Interview with Oleg Korneev, Academic Supervisor of the Master’s Programme 'Comparative Russian and Eurasian Politics'
In 2021, HSE University – St. Petersburg will launch a new and unique Master’s programme in collaboration with University College London – the worldwide-renowned centre of academic excellence and the world's Top-10 university.
— Could you please tell us about the background of the programme? Where did the idea of the project come from?
— The idea to develop this double degree programme emerged thanks to a very active team of the then Department of Applied Political Science led by Alexander Sungurov, which has eventually grown into the Department of Political Science and International Relations under the leadership of Andrey Scherbak. Just like any other ambitious project, this one has a number of founders, among whom I should definitely name Dmitry Goncharov. The rest was made possible thanks to the immense support from the St. Petersburg School of Social Sciences and Area Studies headed by Andrey Starodubtsev, from the administrative services of HSE University as well as from partners at UCL.
I am a relatively new person at HSE University – St. Petersburg and do not know all the nuances. However, I know that, in many ways, 'Comparative Russian and Eurasian Politics' builds on success stories of the BA programme 'Political Science and World Politics' and MA programme 'Comparative Politics of Eurasia' – first educational initiatives in politics launched at HSE University – St. Petersburg. They bring together great faculty and offer a wide range of general and specialized research-based modules as well as opportunities for international academic mobility, internships and participation in various projects, which make these programmes very popular. In 2020, the Central Evaluation and Accreditation Agency (ZEvA, Germany) recognized these two programmes as meeting international quality standards of education. Both programmes are accredited for six years without additional conditions. This is certainly a very important indicator for us, our prospective students and partner institutions – it helps us to move forward. Moreover, my colleagues involved in the development of these programmes have always sought to create stable international partnerships. This strategy has resulted in a number of international double degree tracks and multiple scenarios for academic mobility. In this favourable context, launching a new ambitious postgraduate educational project with a major international partner, such as UCL, was only a matter of time. The moment seems right now, the programme is set and we are ready to welcome first students in St. Petersburg in the autumn of 2022.
— What makes this programme different and unique?
— This is, indeed, a unique double degree programme that strikes a right balance between its disciplinary grounding in political science and interdisciplinary approaches to post-Soviet area studies, focusing on both domestic and international dimensions of developments within Eurasia. It explicitly builds on the best educational and research achievements of the two universities and their long-term institutional partnership. What it offers to students is the result of cross-fertilisation of our educational traditions, innovative approaches and success stories at postgraduate level. The joint curriculum is a result of meticulous work done by our joint team to produce a really coherent mapping of modules and other student activities. This means that everything that we offer to students in St. Petersburg has been approved by and supported by our partners at UCL.
Our programme reflects the School’s core strengths in the fields of comparative politics, international politics, governance and public policy, and area studies. Here, in St. Petersburg, we draw on research the expertise of our faculty, which makes studying with us a genuinely the research-based educational experience. To give you a sense of what this really means, let me provide some examples. A couple of years ago, Irina Busygina published the book Russia-EU Relations and the Common Neighbourhood: Coercion vs. Authority that has received praise from a number of leading scholars in the field. Ksenia Maksimovtsova has recently published Language Conflicts in Contemporary Estonia, Latvia, and Ukraine: A Comparative Explanation of Discourses in Post-Soviet Russia-Language Digital Media that has stimulated a vivid discussion of the topic. Several members of our faculty (Mikhail Maslovskiy, Andrey Starodubtsev, Anna Tarasenko) have contributed to the book Russian Modernization: A New Paradigm covering a wide range of political and societal transformations in Russia. Others have co-edited and contributed to collective volumes focused on more specific issues, such as Reforming Child Welfare in the Post-Soviet Space: Institutional Change in Russia (Anna Tarasenko) or The Dynamics of Regional Migration Governance drawing attention to a largely underexplored Eurasian migration governance system (Oleg Korneev).
