'Everyone Will Find Themselves Here': Varvara Nazarova on the Master's Programme 'Finance'
The Master's programme 'Finance' was opened at HSE University-St Petersburg in 2009. Since then, it has been awarded several international accreditations, entered into an agreement to implement a double-degree programme with an Italian university, and extended its cooperation with large companies. From their first year, the programme's students start solving real tasks from industry partners. In her interview, Varvara Nazarova, Academic Supervisor of the programme, explains what sets the programme apart from others, which innovations are planned for the future, and who should apply.
— What kind of specialists does the programme train?
— 'Financial expert' is one of the most prestigious professions of our time. Experts in this sphere are greatly valued, provided that their qualifications are of a high level. It is easy to say that the goal of any organisation is to do the right calculations and increase capital. As time passes, new challenges appear: which investments will create revenue, where should a business invest its own and its clients' finances, how can we forecast bankruptcy, how do we manage risks, and should venture investment be developed or not. The list of questions goes on. The Master's programme 'Finance' aims to expand the worldview of future financial experts. The programme's graduates gain the necessary basic knowledge to work with the challenges of the time.
The programme trains specialists in strategic financial management and corporate financial management, experts in business valuation and restructuring, and professionals in tax management. The competencies which our students acquire are aimed, first of all, at profound practice-oriented knowledge about finance in various fields.
The curriculum is designed in such a way that allows students to study subjects by blocks: accounting and reporting, risk management, investment evaluation, cost management, tax management, and financial technologies. There is also a block that I would call 'digital finance', which deals with research into big data with the use of modern software.
Our graduates easily find jobs in consulting and innovative entrepreneurship, the banking and insurance industries, and investment funds. Companies such as Gazprom Neft, Nornickel, Severstal and others are always happy to hire graduates of the Master's programme 'Finance'.
— What are the unique features of the programme?
— The Master's programme 'Finance' at HSE University-St Petersburg is the only programme to earn a 'European Foundation for Management Development' (EFMD) accreditation. In 2021, we received a positive conclusion to extend the accreditation for another five years. Due to external circumstances, the process is currently suspended. But the fact that our programme has passed 20 criteria is a good indicator of its quality.
Our programme also has an 'Association of Chartered Certified Accountants' (ACCA) accreditation. As with the EFMD accreditation, this one is suspended, but we are actively using professional textbooks to prepare students for the qualifying exams.
Now the programme is extending the accreditation received from the Council for Professional Qualifications Development.
In addition to international accreditations, I would say that the unique feature of our programme is the double-degree programme with the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan.
Our programme is taught fully in English. Studying on our programme is a good opportunity to improve your language skills and learn theory in the original language, as the majority of papers on finance and business are written in English. Constant practice of the language gradually immerses students in the international communication environment—they can easily communicate with international students and exchange their experience. Among other things, language proficiency is a huge plus on a resume. Another thing is the practice-oriented approach. I believe that our programme has the perfect balance between theory and practice.
— Who teaches on the programme?
— The majority of our lecturers are practitioners with business experience, consulting specialists, and employees of such large companies as Magnit, Gazprom Neft, Bank Saint Petersburg, and Severstal. Some of our lecturers deliver courses at corporate universities such as Gazprom Corporate Institute and the Corporate Institute of Sberbank. Each lecturer has applied experience. For example, I have vast experience working in a managerial position in the insurance business.
How do students gain experience in project and research activities during their studies?
The Master's programme 'Finance' has found a balance between theory and practice. Our students carry out projects in the framework of BarCamp. In the first year, they get a real task from business, and in the second one, they undertake a two-month pre-graduation internship at the partner companies of HSE University-St Petersburg. This is how students get an opportunity to put acquired knowledge into practice.
As for research activities, in the first year, there is a research seminar. There, the students study expert articles and learn about the leading trends in the world of finance. Thanks to such training, many students become authors and co-authors of articles which are published in highly rated journals. In the second year, the students attend the 'Best Financial Practices' research seminar to prepare for writing their theses.
Our graduates can also build careers in the academic sphere. We constantly upgrade our programme and add new academic tracks which form the potential to build an academic career. Annually, about 10–15% of our graduates continue their education in PhD programmes.
— What are the programme's goals for the next academic year?
— At the moment, we are actively working on attracting practitioners to the educational process. Over the past few years, we have held plenty of workshops, guest lectures and consultation meetings with business representatives. Now we would like to expand this practice: to attract experts not just to hold guest lectures, but also whole courses.
We are also actively trying to reorganise the programme's academic council. Starting next year, it will mostly consist of business representatives, particularly specialists from our partner companies: Technologies and Decisions, Siemens, Samolet. Moreover, we have already agreed to collaborate with the vice president of a large Russian bank. The creation of an academic council will help to get feedback directly from business representatives while developing curricula. This way, we will better understand what we have to add or improve so that our students gain skills and knowledge that are sought after in the market.
— How can international applicants enrol in the programme?
— The programme offers state-funded and fee-paying places. There are two ways to enrol: taking entrance exams or participating in olympiads. Entrance exams consist of a portfolio competition and an interview with the programme's academic supervisor. You can find more detailed information about the admission requirements for international applicants on the international admissions webpage.
— What kind of students would you like to see on the programme in the next academic year?
First of all, those who are motivated and ready for challenges. Those who strive to learn something new and understand what they want to get out of life. Students who will fill our programme with new meaning. We are constantly upgrading the programme in response to students' feedback, among other things. I often meet students and ask them to share what they would like to see in the programme, and what they like or do not like. This year, while developing the curriculum, I consulted with second-year students and graduates.
There are no specific requirements for the background of our applicants. Our students include graduates of programmes in Public Administration and students of medical universities. They all managed to prepare, pass the entrance exam, enrol in the programme, and complete it successfully. At the beginning, there are some adaptation courses to help students integrate into, for example, financial analysis and machine learning. These courses build a necessary foundation onto which financial knowledge will be added later. On our programme, every student will find themselves.