16 November 2022

Blitz Interview with FinU Rector

Exactly one year ago, on November 15, 2021, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin appointed Professor Stanislav Prokofiev, Doctor of Economics, Rector of the Financial University. We decided to find out what these 365 days were like, what we managed to achieve in this relatively short period and what the goals for the near future are, from Stanislav Prokofievpersonally.


11 questions to the Rector


– What was your first day as rector?


First of all, I think it is important to emphasize that my first day as rector coincided with an important event – the anniversary birthday of my predecessor, now FinU President Mikhail Eskindarov – a man whom I respect very much as a great scientist and talented leader who made a huge contribution to the development of not only our University, but also the entire national higher school as a whole. And today, November 15, 2022, on the first anniversary of my rectorship, I would like to take this pleasant opportunity to congratulate Mikhail Eskindarov on his birthday and sincerely wish him good health, inexhaustible vitality, perseverance, optimism and many more years of intense and interesting work in our team.


The motto of the FinU is “We value the past, building the future!”. And I think it is very important not to neglect the first part of it, because it was in the past that the foundation of many high achievements and today‘s victories was laid. I am very grateful to Mikhail Eskindarov for his productive work as rector, active participation in the life of the FinU at the moment and, of course, for invaluable friendly help and support, wise advice and important recommendations on the current activities of the University. I sincerely hope that Mikhail Eskindarov will be in our ranks for many more years and that his unique experience, his deep knowledge will be even more in demand. And in this regard, I want to inform you that Mikhail Eskindarov has agreed to head an important and responsible area of work – to take over the leadership of postgraduate and doctoral studies. All relevant orders have already been signed. 


Going back to what my first day as rector was like, I will not hide that this appointment was quite unexpected for me and negotiations on the transition to the FinU were swift. Of course, I was overwhelmed with emotions, because it is a great honor to cross the threshold of the Financial University, one of the leading universities in our country, a university with a century-old history, with which I have been associated for many years of productive cooperation and friendship, in a completely new and very responsible capacity, as rector, and, of course, with absolutely nothing a comparable feeling. I was fully aware of the trust placed in me by our founder, the Russian Government, and I firmly knew that I would make every effort to justify this trust and become a worthy successor to the glorious traditions of our university.


Of course, it helped me that, since 2002, for almost 20 years I have been cooperating with the FinU, more precisely, first with the Academy of Budget and Treasury, which later became part of our University, since 2005 I have been its professor. An important and positive role was played by 8 years of Head of the Department “State and Municipal Administration”.  Nevertheless, I began to feel the volume, complexity and responsibility of the tasks assigned to me from the very first day, and this became a strong internal driver for me.  When I was appointed rector, I promised that I would continue my previous course and try to bring some of my new promising areas, such as the development of digital transformation and innovative science with increased interaction with practice, as well as the formation of an entrepreneurial university model. And from the very first day as rector, he began to address the key issues of implementing the FinU strategy.


– How does it feel to be a rector?


It’s difficult to be a rector. I will honestly say that, having graduated from university many years ago, I have been a leader for all the years of my already 33-year career. And I thought that after so many years of such a multifaceted and rather complex work, I had gained good experience and was ready to commission completely different large-scale tasks, that due to my extensive professional experience I could easily cope with them. But the university is a special management object associated with a huge responsibility for people, primarily for students, many of whom, especially those who receive secondary vocational education, are still minors. And that is why it is important to create such conditions at the university, such an environment that is good not only for studying and doing research, but also safe and comfortable for staying at the FinU. And only after becoming the FinU Rector, you realize that you, in fact, have the whole city, the career of people, responsibility for 50 thousand students. The second, no less important area of responsibility is the faculty. We need to constantly think about what can be done for teachers to effectively unleash their potential, their talent, so that to a greater extent it works to solve our common task and the development of the University as a whole. How to build and modernize the process of acquiring knowledge? How to cover such topics as, for example, fintech? Where should this be done: at the Faculty of Information Technology or at the specialized faculty? Which partners should I build relationships with first of all? What should be the principle of selecting these partners? On what basis? 