I believe this shows really well that we are striving to be in the midst of discussions on the state-of-the-art in the field. All scholars involved in our programme and other faculty members at Saint-Petersburg School of Social Sciences and Area Studies actively publish in leading international peer-reviewed academic journals focusing not only on Russia and post-Soviet Eurasia but also on various theoretical issues in political science, public policy, International Relations, sociology or social anthropology. To further diversify our educational offer, we invite researchers from different universities of the world to deliver guest lectures and conduct research seminars. We promote research-oriented teaching and learning and are happy to not only share our knowledge with students but also help them build their own inquiry-based learning trajectories. Once in St. Petersburg, students will be able to dive in our diverse and stimulating research environment in order to develop their Master’s Theses under the guidance of recognized experts in a number of fields covered by our curriculum.
— This is a double-degree programme. How will the study process be organized for students over these two years?
— Upon admission, students will be enrolled in both universities simultaneously. During the first year, they will follow modules at UCL and will move to the HSE University – St. Petersburg for the second year. Here, in St. Petersburg, students will follow modules focusing on specific countries of post-Soviet Eurasia, as well as on issues common to the entire region or its sub-regions. This will allow to compare political systems, social phenomena and related public policies, as well as to understand how they develop in different states across the region. Thanks to elective modules 'Internet in Non-competitive Politics', 'Nationalism in the Soviet Union and Post-Soviet Russia' and 'Social Policy in Post-Soviet Countries: Societal Challenges and Political Implications' students will examine peculiar dynamics in these fields specific for countries of the former USSR and learn to research trends in their development.
Students will also explore the relations of post-Soviet countries with other states and international organisations. For instance, the modules 'Russia in World Politics' and 'Russia-European Union Relations' are devoted to this. During these modules, students will look at how Russia positions itself in the Eurasian region and what role it seeks to play in international relations. In the module 'Central Asian Countries in Regional and International Organisations', we will discuss the participation of Central Asian countries in regional integration processes, as well as their relations with various international organisations: the UN, the World Bank, the IMF, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Union.
In St. Petersburg, students will also work on their MA Theses. Our programme involves joint supervision of MA Theses, i.e. each student will be assigned a supervisor and co-supervisor from two universities. The rules for the preparation of MA Theses are developed by the programme council and take into account the requirements of both universities. MA Theses defence will be organised in a joint examination committee; the chairperson will be approved by the programme council. The examination committee will involve representatives from HSE University – St. Petersburg and UCL, including the programme directors from both sides. You could refer to the UCL website to find more information about the study process peculiarities.
'We expect that our students would have a wide range of options for their career trajectories. Through the programme, they will develop area and disciplinary knowledge, methodological expertise and soft skills needed for a successful career in public or private sectors, including in academia, think tanks, political or business consultancies, international organisations, government agencies, NGOs or mass media.
— What kind of research projects and internships will be open for the students?
— All our faculty have international experience and have either led or participated in large research projects supported by the European Union (Marie Curie Programme), the French National Research Agency (ANR), Konrad Adenauer Foundation (Germany), Friedrich Ebert Foundation (Germany), the Russian Science Foundation, the Russian Foundation for Basic Research and other major international and national funding bodies. Eurasia is very diverse, and our faculty make use of this diversity by developing research on a wide range of theoretically and empirically oriented topics: Russian politics; subnational politics and multi-level governance; economic development of the Baltics, Central and Eastern European post-socialist states; policymaking in autocracies; Russian foreign policy and its perceptions in other countries of the region; policy diffusion; development policies; regional migration governance; localization of migration, health and gender global governance frameworks in Central Asia; post-soviet and post-colonial dynamics; (dis)integration in the post-Soviet space, etc. Students will obviously be welcome to contribute to such projects of our academic staff.
