Apr 11, 2016
“Oxford has a very solid reputation”
ICEF graduate Vazgen Badalyan (2014), now working in investment banking, describes what it was like to study on one of the best finance master’s programmes in Britain…

How did you end up deciding to apply to this particular programme? What were its main selling points?

I first heard about the MSc in Financial Economics at Oxford when I was in my first year, from ICEF graduate Maxim Ryabukhin, who had studied there – he came to HSE with a small presentation about the programme. In making my decision, I was guided by two considerations. Firstly, I was interested in programmes focused on Finance – and secondly, I wanted to study in the UK, ideally at Oxbridge. The MPhil in Finance at Cambridge looked too theoretical for me, unlike the Oxford one, where the programme is jointly run by the Economics Department and the Business School. That’s quite useful – both in terms of the academic content and the composition of the student body. Other than Oxford, I also applied to the LSE MSc in Finance & Private Equity, but that was a less appealing option.

For me, the fundamental advantage of my programme is to be studying at Oxford. Oxford has a very solid reputation, and alongside Cambridge has always played a special role in British history. The chance to get involved in this unique community was always attractive to me, so – to be honest – I never really looked at the rankings.

Over the course of the application process, ICEF graduates helped me again. I am very thankful to Ekaterina Mitskevich, who had previously studied on my programme, and Vladimir Mukharlyamov, who had applied to it but then chosen LSE, for the advice that they gave me on writing my personal statement. ICEF teachers Alexei Ostapchuk and Udara Peiris also studied at Oxford, and so I consulted them on all sorts of questions, not all of them directly to do with studies.

What sort of topics were covered in the programme?

In the first two terms we concentrated on ‘core subjects’: Asset Pricing, Corporate Finance, Economics and Financial Econometrics.

In the last term everyone on the course chose from a wide range of electives. For example, you can study courses in Entrepreneurial Finance or Private Equity. There is also an elective in Financial Modelling over the course of the first two terms, which is open to all students of the Business School. It’s a very useful course: there are regular guest lectures by finance professionals from major banks and various investment funds. You have the chance to connect with these people not only in the lecture theatre but also informally at the networking drinks that follow.

Who teaches the programme?

Professors from the Business School and Economics Department teach the core subjects. The Lecturer in Asset Pricing, Dimitrios Tsomocos, was involved in research and education at ICEF too, so he came to our graduation evening at the residence of the British Ambassador. The study process is fairly similar to ICEF’s – though there were fewer exams.

Who was studying alongside you?

Most students came straight after completing their Bachelor’s degrees, but there were some that already had full-time experience in finance or consulting. Everyone was from different countries, which I really liked, as there was never the sense of being in someone else’s domain. That’s probably one of the biggest differences from the HSE. Like on other international programmes in finance, the best-represented group was people of Chinese origin. In Oxford, there were also a high number of students from Singapore, given how small its population is. There were also a lot of Europeans and some Americans and Australians. A few students had done their undergrad at Oxford as well.

Most of the students had already studied economics, finance or management, but there were a significant number that had actually studied engineering or politics.   

What was a typical day like?

Sometimes it would start at 8:45 with the first lecture of the day, and end at midnight when the library closed. Though I should say that the library wasn’t just where almost everyone studied – people would also just spend time there, or watch football in the areas where you were allowed to make noise. On other days I would have rowing training at 6:30 in the morning, followed by a long day of study and independent work; then in the evening most students might descend on one of the traditional Oxford pubs - for example, The Eagle and Child, somewhere JRR Tolkien loved to spend time. (For more than 20 years the literary group ‘Inklings’ would meet there – Tolkien, himself a former Oxford professor, would attend regularly.)

What was your overall impression of the programme?

I’d have to split my impressions into academic and social aspects. Academically, the programme wasn’t too packed – I think that was done specifically so that students could also start to develop their plans for the future and come up with answers to those questions in good time. Overall, I don’t think the quality of teaching or relevance of the knowledge that I received differed much from ICEF. I can say that at ICEF you get more value for money from an academic point of view. Although it could be that this perception was partly down to personal factors: at ICEF I was much more focused on my studies, especially in my first year, and I really thought that the most important thing was to come top of the class. But ultimately, textbooks are basically the same everywhere, and someone who really wants to find something out will do so irrespective of which university they study at.

The Oxford experience includes a whole range of social experiences alongside the academic aspects. Students, for one thing, organize and run various different societies for themselves, from orienteering to the Finance Society, from national societies to debate clubs (including the renowned Oxford Union, where there were often world-famous personalities speaking). Secondly, so many people there took part in some form of sport, competing for their college in rowing, football or something else. The amount of time I spent on those sorts of things was much greater than when I was at the HSE. I’d like to see Russian universities develop in that sort of direction in the future. Obviously when a university is situated in a big city like Moscow or London, its resources are more limited than Oxford’s, whose campus includes a large number of buildings and colleges throughout the town. But even so, I think that alongside academic studies, which you obviously have to spend enough time on, it’s important to also provide students with the platform to pursue their development in other areas that interest them. Ultimately, the student years are a rare opportunity to make use of your time exactly as you wish (and it’s a rare opportunity to even have that time), and as part of a group of likeminded people, young, talented students can find themselves in completely unexpected areas. You can’t really do that just by sitting in front of a mountain of textbooks.

Nikita Krilnikov, exclusively for ICEF HSE

Translated by Joseph Gamse