Financial issues are also important. Yes, let’s say carefully, we are a financially well-off university. But this statement is true only in conditions when all the planned plans are being fulfilled, including attracting extra-budgetary funding. And my first year as rector fell on a very difficult, pandemic period.  We had to go to online learning twice. And in these difficult conditions, many enterprises that were losing profits were not up to self-supporting scientific work. Of course, the beginning of a special military operation and the challenges that arose in this regard also required us to develop new approaches. But I want to emphasize that for me there were no questions and doubts about the need to support the policy of the President of Russia. I, like 130 of my fellow rectors from different universities of our country, signed a letter from the very beginning of the special operation in support of the Head of our state. And I am very grateful to the faculty, staff and students of the Financial University for their solidarity in this important issue, their strong civic position and solidarity.  


Taking care of students is one of my priorities. In the pandemic conditions, the first priority for me was to make sure that students preserved their health and the health of their loved ones. Someone, maybe, did not like my decision on a long distance from February to mid-March, but it was dictated solely by these goals. When the special military operation began, we extended the working hours of the relevant services so that our students could receive the necessary documents every day in a 12-hour mode and ensure their legitimate rights and interests in conditions of partial mobilization.


I emphasize that the rector is not just a top manager or a leader. To be a rector means to live the same life as a university, to be part of a large and complex organism, to breathe in unison with a team of many thousands that unites scientists, teachers, staff and students. 


It is very important to receive feedback from students and teachers as rector. An example of this feedback is the decision to create a psychological support service. It was not previously in the University, but I decided to create it. And now I understand that it was timely and correctly done. And the students themselves suggested this to me during communication with the student asset. Today, 7 psychologists are working, they are very busy with work, and I am glad that these dialogues with experienced, professional people allow our guys to find peace and confidence in the conditions of global instability. 


The work of a rector is very multifaceted, completely different aspects have to be kept in mind at the same time. But after the first year, I can say with confidence that this work brings me great pleasure. And this is the most important thing. After all, if the work is interesting and gives you joy, then you no longer look at the colossal workload, or the fact that you have to go to work on weekends. Because your favorite job gives you the strength and energy to move forward. And gives you this incomparable life drive.


– What do you consider the main achievement of the first year?


There are several important aspects that we can rightfully be proud of at the end of this year. Firstly, we were able to successfully introduce a new organizational model at the FinU and form a new culture of corporate strategic management. We held strategic sessions, during which we learned how to develop breakthroughs in dialogue. Many of them have already worked, some are in the process of implementation, some of these ideas will certainly work in the future, we are likely to refuse some proposals. But it is the culture of project management, the development of horizontal links and the creation of clear and understandable rules - this is, of course, a reliable basis for further development and moving forward.


Secondly, many aspects of the educational process, in terms of practice orientation and individual educational trajectories, have been adjusted and refined. In fact, we have completed the preparation stage for the launch and the definition of our strategic vectors: what we will teach tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. I would like to emphasize that in this activity we actively interacted with potential employers and listened to their opinions and requests.  


The third important achievement concerns the development of our infrastructure. We have opened a number of new state-of-the-art laboratories: a superbly equipped logistics laboratory with an industrial partner AXELOT, the laboratory of experimental psychology has started working, several laboratories have also been launched at the Faculty of Information Technology and Big Data Analysis, the Cyberhab center has been implemented from scratch to conduct classes in the form of virtual or augmented reality. We have made significant progress in terms of interaction with a number of strategic partners, especially I would like to note our anchor partner – VTB Bank, with which a basic department has been created and a branded audience has been opened, in which the latest software is already being tested, which allows us to train highly qualified specialists for modern banks on a turnkey basis. We have rebooted the system of additional professional education, almost doubling the number of students who study under these programs at our University. For the first time in the history of the FinU, we won an important grant and began large-scale training of schoolchildren across the country in programming in Python. As part of this grant, several thousand schoolchildren will be trained at the FinU. 


