Our reporter met Professor Eskindarov, rector of the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, Distinguished Scholar of the Russian Federation, Doctor of Economics, before the start of the academic year. You can find excerpts from the transcript of the meeting below.
– Are you happy with the way the university admission campaign was organized this year? Can you identify any specific features in the campaign?
– I am absolutely happy with the way it was organized in 2012. The number of entrants who compete for each student place has increased dramatically. I am very glad that we could welcome students who had very good USE results. The entrants who permanently reside in Moscow and the Moscow Region account for 61% of the total number of entrants. The figure is bigger than the one we observed last year.
The entrants who have become winners of the school competitions and the persons who have been admitted within the framework of the targeted admission scheme have had a right to apply to only one university for the first time this year. Therefore there are more than 300 school competition winners this year among our first-year students. This is a year-on-year increase. We admitted about 200 of them last year. This is a good sign. It means the entrants think high of our university.
– What is the average USE grade the entrants have had this year?
– The average USE grade the applicants have had (the applicants, mind you, not the ones who were admitted) is within the range of 70 - 78 in certain disciplines. The people who were admitted had much better grades, they were even better than the ones they had last year when the average grade was 85. It is at least 86 this year, which means we admit well-prepared applicants.
There is one more specific feature. The Distance Learning Institute of Finance and Economics has been made integral part of our University. It the newly restructured Institute’s first distance learning course student admission campaign.
–Many entrants who have high exam grades have competed for the student places at the Faculty of International Economics and Faculty of International Finance where they have had to cover their tuition costs. With such good grades, they might as well apply for admission to the student places where their tuition costs are covered from the state funds. How can you account for it?
– We expected the competition would be fierce. Firstly, these two Faculties are well-known to the students due to the fact the Faculties’ students have an opportunity to participate in a double degree program and get a diploma issued by a Russian institution and by an overseas partner university.
Secondly, modern language classes are in focus in the curricula the Faculties have. The employers today pay special attention to the modern language skills the job applicants have; the English language skills are a minimal requirement, and the university graduates who have no proficiency in any foreign language have little chances of finding a good job. I think these two Faculties will gain even more prestige in future. We see them as a training center that would train experts who would be qualified to work at the Moscow international financial center that is being formed.
– Can you say that these two Faculties are a good option for those who wanted to study abroad?
– In fact, the very formation of the Faculty of International Finance is a means of attracting the applicants who want to study at a university in Russia and get a degree issued by an institution where the requirements are similar to those the western universities have. We have one more unresolved issue. We need to attract the students from the western universities to the Faculties’ programs so that they could be involved in the learning process there. The language of teaching there is English so they cannot say they are not willing to participate in the programs because they have no knowledge of Russian. We have dealt successfully with the issue I described above and we are working on the western student attraction issue. We intend to proactively address the double degree as well as student and teaching staff exchange program development issue in cooperation with the overseas universities. I think, by doing this, we will be able to attract more students from overseas universities to our programs.
– Are you happy with the master degree program student selection and admission campaign outcomes?
– Yes, I am. About 200 people were admitted and became our first-year students. The student competition was rather fierce. The master programs are gaining prestige, they are in demand among the applicants. I think if we take into account the applicants originating from the universities that have become integral part of our university the total number of students admitted to the master programs will be at least 500 or 550 people next year.
– I have a highly important question to ask: is everything in place and ready for starting the operations in the new academic year?
– The University is fully operational, the physical infrastructure is OK and there are enough learning materials, teaching methodology materials, the syllabi and curricula are completely developed.
– Will there be any special features in the coming academic year?
– It will be absolutely critical for us. The bachelor program graduates will be produced for the first time on such a large scale in 2013 although we have a specialist training program on offer as well. There is one more special point here. The senior students, who were originally admitted to the ARSTA and the SUMF, will get their diplomas from the Financial University. On the one hand, this constitutes a big advantage for them in terms of their position on the labor market. On the other hand, they will have to work hard.
– What about the reorganization and restructuring process? Could you please confirm that as of the second semester the students will study at the buildings identified at www.fa.ru?
– Yes, I can confirm that we will complete the restructuring process by the end of 2012 and the students will begin working at the new premises, that is, the year 2012 will become the end of the current University development period and the year 2013 will constitute the beginning of the restructured Financial University development period.
– Today they often say the quality of provision in the field of education is deteriorating in this country. About 70% of the Russian HEIs that offer programs in economics and management do not meet the educational standards. The Association of Russian Leading Economist-Training and Manager-Training Universities has been formed in order to further develop the programs of study in the field of economics and management. Could you please tell us more about the organization, its goals and operations?
– Let’s start with the statistical data. I always quote this data. In 1989 when the USSR was coming to the point of non-existence, there were 2.8 mln. students in 513 HEIs in the Russian Federation (not the USSR). The population of today’s Russian Federation is much smaller than that of the USSR, but we have 7.9 mln. students and more than 1,100 HEIs that have about 2,500 branches!
The overwhelming majority of the higher education institutions including the universities of technology train experts in finance. On a yearly basis, the Russian HEIs produce 50 to 60 thousand graduates who major in finance. Those people cannot find a job after graduation that is in line with their major, it is simply not possible! The majority of them work in the fields that are not even adjacent to the field of their study as the fact that they have their degrees does not mean they really have the qualifications that a financial professional needs.
As for the Association of Russian Leading Economist-Training and Manager-Training Universities, this organization does not have the authority to open or close down the HEIs, their branches or programs of study, it can only make its assessments and issue recommendations. The way I see it, the key indicator here is the number of graduates who find jobs on the market after graduation and the assessment the employers make.
– The HEI merger process started in Russia in, I think, 2007 when the Southern Federal University was formed in Rostov and the Siberian Federal University was formed in Krasnoyarsk. At least 12 universities merged in Moscow last year. The public has not embraced the reforms quite enthusiastically. The public attitude is that the access to higher education for the majority of people will be blocked after the number of universities is reduced. When do you think the first reform outcomes will be clearly visible?
– I suppose it will be reasonable to speak about it in five years time. The education system is a conservative system. When we suggest that the HEIs be merged, we mean a powerful group of researchers and teaching professionals needs to be formed that can serve as a basis for the future scientific school formation. The school could contribute to the research done and the teaching and learning process improvement. Eventually, I think this is the only way for our HEIs to occupy the leading positions in the international university ratings.
– I have a traditional question to ask. What would you like to wish the Financial University teaching and administrative staff and students for the coming academic year?
– Any transitional period is always a difficult one. I think we are facing a complicated year. It will all settle down as time passes. New university departments and divisions will be formed. I wish highly-qualified people came to work with us from the universities that are merging with our institution.
I wish you all patience, success and a heartfelt desire to make the higher education programs in Russia accessible and much better as far as their quality is concerned. I am sure we will cope with the complicated issue if we unite.
 USE – the Unified State Examination.
 All-Russia State Tax Academy
 State University of the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation