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'Businesses Are Looking for Fast Learners'

'Business and Politics in Modern Asia' is a master's programme aimed at students of Asian Studies and those who come from other educational backgrounds but have a strong portfolio. Each year the programme gets more practical: one can study analytics as part of elective courses, opt for various projects and do an internship at partner companies. In this interview, Liudmila Veselova, the programme’s academic supervisor, tells us in which way the programme cooperates with business, what international connections it has, and whether it is possible to enrol without the knowledge of Oriental languages.

'Businesses Are Looking for Fast Learners'

© HSE – St Petersburg / Stepan Likhachev

— Liudmila Veselova, could you tell us in which way the programme has changed?

— Since last year the 'Business and Politics in Modern Asia' Master’s programme has been implemented according to the new HSE Master's programme standard, which allows students to follow one of two trajectories—a general or applied one. The former is a perfect choice for those who want to change a major but have never taken a course related to Asian studies before. Following the general trajectory, our students build a foundation of knowledge that is essential to start working with Asian partners. And the latter is more practical, it will come in handy for those who have long been interested in conducting business with Asian countries. The applied trajectory will last eight weeks instead of four. In addition, students will have to take more projects from the Project Fair during their studies, which means there will be a greater involvement in various projects.

We have also made the Master's programme itself more practice-oriented. Each year we do our best to attract as many partner companies and practitioner-teachers as possible, as well as introduce new courses, adapting to the current changes in the labour market. Therefore, starting the new academic year, Sergei Kolesnichenko, a Professor of Practice at HSE, will become a supervisor for the applied trajectory. Prof. Kolesnichenko does not only teach at HSE, but is also actively involved in international business and has extensive experience working with Eastern countries, as well as conducting business with Asian partners. There is no doubt that Prof. Kolesnichenko’s vast expertise will help students decide on a career path and create their own unique educational tracks.

— What skills do businesses look for in today’s students?

— Businesses are looking for fast learners who know how to work in a team, analyse data and present the results. And this is true for any position, would that be a manager or an executive. Performing any job is about communicating with people, so not knowing how to work in a team or quickly find the needed information and report the results to an executive can cause problems. Apart from that, what makes our graduates unique is that they all have
a strong foundation in Asian studies that includes: linguistic knowledge; various communication strategies; social/cultural knowledge of the target language. And, of course, such competences make our students in demand in the labour market.

What is more, elective courses help to supplement our students’ knowledge and adjust their career trajectories. For example, one can study disciplines related to data analysis, programming, or e-commerce as an addition to the programme. The main advantage of elective courses is that they allow tailoring the education process to one’s individual needs—students are free to choose courses that in their opinion will come in handy in future careers. We do not aim at graduating 30 people with exactly the same knowledge. On the contrary, our graduates leave the university with a unique set of skills and knowledge, have different career paths and expectations, so that they do not compete with each other.

— Is the knowledge of languages in demand today? If so, how does the programme help in language acquisition?

— According to an April survey conducted by Superjob, people in Russia started to look at knowing Chinese as a useful skill at the workplace twice as often. But other Eastern languages are also in high demand as Russia has begun to actively cooperate with Asia.

Our programme does not focus on Asian languages acquisition only, as 90% of our prospective students already have a sufficient command of one of Asian languages when they enrol. And we do not want to make philologists out of them. Today, the programme only offers a course in business Chinese, which gives students all the vocabulary and information needed to carry out and translate negotiations.

However, knowing Asian languages is not mandatory for admission. We welcome applicants who are eager to study with us and have a strong portfolio even without the knowledge of Asian languages. Such students may join language classes of the 'Asian and African Studies' Bachelor’s programme, provided that there are places available in the language groups. Also, in the second year students can take part in a mobility programme and study at Asian universities, which is a great opportunity for learning the language with native speakers. There may be some restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, but we do our best to provide each student with a chance to take part in a mobility programme offline or online.

— Is it possible for graduates to get employed in China? Or is it better to focus on the Russian market?

— In theory, yes, it is possible, but it is still difficult to get to China because of coronavirus restrictions. There are coronavirus outbreaks in China, with some areas and regions remaining closed. As long as the borders with China are closed, it is too early to talk about employment. Even students’ mobility with Chinese universities has been held online for the last few years.

At present, a number of Chinese companies have suspended their operations in Russia. So I think that it would be wise to focus more on Russian companies that work with China. This will be a perfect launch pad for graduates, and also a great opportunity to practice Asian languages and apply the knowledge gained on the programme.