Also, I will say that this year we conducted the admission campaign very well, our competition not only did not decrease like many other universities, but also increased, as did the average score of applicants, which is 91 points per budget. The average score for the paid department has grown significantly and amounted to 74 points. For the first time, our university has received such a number of Olympic athletes – almost 500 people. This is a very good indicator. After all, these guys could have chosen any university, but they entered the FinU. And this sharp, by a quarter, increase in the number of Olympic athletes who have come to us, of course, indicates an increase in respect and trust in the university.


There are also achievements in the scientific activities of the FinU. We have expanded the range of scientific research, increased the volume of consulting. I am proud to say that our consulting services were very much in demand by the market in conditions of considerable uncertainty caused by the start of a special military operation. Our experts formed very important and effective proposals, many of which were accepted by customers and successfully implemented in practice. 

We have also created a network of scientific laboratories, for example, a scientific laboratory of digital financial assets. We have opened a new round of research cooperation, in which our partner is the University located in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, established on the basis of Beijing University of Technologies and Lomonosov Moscow State University.  We have strengthened cooperation with the Russian Academy of Sciences and from next year we are resolving the issue of a sharp increase in the areas of joint fundamental research in promising areas.


Of course, I cannot but mention another important area of our work that has been developed this year – the implementation of the entrepreneurial university model has been successfully launched. A business incubator has started working at the university, project work is being actively formed, startups are being created, startup acceleration processes have been launched. Our industrial partner Rosbank was the first to support this direction, in summer we held talks with other major credit organizations and have already received confirmation from them of their intention to accelerate our students’ startups. We have also created a student entrepreneurship club, developed a system to support student entrepreneurship at the Faculty of Higher School of Management. A student entrepreneurship center will be built in the near future.


Another important area of our work is the development and modernization of the FinU branches in the regions. And, of course, secondary vocational education deserves special attention. I would like to note that every fourth FinU student studies under the secondary vocational education programs, and this is very good. Today, the economy’s need for highly qualified mid-level specialists is steadily growing. I understand that this is an important area that requires serious support and special attention from the Rector. I have visited 8 of our 27 branches on a working visit, and in the next couple of years I will try to visit them all in order to get acquainted with the situation on the spot, walk through both academic buildings and dormitories, hold meetings with the leadership of the regions, personally communicate with teachers and students. We plan to take a serious approach to updating the material and technical base and educational content of branches that implement programs of higher and secondary vocational education. By the end of the academic year, we will replace about 20% of obsolete computer equipment in the branches and in the next two years we plan to completely update the entire fleet. We also managed to achieve a serious increase in funds for the remuneration of teachers, primarily the vocational education system, because it lagged behind the level of colleges that are subordinate to the subjects of the Russian Federation.


As part of the regional university project’s implementation, agreements were reached with the leadership of a number of regions on joint scientific research in the regional  interests where our branches are present, we also changed the vector of training specialists and are now certifying programs taking into account the needs of each subject of the Russian Federation. 


We also managed to make serious progress in attracting children from the regions and, at the expense of the University’s own funds, put into operation new comfortable dormitories. So, in September of this year, 540 students were able to settle in two dorm buildings on Baltiyskaya Street. And we could get another dormitory building for subsequent reconstruction, which we will complete in 2024. 


Another of our important achievements. We were allocated money for the construction of a new dormitory building. And so the University was trusted, we received money and some land, and now the construction of the dormitory is actively underway. I hope that by the end of this year we will close the perimeter of the new 12-storey building in the Voykovskaya metro area and by the end of next year we will try to settle 350 students there. I would like to emphasize that increasing the number of places in dormitories is one of our key priorities. Public opinion sometimes attributes a certain elitism and inaccessibility to the Financial University for common people, especially from the regions of the country. But this is absolutely not the case. FinU has been and will be a social ladder for talented young people, including those from low-income families and the far outskirts of our country. We can be such a university only when we solve at least two tasks: we will create conditions for children where they could study and live comfortably, and the cost of their accommodation would be comparable to the amount of a monthly scholarship. Another important aspect is that all the FinU canteens should have a high-quality, full and delicious set lunch, no more expensive than 250 rubles per serving. Maybe it will seem ridiculous and undignified to someone, but this is also my managerial priority. And I would also like to emphasize that in terms of providing dormitories, the Financial University in 2024 should become a university that will completely eliminate the queue for accommodation, both among our and foreign students. By the way, the number of foreign students admitted to us, despite all the problems and difficulties, has increased by 20% this year. Even from unfriendly countries, students continue to come to study with us.


