'This Programme Will Appeal to Anyone Thinking about Launching a Successful Career Globally'
With the admission campaign for international students in full swing, Elena Shakina, Dean of the St Petersburg School of Economics and Management, revealed some details about the new International Bachelor’s in Business and Economics—including how professional tracks and two qualifications in Economics and Management will allow students to remain in demand in the labour market for a long time.
— In previous interviews, you have highlighted several times that the new programme meets the requirements of a fully fledged track in Economics and Management. It includes subjects related to both fields, and also offers students an opportunity to get a degree in both areas of study at once (a double major). In other words, students gain comprehensive knowledge equivalent to enrolling in both bachelor’s programmes. Launching such a flagship programme is intriguing, but challenging. How do you plan to make such an ambitious project work?
— This is indeed a pioneering project, both for HSE University and for economics and management studies in Russia in general.
Since economics and management have common roots, it was easy for us to merge different areas of study together into one programme. When outlining the programme’s curriculum, we included subjects and competencies that provide comprehensive training in economics and management and removed those that we found to be irrelevant. This allowed us to put all the required courses in a four-year bachelor’s programme. It should be also noted that the first two years of study are obligatory, meaning that students must pass all the courses taught during that time.
And those are the two pillars of the double major. After the second year of training, students decide on a professional track, and depending on how well it fits the student’s aims, they can receive either a single major or a double major. So it’s up to each student to decide on their professional tracks.
As for the double major track, it is worth noting that the final Bachelor’s thesis has to be interdisciplinary. Its topic and content should comply with the requirements of both academic disciplines: economics and management. In this case, the student receives both qualifications at once, and their diploma states that the student has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Management.
— Will it be difficult for students of the double major track to cope with the increased study load? What qualities do students need in order to succeed on the programme? What happens if a student decides to quit the double major track, and at what stage is it possible?
— Pursuing a double major track does not mean having to deal with an increased study load. The number of credits and study hours remains the same as for a single-topic Bachelor’s degree (60 per year). That said, we have a certain opportunity for those students who would like to gain additional knowledge and skills within the programme’s related disciplines. This is the so-called ‘PIAL’ project (short for 'programme of increased academic load'), but it is unrelated to the double major track.
So, in order to comply with the conditions of study for the double major, the students have to select subjects that ensure a balance between economics and management.
All students will be given detailed instructions on which courses to choose in order to meet these conditions. And yes, it is possible to quit a certain track. Our students are allowed to switch from one subject to another which is more related to either economics or management. This is possible because students have to select their courses each year. For example, a student can decide to choose the double major track in their second year and decide to quit in their third year.
In terms of personal qualities, I would say that it's more about having the right motivation than particular skills. If students are motivated enough to earn a double major in Economics and Management, they will choose corresponding subjects. However, if a student has a preference for certain courses in either economics or management based on their future career plans, we offer them an opportunity to add those course. But this does not mean that there are particular requirements for students who opt for the double major track. It is a general study scenario for everyone who is interested.
— The programme is unique for its wide range of professional tracks. What are the programme’s main tracks?
— At the moment, we offer at least seven professional tracks. Our idea is that, depending on what the global labour market looks like in two years, we will be able to offer something timely on top of these seven tracks.
Also, it depends on what subjects our students are most interested in. We have created the programme in such a way that each particular track complies with the requirements of current professions in economics and management. This way, the programme’s tracks were designed based on demand for jobs and qualifications in the labour market. We observed these factors at the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022. As for today, there is a lot of turbulence in our lives and there may be a lot of changes.
For example, we offer a professional track called ‘Marketing and Product Management’ because product managers are currently in high demand in the job market. Another example is the ‘Data Driven Decision Making’ track, which I think could stay relevant for many years. The main idea is that each professional track correlates with the most current and relevant professions. The list of tracks will be updated depending on what we observe in the job market in two to four years.
We monitor data from the most popular job boards in Russia and internationally. We take those skills and qualifications which are frequently required in those positions and try to implement them in the programme’s tracks and courses.
— What makes the programme relevant and applicable to recent market demands? How do you expect a programme with courses on management and economics to adapt to current trends and realities? Did the decision to merge these two educational programmes into one single programme emerge in response to changing trends in the economy and labour market?
We want to provide our students with knowledge and skills to ensure they will be sought-after specialists for many years.
— Our students are very ambitious in terms of creating their future careers. For example, an economist with no qualifications in managing people and working in groups, or one without the relevant soft skills, has limited opportunities to grow fast and successfully in their career in the job market. That's why it is crucial for graduates with an economic background to obtain managerial skills. On the other hand, graduates with a managerial background and who lack deep analytical knowledge and skills in economics will be less competitive when entering the job market.
That motivates us to bring together the most essential parts of business, management and economic areas. What is more, we have quite a lot of courses related to computer science and data analysis, which are relevant to current job market trends.
