International College of Economics and Finance

20 years ago - how ICEF was started

Interview with ICEF Director Sergey Yakovlev from August 8 2017 about ICEF history

In the mid-1990s, I worked at the Moscow State University (MSU) as a Deputy Dean for International Communications of the Economics Faculty. A group of colleagues and I actively participated in the European TEMPUS-TACIS educational project, which aimed to restructure economics education by creating a partnership with the London School of Economics (LSE), Sorbonne, and Tilburg University. The MSU did a lot of important work in the framework of this project: we translated textbooks, developed new courses, and participated in internship programmes. But these were all different types of activities, and we really wanted to make the MSU’s economics educational programme recognized abroad, same as its programmes in Mathematics or Physics. And in order to implement that, we needed to build an academic reputation.

We had an idea to create a faculty that would coexist alongside the large Economics Faculty, but where teaching would be done in a new and more modern way. Our project partners, particularly colleagues from the LSE, liked the idea. We started writing a plan, also known as a white paper, and during the seminars discussed with our foreign colleagues what the modern Economics Faculty should look like, what its objectives and main instruction methods were, and how it might be run. And when the plan was ready, we went to discuss it at the Academic Council of the MSU Economics Faculty. As a result, the previous dean wrote a special letter where he specifically emphasised why foreigners should not be allowed to select Russian faculty. In other words, it seemed to be a dead end. At that time, I approached Sergei Dubinin, who at the time was the head of the Russian Central Bank, and he liked our idea. We talked everything over and decided to take the idea to the Higher School of Economics, understanding that this was an innovative institution created by the former MSU employees, who were more like us. We talked the idea over with the HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov and reached agreement.

In a month we developed a concept, and Yaroslav Kuzminov himself wrote our first budget. For the LSE it was the first (and as we understood years later, the only) project of that kind, and it was implemented there largely due to support of the LSE senior management, particularly Richard Layard. They really wanted to help Russia create a new university and new academic culture. No one asked them to do that and they didn’t get any money from it. It was an academic project, and an initiative that encompassed everyone from the professors to university managers.

A little later it was time to admit the first students, which was difficult, but the HSE helped us out with everything. It was 1997, and there was no Bologna Process whatsoever. And here we were with the programme with two diplomas in English language. We didn’t really know how to present our programme to applicants. Nevertheless, 37 students were admitted to the 1st Year of our programme, and some of them even didn’t know English. It was even more difficult with the instructors. Our colleagues from the LSE sat on the admissions board and acted exactly the way they did when hired teachers in London. And not all the candidates that applied to us were prepared and were able to demonstrate their knowledge of the subject or even their knowledge of English. But we somehow managed to recruit the necessary number of qualified – by international standards – faculty and get to work.

I remember our first year, when we were in a very difficult situation, when only 40% of our students passed Mathematics. The problem was that our British colleagues insisted, that ‘There should be no special training on how to pass an exam. Students should be captivated by economics!’ But the problem was that the format of international exams differed from those in Russian universities.  And our colleagues at the LSE warned us that they wouldn’t be able to continue working with us, if after the second year of the programme the results wouldn't improve. And we immediately started to introduce some changes into our teaching process and bring our domestic exams more in line with the format of international exams. Gradually, with the support of our British colleagues, we gained more experience, and when the first 13 students graduated in 2001, we – and everyone around us – knew that a double-degree programme was possible.

Now, 20 years later in 2017, ICEF has about 1,000 students and more than 1,500 alumni of bachelor’s and master’s programmes, who work in 88 cities in 35 countries around the globe.

Text on HSE portal >>