International College of Economics and Finance

ICEF Master’s Programme: 10 Years of Success

The ICEF Master’s Programme in Financial Economics, which was launched in September 2007 with the support of several Russian and international corporate donors, turns 10 this year. Below, the programme’s Academic Supervisor Maxim Nikitin discusses some of the achievements the programme has made over the last decade, as well as some of the changes that will be implemented over the next academic year.

— Mr Nikitin, 10 years is a considerable amount of time. What is ICEF proudest of today?

— I believe that the programme’s most important achievement is its graduates, many of whom now either work at top financial institutions, investment banks, and consulting firms or study on PhD programmes at some of the best universities around the world. For example, our 2009 graduate Svetlana Bryzgalova completed her PhD at the London School of Economics (LSE) and now works at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Another 14 ICEF graduates work in the City of London, which is remarkable. Thousands of students from all over the world go to Great Britain for school and to find a job at the banks of the City of London, while our graduates study in Moscow and then find jobs there. Another seven of our graduates received job offers in London immediately after completing the master’s programme, which is quite unique.

For three years in a row, students from the ICEF master’s programme have been part of the core HSE team to compete in the international CFA Institute Research Challenge. This competition can be considered an ‘investments Olympiad’ for students in finance and economics faculties worldwide. HSE has won the Russian portion of the competition for the last three years, thereby moving ahead to the regional portion of the competition, which in 2014 took place in Amsterdam, followed by Chicago in 2016, and Prague this year. The teams traditionally complete an analysis of a certain company’s investments, and the company selected this year was the Moscow Exchange. Only two teams from all of Russia make it to regionals. The CFA competition is an excellent thing to have on one’s resume. In the words of second-year ICEF student Ksenia Kuptsova, who is also a member of this year’s team from HSE, the competition is an excellent opportunity to learn how to work on a team and develop your presentation skills.

— What surprises does the ICEF master’s programme have in store for the next academic year?

— Our main piece of news is the launch of a double-degree programme with LUISS University in Rome, Italy. This is the second most important international university in Italy, and it is renowned for its innovative educational approach. The university operates thanks to the support of the General Confederation of Italian Industry and is first in the Sole 24 Ore university ranking, ahead of Bocconi and San Raffaele. The dual-degree programme means that students will spend their first year at their home university (our students at ICEF, and the Italian students at LUISS) and their second at the other. In addition, students study at the partner university free of charge. The students defend their master’s thesis at both universities, after which they receive two diplomas. The programme is conducted in English.

In addition, we signed an agreement this year with three new instructors who will work as full-time ICEF faculty members. They are Sofya Budanova, who graduated from Northwestern University and will teach a course in econometrics; Tatiana Mayskaya, who graduated from the California Institute of Technology and will teach foundations of microeconomics; and Arkaia Chakraverti, who completed the Indian School of Business and will teach a course in corporate finance. We are also planning to recruit ICEF graduates to teach in the programme. We are currently in talks with Svetlana Bryzgalova, whom I mentioned earlier, on teaching a course in financial econometrics. Another one of our graduates, Sergey Vedernikov, has worked in quantitative finance for many years and currently works at the investment fund Basis Capital. Sergey will be teaching a course on quantitative methods in investments.

Career prospects have expanded considerably for both our current and future students. ICEF acquired a new tradition this year of holding weekly meetings with graduates who have built successful careers for themselves. We invite two or three alumni to our Saturday meetings, people such as investment bankers and really anyone who is interested in meeting with students. Graduates talk about their careers, share professional advice, discuss nuances students should be aware of, and answer students’ questions. If there is time, they might also conduct a mock interview with students, look at their resumes, and give them career advice. We believe that this is an excellent opportunity for students to get an inside view of whatever field they are interested in, and they also get tips on what they need to do to build a successful career for themselves.

ICEF also works closely with the Career Centre, where students get help embarking on their path to success. The centre helps them find internships, write resumes, choose a company or bank, find out where to send applications, and more. I think that it is thanks to the knowledge students gain at ICEF and the fruitful efforts of the Career Centre that our students are always able to find work during these complicated times when the labour market is not what it used to be. Two 2017 graduates are going to work at the international bank Morgan Stanley in Moscow, another two at the bank UniCredit, while others are going off to join Sberbank, VTB, the Central Bank, and other leading financial institutions. Several people have also found work at IT companies. Our young graduates, with their strong analytical background, are really in high demand.

— The large volume of higher mathematics on the ICEF programme surprises a lot of students. What does this stem from?

— Mathematics is used heavily in contemporary finance, and it’s simply impossible to be a good financial expert without a knowledge of higher mathematics. And maths even helps those who don’t work on the quantitative side of things, that is do not write complex programmes or build algorithms. It’s always a plus for the employer. Graduating with a master’s from ICEF means, firstly, that you are very smart and, secondly, that you are able to work hard. Such a high bar helps distinguish our programme from other finance and economics programmes in Russia – programmes that are easier and therefore yield considerably inferior results.

— Studying at ICEF is difficult. What do you have to do to succeed?

— Study, goes to class, and do your homework. Each year I say that it’s absolutely unrealistic to both work and study at ICEF, but each year there are daredevils who try to do it all. This always ends in disaster for them. So I’ll say it again – study first and find a job after. Of course, ICEF students should have a lot of drive and understand that he or she will have to study a lot, while the results will become apparent in the near future. Time management is what all ICEF students learn informally, and this is what really helps them in their careers after.

— Do students get any sort of financial aid in the programme?

— We have 35 state-funded places this year, and there are also paid openings as well. Of these, four are given a considerable discount and scholarship that covers the full cost of the programme. For students who are unable to apply for the state-funded places because they have either already received or are currently receiving aid, these kinds of discounts and scholarships give them the opportunity to study here. In addition, all HSE students can apply for a student loan. For example, one of our graduates, Maksim Marakulin, took out a student loan and is currently paying off his loan without any problem thanks to his job at the consulting firm Oliver Wyman.

— A standard question – what is the application process like?

— In order to apply for the programme, you have to enter the portfolio competition. The only condition for entering is that you need a certificate confirming your knowledge of English (either TOEFL or an IELTS score of at least 6).

Anastasia Chumak, Exclusively for ICEF HSE