We try to update our curriculum according to the changes we see in the market; we do our best to be flexible. For example, in certain professions, eg, accountancy, there is a lot more data analytics compared to five or ten years ago. We integrate relevant disciplines and topics in the syllabus of a particular course. The same relates, for example, to the software that we try to bring to our students—we try to show how this software will be adopted and integrated for different decision-making processes.
While working on the programme’s syllabus, we try to predict what might happen in a couple of years and integrate that in the study process.
— In a previous interview, you mentioned that the curriculum will include subjects in both economics and management until the end of the second year. What are those subjects? And why do you think they form an essential educational background for both economists and managers?
— We have three types of courses: courses in economics, management courses, and courses that are modified in order to make them relevant to both economists and managers. For instance, the ‘Business Model Innovation’ course. This course is quite new, and you may not see it in the curriculum of the relevant bachelor’s programmes. It requires both economic and management skills and knowledge. The ‘Data Driven Decision Making’ course is another example. It combines quite conventional courses in decision making process with analytics driven by the economic essence of this process. We've launched several courses like these that are relatively new and have an interdisciplinary approach—they are unique to our programme.
— In your opinion, what makes the programme appealing to international applicants?
— I think that this programme will appeal to anyone thinking about launching a successful career globally. Our programme is pretty international—that’s why we called it an ‘International Bachelor's’. It provides a jump-start for further graduate study, and I am sure that our students will be very competitive when they enter any master’s programme either in Russia or abroad. Also, the programme is taught in English, which is important not just for Russian students who need to increase their value on the job market (because they will have English as a professional tool), but for any international students, for example, who aren't native English speakers. So, it is a good chance for everyone to have English as an additional professional skill. It’s very important to have English not just as a subject, but as a handy tool.
— What career opportunities do graduates of the programme have?
— As I have mentioned previously, we are committed to promoting two main ideas. First, we make students very competitive when they continue their education; we prepare them for the best master’s programmes. Secondly, we give them relevant skills and competences for entering the job market.
I would like to highlight that students of the programme can take part in long-term internships and projects, which will give them a lot of hands-on skills. Students will work on real business cases and meet potential employers. We also regularly invite practitioners to conduct classes in our programme; that helps our students to integrate into the job market while studying at the university. And of course, we plan to invite business specialists and potential employers to take part in a variety of study processes, for example, to participate in the council for Bachelor’s thesis defence. This way, upon the successful defence of their Bachelor’s thesis, we expect that many students will get job offers.
— Should those who only want to pursue a single specialisation (in either Management or Economics) apply to the programme?
— Yes, of course. What is important is that students don’t have to make a final decision while enrolling in the programme. We understand that it might be hard for high-school graduates to make such an important decision right after graduation. And so, we allow our students to decide on their specialisations in the second year, when they have gained enough experience and understanding of the areas of study.
The double major track is just an opportunity, not a requirement. It really depends on students' preferences and how they see their future career.
— It seems that prospective students with a background in mathematics and other exact sciences tend to enrol in the programme in Economics, while those interested in the psychological or managerial side of business (HR and other areas) opt for the programme in Management. How do you plan to arrange classes for students with such different aptitudes? Is the programme aimed more at students who want to major in humanities or in mathematical studies? And by combining various tracks, is there a risk that it will be boring for some students and too complicated for others?
— I won't say that it's easy, of course—it is a programme that requires hard work and dedication.
I would say that even students who don’t have very strong background in mathematics have every opportunity to improve their mathematical skills, so our courses are designed in such a way that they really help students succeed. But if students don’t like maths at all, the programme probably isn't a good choice for them, because the fields of business, management and economics all require mathematics. It is a vital pillar not only in business, but in social studies overall. We are living in an era where data dictates everything. Mathematical knowledge is critical, but not as critical as in fields like physics, chemistry, or certain other demanding areas. Mathematics for social sciences is something that everybody can do.
I don’t think it will be boring for students who are strong in mathematics, because it is a way for them to apply their knowledge of maths to real-life cases. In that sense, I think that the main criterion for choosing this programme is not whether you prefer maths or humanities, but that you want to develop your career in business, gain vital knowledge, and develop essential skills that are applicable to real business scenarios.
— What advice can you give prospective students who are looking for undergraduate programmes at the moment? How can they prepare themselves for admission, both practically and mentally?
— It all starts with motivation. Prospective students need to understand that if they invest their time and effort, those four years of study will help them for many years to come. That said, when students decide to focus on business studies, they need to understand that companies need them to pay attention to the analytical and economic aspects of what's happening around them; they will need to show ambition and be ready to create their own business projects, suggest new ideas. Of course, it is possible to change educational track, but it will still form the base of students’ future professional lives. If applicants realise that their motivation is high enough to become competitive specialists in the sphere of global business, then they just need to meet the programme’s entrance requirements. I don’t think that those requirements are too high when compared to many other programmes, but motivation really plays a crucial role in the application process, both in terms of academic studies and future careers.