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“One doesn’t have to do the degree in London to get a job there. HSE Diploma and LSE Certificate enjoy long-distance credibility”

This year of ICEF’s performance was marked by moving to a new building in Pokrovsky Boulevard and launching of new courses in IT. We talked to Maxim Nikitin, Academic Director of ICEF Master's Programme in Financial Economics, to find out what sets the programme apart from competition, what helps students land jobs in London, who ICEF faculty partners on the employment market, and where lies the secret of ICEF graduates’ mathematical power.

“One doesn’t have to do the degree in London to get a job there. HSE Diploma and LSE Certificate enjoy long-distance credibility”

– How did ICEF arrive at the idea of a master’s programme?

Our Financial Economics Programme was designed more than 12 years ago. I was one of the designers, but the idea had been there even earlier, before I joined HSE in 2005. ICEF intended the programme to be a good match for the bachelor’s students intending to continue studies without having to change school. Hence the idea of the master’s programme, which would be equivalent of those offered by the universities in Europe. The delivery of such programme required academics with international experience. 

I was the first lecturer ICEF hired from abroad. I was working at the University of Alberta, Canada when I received the offer and it coincided perfectly with my plan to leave Canada for Russia. This is how I happened to be one of the creators of this master’s programme and became its academic director. 

– In what ways did your programme set itself apart from its counterparts in Russia?

At that time, only few bachelor’s degree holders would choose to continue their studies abroad. It wasn’t cheap, it was psychologically harder and simply inexpedient, unless one had a plan to get employed abroad upon graduation. So, the market for educational products that would be on a par with European ones, less psychologically challenging, and affordable, was there for the taking. 

Such a top-level, Russia-based MSc programme has proved highly sought-after among bachelor’s and specialist graduates. They want a degree which is internationally recognized and makes them more competitive as entrants into corporate and banking sectors here in Russia and abroad. Our master’s programme has, in the first place, been geared towards students’ real-life needs. Since both our bachelor’s and master’s degrees had been designed in cooperation with The London School of Economics, ICEF as a brand enjoys the expertise of LSE, which, in turn, inspires an absolute trust among employers.

Companies where graduate students work:


Morgan Stanley (London), Barclays Capital (London), Goldman Sachs, Merill Lynch, HSBC, UBS, Central Bank of Russia, Sberbank, VTB.


Oliver Wyman, McKinsey

Real Sector:

Google (Dublin), MegaFon, Jones Lang LaSalle, Rusnano, Lukoil, Microsoft, Renault, Gazprom, JTI.

– How exactly does LSE contribute to the programme as its curator?

All our curricula must be approved by The London School of Economics. LSE also has the power to appoint or reject candidate lecturers. For testing students' knowledge in core courses there is a system of internal and external exams, which is a British system, with one internal examiner based in ICEF and one external in LSE. Besides, all exam papers are marked by LSE professors, which is seen as a way to ensure assessment objectivity on the international level. 

– Is ICEF diploma internationally-recognized?

Alongside with HSE diploma, every student is issued a unique certificate, duly signed by LSE Director, which certifies the programme’s consistency with international and, particularly, British standards. It is more HSE and LSE as renowned brand names that students see as the most important asset, rather than the diploma per se, a credential people frame and put on their walls. The mention of the programme alone is an endorsement of quality and speaks for itself. 

It enhances students’ chances of being noticed and invited to an interview. And there is all the more reason for this as many ICEF graduates are contributing successfully to major financial institutions in Russia and abroad, adding to the recognition of their diplomas on the international labour market. Besides, the ‘character-building’ from LSE is an indication to employers that the candidate has to be worth something and is likely to be ambitious.

– Do many ICEF master’s graduates get jobs at overseas companies?

15 of our master’s graduates are currently employed by banks and other financial institutions in London. Some half of them have received job offers soon after they graduated. As an education provider, England receives thousands of students coming to enroll in its universities every year. They pay huge money. The British programmes are reputed for their quality and prestige, and many hope they would be able to land a job in Britain afterwards. Only few succeed, however. So, while other applicants run high risks and costs, ICEF graduates receive job offers just as British graduates do. This year, one of our first-year students received a traineeship place in Goldman Sachs’s office in London and, subsequently, a job offer, so the path is pretty much set for her even before she graduates. 

Maxim Nikitin
Maxim Nikitin

– How is the programme tailored to employer needs?

