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New Master’s Programme 'Data Analytics for Politics and Society' Celebrates a 'New Year'

Ksenia Tenisheva, Academic Supervisor of the Programme, tells our editorial board about the programme's 'big start', its talented students and reveals ambitious plans for the future.

New Master’s Programme 'Data Analytics for Politics and Society' Celebrates a 'New Year'

© Pexels

This September the Master's programme 'Data Analytics for Politics and Society' welcomed its first students. It has been four months since the programme was launched. What are your impressions so far?

— On the one hand, it was not very easy, because when we were planning this Master’s programme, we didn’t know for sure who would apply for the programme. So these four months, as well as the rest of the year, will be a time of constant adjustments: taking into account who finally came to the programme and how the courses that we planned are working.

But on the other hand, it was a very interesting and exciting experience, both for us, professors and for the students. We see a lot of positive feedback from them. So it seems that it’s working well. Recently, we had presentations of the students’ first research projects and we were quite impressed with the high quality of their works.

What is the programme's student profile so far?

We have 17 students enrolled in the programme right now: 12 of them are from Russia and the other five are international students, coming from China, Pakistan, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Ecuador. Mainly, our students are political scientists by their Bachelor’s degrees. Some of them are already working: for example, our student from Pakistan is working for the World Health Organization and he already has a lot of experience in the research of epidemics and other related things.

— In the very first material about the programme, which was published in February of the last year, it was stated that even back then some international prospective students (for example, from China, Scotland and Australia) were interested in it. In your opinion, what might the programme suggest to the international applicants?

— First of all, this is a promising leading-edge research field. That’s why more and more programmes on computational social science and social data analytics are appearing at the moment. We can see a high demand for social analytics coming from the government, business and academic fields. And there are many students who got really interested in that topics. That said, we have the following vision: for the students experienced in social science, the programme suggests an opportunity to learn programming skills and learn how to combine the approaches of asking questions from the perspectives of social science and finding answers applying the programming and data analytics skills.

For students with a more technical background, the programme is more about learning social science and learning how to pose correct questions. Some international students also come to us with the demand on examining Russia as a part of Eurasia and Post-Soviet space. So for those who are simply interested in the country and in the political situation in Russia the programme could be interesting as well.

The programme's name 'Data Analytics for Politics and Society' implies studying both STEM disciplines and social science. Is that correct? What is the Master's programme 'Data Analytics for Politics and Society' about?

— Yes, it is very close. Under social science, we imply sociology, political science, and also area studies, because some of our students are interested in examining China and other Asian countries.

So, in general, it’s a social science approach that gives us skills that we called model thinking. Then, as you correctly mentioned, STEM, the analytical and programming skills which help us to find the answer to the right research question.

This master's programme provides students with the ability to formulate a research question and what is needed to be discovered.

— In the previous interview, Prof. Daniil Alexandrov mentioned some similar Master’s programmes that are taught in some European universities. But are there any similar programmes in Russia? And what makes the HSE programme stand out?

— I know a couple of such programmes, but we can count them on one hand. At this point, our HSE programme is quite unique for Russia. For example, in the European University at Saint Petersburg, there is a programme called PANDAN, but as far as I know, it is oriented more towards elder professionals who have already obtained university degree. However, the overall idea of PANDAN is quite close to ours - it’s also mainly about social analytics.

And here, at the HSE – Saint Petersburg, we have the programme ‘Management and Analytics for Business’, which is close to us regarding an element of analytics. But, as it’s quite obvious from the title, the programme focuses on analytics for business tasks while we suggest a broader scope of tasks that can be solved through analytics in academia, government and business fields

— Within the programme, an agreement on launching a double degree track with the University of Milan was discussed. Are there any updates regarding this students' mobility opportunity?

— Yes, recently we have the contract signed up, here in Saint Petersburg, and afterwards, it will be sent to Milan to be finally signed up by the second party. So we can already talk about that as a deal. That means that next autumn, in September, we are going to have the first students exchange between HSE - Saint Petersburg and the University of Milan.

— With which other academic partners is the programme planning to cooperate/interact?

— We are now working on this part: our big plan is to establish a kind of a chain or consortium of Master's programmes that are dedicated to the social analysis topic. As I already said there are plenty of new programmes that are appearing mainly in Europe, but also in the USA, for example. At the moment we are thinking about several programmes that correlate most to us: a common programme in Trento University, programmes in Zurich and Dublin, and, if we are lucky enough, we’d also like to interact with some related programmes in Sweden. This would be the first part of our ‘big plan’.

 A question that, perhaps, concerns all Master’s applicants: what career prospects can the programme offer to its graduates? Could you give some examples of a possible career track of the future alumni/ graduate?

— Of course, we do not have real-life examples yet, but we have the following expectations. First of all, of course, an opportunity to work in the business sphere. We see that business requires more and more analytics because many companies start gathering data and they don’t know how to operate with it. Our Bachelor’s programme 'Sociology and Social Informatics' can provide examples of this effect: many of our Bachelor’s students get employed in different business companies including Yandex, Vkontakte, Tele2 and many others.

For instance, as HSE has many partners from the IT business sphere, we expect that many of our students will be finding jobs in this field.

Moreover, we see that international organizations like World Health Organization, World Bank, UNICEF, UNESCO, require analysts who understand social science and are capable and skilful to conduct social research.

And then there is a track for academia, so our graduates can continue their studies as PhD students here or in other universities.

And last but not the least, the governmental sector, in which we already see some demand, because of its data and documents production. That is why they need some new approaches to collecting and analyzing them.

Have the programme, you as the Academic Supervisor or your students faced any issues or difficulties since the beginning?

— I would say that still one of the main issues is that we have some limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic that concerns the travelling of our international students. They’re from different time zones, which makes the studying process and creation of a convenient schedule a bit complicated. I think that the majority of problems that we experienced were the common problems for every university nowadays: we have a hybrid-learning format that is not easy to conduct and to tell the truth everyone is tired of studying online. But all in all, I wouldn’t say that something very particular happened to us in terms of problems.

— What are the programme’s plans for the near future? 

— The main plan is to establish this consortium of Master’s programmes and find partners among other programmes all over the world. We also plan to conduct a conference here at HSE – Saint Petersburg in autumn for potential partners; we will discuss the approaches of teaching data analytics and social science, mainly all these important parts of our programmes that we implement.

Also tailoring the programme for the next several years. It will be all about making the programme work better for both prospective and current students. So, we’ll wait and see.