— Where can the programmes’ graduates find a job?

— There are many options. One can go into government agencies, consultancy agencies, start-ups or companies which deal with exports and imports from Asian countries. Or one can become a journalist and report the current situation in the countries of the East. It is all a matter of personal preferences and ambitions.

For example, our graduate Adelina Ishmuratova got a job at the Special Economic Zone Alabuga, which is located in the Republic of Tatarstan. Then Adelina introduced me to the management of the Alabuga SEZ, we found many opportunities for joint projects, and Alabuga became a partner of our master's programme. This year, two students from our programme completed an internship there (one student had a paid internship), and immediately received job offers.

— How does the programme help students to realize which career they want to pursue?

— Well, as I have already mentioned, our programme puts a strong emphasis on getting hands-on skills and practical knowledge. For each student, we meticulously select an internship place and position, depending on their individual wishes and future career plans. For example, there are students who want to learn more about working in startups—we can offer them an internship at Ingria Business Incubator. If students are interested in consulting, we can send them to one of the consulting companies: Solver Consulting, Ambex Consulting, etc. If a student is interested in science, we can offer internships at the Institute of the Far East of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, Association for Development of Sinology, among others.

However, we do not limit internship placements to the companies mentioned. Right now, I am asking first-year master's students what they want to do during their internships in winter semester 2023. And in the next six months my task is to conclude partnership agreements with these institutions and companies, if they are not already in the HSE pool of partners, to ensure that our students do internships at places and positions they want. I want our students to embark on the chosen career path as soon as possible, and do internship not because they have to, but because they are genuinely interested in getting that experience. And if the internship has turned into a permanent job, is not it amazing?

We often invite business representatives and interesting experts to events organized within the university walls, which, in my opinion, is a win-win solution for both students and businesses. We also have come up against the fact that in many companies today there is a shortage of young talents, and business representatives do not always know that it is possible to cooperate with universities when it comes to employment. Sometimes an hour-long lecture is enough for an expert to spot a promising student and offer them a job or internship. For example, Olga Subanova recently gave a lecture at the Chinese Club in St. Petersburg. Olga currently runs TOLMUCH company, which helps Russian companies create and develop official accounts on the Chinese social platform WeChat. After the online meeting, Olga invited students to take part in a two-month internship, and two students have already applied and will do the internship at the company in the summer.

— What international opportunities are offered for students?

— As in previous years, this academic year we invited foreign colleagues to teach on the programme. For example, this year's course on geopolitics of Asian countries was taught by Professor Flichy from the Rennes School of Business (France). Prof. Flichy could not make it to Saint Petersburg due to coronavirus restrictions, but students were still extremely satisfied with online lectures. Next year, we expect Professor Kaukenov from Kazakhstan, who is director of the China Center for Chinese Studies, to give lectures on the programme. He will be teaching a course on Chinese diplomacy in Central Asia.

Besides, we have a double degree track with Italian University of Ca Foscari that continues to be available for students. Some of our students have already been nominated for the participation in that double degree track, and we are just waiting for the response from the Italian side. We are also hoping to conclude a double degree track agreement with one of Chinese universities; we are now actively negotiating with our colleagues on that matter.

Students can still participate in international academic mobility programmes with universities in Asia—South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, among others.

— How do I get on the programme?

— It's quite simple—you need to send us your application package by the given deadline and successfully pass an admission interview that will take place in August. Every year the programme is highly competitive, so I would recommend applicants to carefully read requirements when completing a portfolio and attend summer webinars. It is worth paying attention to a motivation letter, as sometimes students write too short: 'I want to join your programme, because it is about Asia', or write in general phrases: 'I would like to study in the Master’s programme, because it will help me expand my horizons'. I recommend that you write in detail why you want to join us and what you expect from the programme.

It is also important to prepare for the interview in advance and think about possible answers to the questions. For example, if a person cannot formulate a topic for future research or simply says 'I want to write about something related to South Korea or China', this is going to be an alarming signal to the admissions committee. We usually accept applicants who are passionate about a topic for the final thesis, interested in it, and have already read some articles or books on that topic.

I would also advise you to follow the latest news on the programme's website and in our VKontakte group. Then it will be much easier for you to understand the specifics of the programme and to get to know the faculty members.

And last but not least. Whatever your educational background is, having a genuine interest is what we value the most. We are looking for talented students who are willing to learn and develop with us.

This year the Business and Politics in Modern Asia programme has 20 state-funded and 5 fee-paying places. There are also 4 places for international students. Read more on the programme’s official webpage.