– Briefly about the goals and objectives. What do you think is the measure of success?


The key goal and objective is the same – to be the first, to be the best. And we have all the ingredients for success: wonderful students and teachers, a team spirit of like-minded people, great creative and scientific potential, and most importantly – the desire to develop, learn new things and keep up with the times. 


The measure of success is, of course, the high authority of the FinU. And it consists of several important factors. This is the recognition by the expert community of our scientific research and analytical forecasts. This is the quality of alumni’s training, we evaluate it, including by the speed of their employment for a salary not lower than the average for the region. In Moscow, for example, the average salary is about 80 thousand rubles, and we track the employment of our students in the first year after graduation on such a salary. And the indicator is very good – more than 90%. I think this is very worthy.


Another important aspect of success is respect for the brand. If you have noticed, this year the presence of the FinU in the media space has increased dramatically. We have consistently reached the 3rd place among the country’s universities in terms of media activity. Our experts are present in almost all serious TV shows and political talk shows. I want to say in particular that my position on this area of the university’s activity is that the media attention should not be focused on the Rector’s personality, it is necessary to provide an opportunity to express themselves primarily to young teachers, and we have such and their names are well-known to everyone - for example, Igor Yushkov, Stanislav Mitrakhovich, not far behind them are our masters – Konstantin Simonov, Alexey Zubets and many others. Those people who have something to say to society should certainly be supported and given the opportunity to speak on behalf of the expert community of the FinU. This, of course, has a positive effect on brand awareness. And this is very important.


– Three key principles of your work?


The main principle is trust in exchange for responsibility. That is why I am trying to ensure that the faculties become mini-universities, so that the deans have maximum opportunities and powers, so that they are largely free in terms of forming a development strategy and determining the priorities of the headed faculty as part of the established university-wide priorities.


The second is the principle of the prevalence of decency over professionalism. This may seem strange at first glance, but it is very important. Therefore, if we develop exclusively professional competencies, forgetting about personal ones, we risk raising such professional scoundrels. And in the long run it’s scary. Therefore, a person must first of all be honest, decent and, importantly, a patriot, a worthy citizen of his country. And I am glad that our teachers and students have proved themselves to be exactly like this.


The third principle. To lead is to anticipate. The manager at all stages should be distinguished by the ability to see beyond the horizon and think for the future.  


And I also want to emphasize that a leader must love people. I’m a pretty tough leader and I’ve never hidden it. But at the same time I respect a person’s personality. The head has no right to humiliate and insult a person. It is important to be able to achieve the desired result and convey your point of view, revealing the maximum potential of your subordinates, building a culture of cooperation with them. 


– A lecturer at the FinU is a person who...? (give a short description in a few words)


Of course, he is an intellectual. This is a person who loves his job and constantly improves himself, strives to learn new things, skillfully combining the tools of both classical higher school and digital university in his work. This is a mentor who helps to comprehend the basics of the profession and ignites a craving for knowledge in the hearts of students.  And most importantly, he loves his students, is ready to devote himself to them, is ready to give his talent and his time for their development undividedly.


Such a high-quality selection of people is achieved due to the high bar of entrance requirements for a Financial University teacher, which includes a serious academic background, the presence of degrees and titles, and significant publication activity.  I am convinced that our team consists of 99% of such teachers. And the task of the FinU administration today is to raise such teachers from their environment, within the walls of the FinU. To do this, we have introduced a targeted postgraduate course combined with a master’s degree. That is, even at the undergraduate stage, heads of departments begin selecting talented students who are capable and willing to become university teachers in the future. Subsequently, they will study for a master’s degree for free in exchange for the obligation to then enter graduate school and carry out teaching activities. We include these talented young guys in all research projects that can give additional earnings so that they do not look for a side job. I have allocated 10 one-room apartments in our family dormitory for the accommodation of graduate students, our future teachers. I would like to emphasize once again that our task is to create conditions for the preparation and retention of a new generation of scientific elite from among our students within the walls of the Financial University. To do this, we have also changed the remuneration of teachers, which, of course, will be another significant factor motivating young people to become university teachers. 


