International College of Economics and Finance

'You Don't Have to Get a Degree in London to Get a Job There. HSE Diplomas and LSE Certificates Enjoy Long-Distance Credibility'

This year the ICEF not only moved to the new HSE campus complex on Pokrovsky Boulevard, but updated its curriculum and added new courses in IT. We talked to Maxim Nikitin, Academic Director of the ICEF Master's Programme in Financial Economics, to find out what sets the programme apart from its competitors, what helps students land jobs in London, who ICEF faculty partners are on the employment market, and where lies the secret of ICEF graduates’ mathematical power.

'You Don't Have to Get a Degree in London to Get a Job There. HSE Diplomas and LSE Certificates Enjoy Long-Distance Credibility'

– How did the 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. The ICEF intended the programme to be a good match for ICEF bachelor’s students interested in continuing their studies at HSE. Hence the idea of the master’s programme, whose standards and approaches would be equivalent to those at universities in Europe. Implementing such a 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. 

– What sets the ICEF master's programme apart from similar programmes in Russia?

At that time, not very many university graduates in Russia would choose to continue their studies abroad. It wasn’t cheap, it was psychologically more difficult, and it was simply inexpedient, unless one had a plan to get a job 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. 

A top-level, Russia-based MSc programme has proven to enjoy a high demand among bachelor’s and specialist graduates. They want a degree which is internationally recognized and makes them more competitive as they enter into the 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, the name 'ICEF' stands also for 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?

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

– Is an ICEF diploma internationally recognized?

Along with an HSE diploma, every student is issued a unique certificate, duly signed by the LSE Director, which certifies the programme’s consistency with international and, in particular, British standards. It is more HSE and LSE as renowned brand names that students see as their most important asset, rather than the diploma per se, a credential people frame and put on their walls. The name 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. In addition, 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 companies overseas?

15 of our master’s graduates are currently employed by banks and other financial institutions in London. About half of them 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 a lot of money. The British programmes are reputed for their quality and prestige, and many hope they will be able to land a job in the UK 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 her path is pretty much set even before she graduates. 

Maxim Nikitin
Maxim Nikitin

– How is the programme tailored to employer needs?

The 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 provides workshops, where students learn, for instance, how to write a compelling resume or a cover letter, and about available internships and jobs and how to apply to them. These internships are often with internationally known companies, such as McKinsey, with which ICEF has built a solid professional relationship as a 'supplier' of high performing employees. 

The ICEF also maintains close cooperation with 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 75,000 RUB has been established for the best performing students by VTB.

There is actually a whole array of career events for students to meet employees, HR reps, and executives of major banks and corporations. These events are often hosted by our alumni who have first-hand experience in the finance sector. They give advice on how to search for jobs, get hired by your top-choice company, and more.

– In what sectors do most graduates pursue careers?

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 the 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 practical and theoretical 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 statements. This is all part of individual instruction. 

And because western universities are well aware of the ICEF and HSE, our graduates stand a better chance of being accepted to prestigious PhD programmes. This year, our 2018 graduate Pavel Bacherikov was accepted a PhD programme at the University of California, Berkeley.

– What is an equivalent programme abroad to the ICEF MSc programme?

When we designed this programme, we looked to Oxford University’s Master of Financial Economics programme as a model. 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 opportunities for students to intern in the summertime, along with career guidance and networking. 

– Does the ICEF really equip its students with a strong a mathematical background?

It does. We often hear from our graduates that they outperform their international peers in math. Compared to many other Western countries, Russia has traditionally been recognized for its high-quality mathematics education. This gives our students a competitive edge. Mathematics is, indeed, very important, and even more so when dealing with finance and economics. 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 accept international students?

In this year’s enrolment of 56, 13 are international students. They come mostly from former Soviet states. We also have students from Iran, Columbia, South Korea, and India. They are attracted, among other things, by the double-degree programme we conduct 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 join LUISS last year. Three others 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 expanded by the addition of 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 provide students with the most current, 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 apply their economics and finance skills. This year’s programme has enrolled more fee-paying students than ever before. Given the tuition fee of 410,000 RUB per year, this is indicative of its increasingly growing prestige. We have 25 state-financed places for Russian citizens in our programme, and full and partial scholarships for international students. Something else that is new is 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