The programme will also involve practical training. HSE University – St. Petersburg hosts a number of interdisciplinary research centres, including Ronald F. Inglehart Laboratory for Comparative Social Research, Centre for Youth Studies, and Centre for Comparative Governance Studies with multiple ongoing research projects, where students could have their research internships. Our programme will also provide all necessary assistance for identifying research, fieldwork and practice-oriented internship placements outside HSE University (with merit-based competitive travel grants). Among them are independent research centres, NGOs, international organisations, local governments and federal government structures, and state and private companies. While we expect that many students might prioritise internships in St. Petersburg, Moscow and other locations in Russia, we can also offer internship options and fieldwork opportunities in other countries of the post-Soviet space. Students will be able to gain experience in the field of consulting, for instance, at the Foundation 'Petersburg Politics' or the Analytical Centre 'Strategy'. There are options for internships in government agencies such as the Committee for Social Policy of St. Petersburg. Students can also opt for an internship at the Federal Research Sociological Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Finnish Institute in St. Petersburg or the Centre for Independent Social Research. Our students are also welcome to the OSCE Academy and the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek.
— Could you describe the 'portrait' of the prospective student? What academic background should he or she have?
— The post-Soviet space is interesting for foreign students, in particular, because it remains largely a blank spot in many textbooks and university courses abroad. We acknowledge this gap and also understand that narrow disciplinary orientation is not necessarily helpful in order to fill this gap properly. Therefore, although the programme’s core is built around comparative politics, we welcome students with diverse backgrounds in social sciences and humanities and pronounced interest in studying Russian and other parts of post-Soviet Eurasia. The rigorous conceptual and methodological design of our programme means that it is accessible to strong students with different levels of professional experience. The programme is fully taught in English and aims to assemble diverse, international student cohorts. All qualified students, regardless of citizenship, are encouraged to apply. To join the programme, students must provide their bachelor's diploma and have a minimum overall score of 7.0 on the IELTS. For more details on the admission process, please refer to the UCL website.
— At HSE – St. Petersburg we have another Master’s programme in the same field, which is called 'Comparative Politics of Eurasia'. What will be the main differences between these two programmes?
— 'Comparative Politics of Eurasia', which I mentioned at the start of our conversation, is already an established flagship Master’s programme at HSE University – St. Petersburg. It was created as a response to the growing strategic importance of the wider Eurasian region and the associated need for both national and international expertise on this vital region. The programme provides for discipline-based professional training in comparative politics complemented with an advanced, specialist understanding of the Eurasian region. The programme curriculum has been developed around a core conceptual training in comparative political science and area studies. It includes mandatory modules 'Modern Political Science', 'Methodology and Research Methods of Political Science', 'Policy Analysis', 'Russian Politics', 'Political Economy of Post-Communist Transformation' and a number of research methods and project seminars. Alongside this core learning, the programme offers an exciting range of modules that cover politics and society in contemporary Russia, the social and political transformations of Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus, post-communist civil society, human rights in authoritarian societies and international relations in the region. These modules are taught by professors from HSE University – St. Petersburg. The programme, thus, provides an insider perspective on Russia and other post-Soviet countries, while also enriching it through multiple contributions made by invited scholars from partner universities and student academic mobility. The programme also offers the double-degree track in European and International Studies with the University of Trento (Italy) – one of the leading centres for EU studies. We are also thinking about developing similar tracks with other partners both in EU member states and in post-Soviet countries. As I have already mentioned, 'Comparative Politics of Eurasia' has provided an important basis for the development of our double degree programme with UCL and will certainly continue to help us develop this joint project.
— What will be the career prospects of the programme’s graduates?
— We expect that our students would have a wide range of options for their career trajectories. Through the programme, they will develop area and disciplinary knowledge, methodological expertise and soft skills needed for a successful career in public or private sectors, including in academia, think tanks, political or business consultancies, international organisations, government agencies, NGOs or mass media. A lot will certainly depend on our graduates, their priorities and ability to try their chances across this spectrum.
— Your advice for the applicants?
— Notwithstanding the fact that it has been a tough year, I would say that it should not affect your plans for study and development. Our new programme is a great chance to get a really in-depth insight into political science and interdisciplinary study of Russia and Eurasia from the perspective of two universities and two countries. So, my advice is to get ready for a new experience …and simply apply!
HSE University has sound expertise in the fields of Politics and International Studies, which is confirmed by its high positions in international subject rankings (48 position in Politic and International Studies in QS by Subject, top-150 in the world by ARWU ranking by subject).