– How does a student of a Financial University differ from students of other universities?


In fact, in a good way, all students are the same. A student is a student. He is young, active. Student years are the best, brightest and positive in the life of every person. These are the years of the first discoveries, the first love. And our task is not just to give knowledge, but to help the guys decide on their worldview, understand what they want to achieve in the profession, and help them enter this profession, assist in finding employment. 


Of course, our students are commendable in terms of their level of knowledge. A high competition for admission determines a serious level of their training. For the most part, these guys are hardworking, responsible. And we must give them maximum opportunities to realize their creative and intellectual potential. And by the way, in this regard, we have an important innovation – this is a program of additional student education. These are training programs that we have prepared at the request of students. This is an opportunity to acquire additional qualifications to the diploma that they will receive upon graduation. These programs are paid, but they cost very little money – from 2.5 to 5 thousand rubles. Why are they still paid? It was my principled decision. Because everything that is given for free is often not appreciated. The cost of these programs is much higher. We cover this difference from our extra-budgetary funds.


For example, the training program for the formation of reports in the XBRL format, which is implemented at the basic department of the Central Bank, is very popular among students. Many guys want to get not only a course certificate, but also a certificate confirming their additional professional competencies, because this expands the opportunity for further employment.  


– Oral or written exam – which form is more objective?


The written one is certainly more objective. But we are a socio-humanitarian university. And we are not preparing “techies”, but humanitarians who should be able not only to write, but also to speak well, to defend their point of view with reasoned arguments. This is a very important skill. We have to teach our students to speak. In this sense, an oral exam is a good opportunity to improve your speaking skills and test your ability to prove your position. For example, I don’t understand how a foreign language can be passed exclusively in the form of tests. It is important to be able to communicate in a language. This also applies to many other disciplines. So I am a supporter of the combined approach. For some subjects, of course, an oral format is necessary, but for exact sciences, a written exam is also possible.  


– If you were a student now, what would you ask the rector about?


I wouldn’t ask the rector about anything. Why? Because questions arise when something is wrong, something does not work. I have a resource “help@fa.ru”. If you want to talk to me, write there, I am guaranteed to read it, and we will deal with any problem, solve it fairly and according to the law. By the way, the number of requests is a good characteristic of the situation at the university. It is symptomatic that it always increases sharply before the issuance of expulsion orders. Students suddenly remember why they didn’t pass the exams. And when everything is fine, then there are a minimum of appeals.

When I was a student, I did not ask the rector any questions, mostly they were not questions, but proposals and development projects. And I would like to take this opportunity to address our students. Guys, come personally with projects and ideas, but I prefer to communicate with unscrupulous students mainly in writing. 


Also, one more important note – try not to apply abstract ideas, but come with constructive and economically sound proposals. A good example is the student startup center “Cyberhab”. If there is a clear business plan and only 7 months have passed from the idea to the implementation of the project.


And again, if you have any questions, you can always ask them through the form “help@fa.ru”, the student council or personally as part of our meetings at the traditional Rector’s Hour, which I will hold every six months (December and April), the nearest one will be this December. 


– How do you see the Financial University of the future?


A modern, high-tech world-class educational and scientific center with a full-cycle innovative scientific activity, a multi-profile university that implements individual training tracks, and uses advanced digital tools to a reasonable extent in the educational process. An entrepreneurial university that gives students the opportunity to create and develop their own business while still studying. In a word, an innovative forge of personnel of the XXI century for the economy of our country!


– Who is the most important person in the university after all?


Of course, the teacher! I will not follow the fashion trends and deviate from my beliefs. I think that the student came to the university to study, and it is the university teacher who teaches him. Therefore, he is rightfully the main person at the FinU!​