I could concentrate properly on my research.
HSE as a whole has also progressed a lot over the last six years that I am here. Nevertheless, I cannot get used to some elements of the internal organization of the school. One is the security system with tourniquets, passes and guards who too often lack elementary rules of civility. Problems start if you forget your pass, want to bring a guest or enter with a non-standard vehicle such as a bicycle. Another problem is that social security coverage(pension and health insurance) of HSE employees, in particular the ones with foreign citizenship, is far below international standards. I think this really runs counter to the ambitious goals to hire many new professors at the international job market.

Is ICEF or HSE as a whole a good place for research?
Everyone is aware that Moscow is not yet one of the centers of economic research in the world or even in Europe. But there are good conditions that HSE could become one. I can see that there is a stronger recognition of the importance of research at international standards now than a few years ago. For example, there is a growing understanding that active research work is impossible with heavy teaching loads that are typical at Russian universities. HSE is also in an excellent position what concerns electronic bibliographic databases and we have achieved that many of the databases that are necessary for empirical research in economics and finance are available now at HSE. We need to make efforts to bring more internationally recognized scholars to work here. This is one of the main aims of the International Laboratory of Financial Economics. We organize the annual International Moscow Finance Conference and invite world-class researchers to Moscow. Our third conference is going to take place on November 8 and 9 at HSE’s Shabolovka campus. This is one way to establish working contacts with top researchers and to make our institute more visible within the scientific community. When I talk to people at international conferences and mention my affiliation they rarely know about the Higher School of Economics.

What do you think can be done to change this?
There is currently a lot of effort made to establish HSE as an internationally recognized research university. But currently I see the main focus in all these efforts in publicity, PR. For example, the school has managed to become highly ranked in some social science research databases. But this is not an indicator that people would necessarily look at. I think bigger efforts should be made to hire more good internationally known researchers either as temporary visiting professors or even for permanent positions. If there is a long-term commitment to create good conditions for research and to produce graduates who have good perspectives in the labor market higher positions in the university rankings will come along. The main indicator is the publication record in the best (and therefore visible) international journals. But this takes time. Demanding a certain number of publications every year only leads to low quality output.

What are the ways to increase the number of publications within HSE?
After many years of hiring fresh PhDs from international market the time has come to start hiring senior people, which is much more difficult. They are not so mobile, they usually have good jobs already but still it is very important. HSE can offer good salaries, provide the conditions for research, and there are smart students to work with. People might come sometimes for personal reasons or simply because they love Russian culture. Just bringing one excellent scholar can make a great impact because he or she brings all his or her personal network. The international research laboratory created at HSE can be a tool for this.

What are your main research projects right now?
My fields of interest are quite broad but mostly I’m working in corporate finance. In particular I’m interested in how the ownership structure of companies effects their operations and their performance. Currently I’m looking at the results of nationalization in Russia, comparing the acquired companies’ performance before and after. There are areas where economists could learn from Russian data – it is a market with many imperfections, rapidly changing institutions, and there is quite a bit of variation across the many Russian regions.

If you have a chance to do only research without teaching, will you agree?
Most of us would do that but after some time you would miss students and communication with young people and their fresh ideas. So I think Alexander von Humboldt had a point when he wanted to combine both research and teaching within the university. That idea has turned out to be quite fruitful. Nevertheless, I think that there should be a possibility for successful researchers to lower their teaching load. Unfortunately, the university is not very flexible in this respect currently.

What are your plans?

I am not somebody who makes any long-term plans. ICEF/HSE is a very exciting place to work. The academic life here is intriguing and I feel that I am a part of it.

The HSE Look, November 6, 2013>>