ICEF operates an effectively functioning Career Centre. It offers an extensive scope of venues designed to make bachelor’s and master’s students better able to contribute to the workplace immediately when they enter it. The Centre keeps itself updated on the positions being advertised by various financial institutions, as well as their trends. It is also a provider of workshops, where students learn, for instance, how to write a winning resume or a cover letter, and about the available traineeship places and jobs and how to apply to them. These traineeship places are often with internationally branded companies, such as McKinsey, with which ICEF has built a solid professional relationship as a 'supplier' of high performing employees. 

Close cooperation is being maintained with the Russian banks. A risk management course has been designed by Sberbank CFO Dzhangir Dzhangirov exclusively for our master’s students, and an annual scholarship of RUB 75,000 has been established for best performing students by VTB.

There is actually a whole array of career events for students to meet the employees, HRs and executives of major banks and corporations. These events often hosted by our alumni with first-hand experience of finance jobs. They give advice with respect to student career search and how to get signed on by your target company, among other things. 

– Which sectors do graduates mainly choose for themselves? 

Mainly finance – investment banks, universal banks, niche banks, private equity firms, to name a few. Many apply to the strategic consulting of the Big Three – McKinsey, BCG, Bain & Company. Some find jobs in real economy, for instance, energy providers. And around 10% choose to enroll in PhD programmes abroad.

Universities where graduate students receive PhDs:

University of California, Berkeley, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, London School of Economics, Oxford University, Bocconi University, London Business School, University of Minnesota, University of Maryland.

– How can research-oriented students benefit from the programme?

The programme prepares students for careers not only in finance but also research and teaching. In addition to equipping our students with hands-on and researcher skills, we help them enter the academic job market, which is by no means an easy task, by finding a university or a professor who would best fit student’s research endeavours. We provide reference letters and help with motivation ones. This is all part of individual instruction. 

And because western universities are well aware of ICEF and HSE, our graduates stand a better chance of being enrolled in PhD programmes. This year, our 2018 graduate Pavel Bacherikov received a place on the PhD programme at the University of California, Berkeley.

– What would be the reference university for ICEF MSc programme?

We are trying to be as good as Oxford, and we were seriously exploring Oxford’s Master of Financial Economics programme before we set about designing our own. In Britain, all master’s programmes have a duration of one year, whereas here in Russia they are statutorily two-year, which means there is room for more fundamental courses and the opportunities for students to practice in the summertime, along with career guidance and networking. 

– Does ICEF really equip its students with as strong a mathematical background as very western universities can boast?

It does. We often hear from our graduates that they outperform their international peers in math. Compared to the Anglo-Saxon countries, Russia has traditionally been recognized for its high-quality mathematics education. This gives our students a competitive edge. Mathematics are, indeed, very important, and more so when dealing with hefty amount of calculations. Mathematics is therefore our special focus. 

Masters at the Graduation Ceremony in British Embassy
Masters at the Graduation Ceremony in British Embassy

– Does the programme enroll international students?

In this year’s enrolment of 56, 13 are international students. They come mostly from what formerly was the USSR. And we also have students from Iran, Columbia, South Korea and India. They are attracted, among other things, by the double-degree programme we are delivering jointly with LUISS in Rome. LUISS operates student exchange programmes across Russia. After their first year in Russia, enrollees take up studies at LUISS, graduating with a double major. 

– How else can students benefit from HSE partner universities?

Our students are free to choose any of our partners to go to study abroad through academic mobility programmes. Or, they can choose to enroll in a one-year master’s programme, in which case they graduate with two diplomas provided they have met the requirements of both the degree programmes. We had two students joining LUISS last year. Three more enrolled in Tilburg University in Holland, Humbold University in Berlin, and KU Leuven in Belgium. 

– What does the programme have in store for this year’s students?

This year’s curriculum has been added with a course on big data management, machine learning and economic applications of IT. This, and artificial intelligence, would be the line of courses which is currently being taught by many universities. Ours, however, is designed to rely on the expertise of our own and ways it can benefit from the currently so highly sought-after IT skills. The course will be taught by our internationally recruited academic, Fabian Slonimczyk, PhD (Economics). It teaches how and where in the domain of digital economy students can be able to apply their economics and finance skills. This year’s programme has enrolled more fee-based students than ever before. Given the tuition fee of RUB 410,000 per year, this is indicative of its increasingly growing prestige. We have 25 state-financed places for RF nationals on our programme, full and partial scholarships for international students. Another news to be told it that we are now based in a new building in Pokrovsky Boulevard, with new, better equipped lecture rooms and a truly unique library space. I hope students will find them helpful. And our doors are, of course, always open for our alumni. 

Sonya Spielberg, specially for ICEF HSE