7 Октября 2020

Rector Mikhail Eskindarov Gives Interview to Forbes Education

Last year, Financial University celebrated its 100th birthday. What results has the University reached through its history? And what are the plans for the next 100 years?

Yes, last March, we celebrated an important milestone in the life of the University and joined the University Club, which has a century of history behind it. When answering the question about such anniversaries, it is customary to compare the university with what it was when it was founded and a hundred years later. And from this perspective, Financial University a century ago and today is not something that can be compared.

As it is known, the University began its history in 1919. The first graduating class did not exceed 300 people. Throughout its 100-year history, the University has undertaken a long, largely innovative, path of development and has made a significant contribution to strengthening the economy of our country. Almost all leaders of the national financial system were alumni of the university, and in the post-Soviet era these were our alumni who actually initiated the formation of a new financial and banking system, founded and headed the first banks, insurance companies and other major financial institutions.

Recently, it has become conventional to evaluate the activities and achievements of universities through a system of various ratings. There is a large quantity of these ratings. Only enumerating them would take more than one page. In general, Financial University occupies a very dignified position in this ranking system. In some domestic ratings we are in the TOP 5, in several foreign ratings we are placed somewhere in the TOP 450. Of course, we are constantly working and striving to improve and attain higher positions. But the main indicator of the university’s effectiveness is the demand of its alumni. More recently we entered the TOP 3 higher educational institutions of Russia in the rating "Best Entrepreneurial Universities and Business Schools" conducted by AC Expert on monitoring the international base of start-ups (Crunchbase). This means that our graduates are among the best founders of start-ups, which operate successfully in dozens of countries, including Silicon Valley. Many of our alumni from foreign countries have built a successful career at home and have achieved high results in the financial sphere. And all of them, simultaneously, claim that they succeed only thanks to the high level of education and scientific training they received from the Financial University.

In terms of immediate plans, we have a long-standing dream of merging a technical college with the Financial University, so that we could add a powerful technical component to our education. The golden age of profiled universities is gradually finishing. The world is being transformed, and the new technologies, which are entering our lives, are fundamentally changing the requirements of our alumni. I am convinced interdisciplinary subjects will be our future.

Our plans for the next hundred years are quite simple. We intend, while preserving our traditions and principles, to continue to train highly qualified specialists and to develop into a national educational, scientific and technological centre of the country, an entrepreneurial university with an innovative ecosystem and a high intellectual capital.

Among FinU alumni there are quite a few senior executives, from big businessmen and deputies to members of the government. Are they involved in the life of the university?

As I said, Financial University has always had a tradition of continuity, i.e. a special academic fraternity and a family morale. In 2006, our alumni created the first in Russia University Endowment Fund, initiated by Mikhail Prokhorov. Also, with his financial support, the program "Ten Nobel Prize Winners at the Financial University" is being implemented: seven Nobel laureates have already given lectures to the FinU faculty and students. You must admit, it is a rare opportunity for a university to have such resources. 

Many of our graduates support the University through active participation in the educational process: they give master classes and organize thematic meetings with students. For example, Minister of Finance Anton Siluanov has headed the Financial and Economic Faculty for several years. He regularly gives open lectures at the University and offers internships for teachers and students at the Ministry of Finance. The legendary Faculty of International Economic Relations has recently been headed by our alumni Chairman of the Board of Directors of the UniCredit Bank Mikhail Alexeyev.

Moreover, we currently have about 200 scholarships from various banks and insurance companies headed by our alumni.

How do you see the future of the financial industry in Russia and abroad? What professions will be in demand in, for instance, 20 years? Are there any programs at the University that prepare the future labour force?

The financial industry is undergoing tremendous changes in both technology and regulation. New financial technologies promise to change the landscape of the financial world dramatically. For example, blockchain or distributed register technologies have a potential to increase efficiency through creating a new financial infrastructure. The digital identification of financial market participants and the issuance of cryptocurrency by central banks will be important tools for the development of new financial markets and financial instruments. All this will require close and fruitful cooperation between classical players, digital innovators, regulators of the world financial market and university science.

Changes in the financial industry will change qualifications of the future financiers. The share of informal communication components in the financial industry will increase and the flow of information will continue to increase. Future financiers, therefore, need to have extensive entrepreneurial knowledge, skills and interpersonal skills to offer new business solutions. The financial industry will attract flexible, talented and rapidly trained young professionals.

That is why, as I said earlier, we are building an entrepreneurial university, building an external and internal innovation ecosystem and developing our intellectual capital. We have defined such objectives in the FinU Development Program up to 2030. This requires the development and realization of promising educational programs and the reconstruction of scientific activity. We have been doing this work for quite some time now and have made it possible to switch quickly and effectively to distance learning.

Many experts argue about how our digital future will look like. But I want to emphasize that as long as there is a society, it’s always going to be live communication, and as long as there’s something called budget, there’s always going to be a profession in finance.

Please describe the experience of this year’s admission campaign. What measures have been taken to organize it? What was the competition and entry requirements (what was different from the previous year)? Which program was the most popular?

This year, the admissions campaign took place in an unfamiliar format for us and for the students, it was online, complex and unique at the same time. For the first time ever, we were accepting applications online together with entrance exams. But the pandemic has not stopped us from setting new admissions records. This year, we have admitted 16,500 undergraduate students and more than 3,100 graduate students. 

The number of applications increased by 20 per cent, the number of applicants who are winners of the Olympiad increased by 146 per cent, and the average score of the Unified State Exam at the Financial University increased to 90.3 (according to this index, FinU has long been in the TOP 10 among Russian higher educational institutions).

The competition for the program "Advertising and PR" was 60 per place, and "Management" — more than 40. Traditionally, there has been a high competition for IT programs, more than 12 people per place.

The competition for fee-paying educational services has increased considerably. We have a record of 3,500 students, and that is not because we haven’t increased the tuition fee. I should point out that in some areas of training we had to refuse to admit some candidates who scored 73 points in the Unified State Exam. It is difficult to imagine for many higher educational institutions in Russia.

This year, 600 students from 52 countries will come to study with us. These are also record numbers for us.

Financial University is your alma mater. How does it feel to run a university where you studied? Did you bring something into student life that you personally missed when you were studying yourself? In fact, how are the students of the time different from today?

My life has been inextricably linked to the Financial University for almost 50 years, since 1971, when I was enrolled to the Faculty of Credit and Economics of the Moscow Financial Institute.

In fact, I was not going to work in education, and I went to the Moscow Financial Institute for quite different purposes. But the fate decided otherwise. After graduation, I decided to get a PhD, and then stayed on to work at the alma mater. And I am proud to have done all the levels of teaching and administration at the Financial University from a student to the rector. Moreover, I am probably the only person at the Financial who has been a member of the Academic Council since 1974. The thing is, I became a member of the Science Council when I was a junior.

As a person who grew up with the University, I clearly saw the purpose and had a clear idea of where the university should be headed. It is this understanding of the internal life of the University that has always helped me solve complex work issues and implement many large-scale projects and new educational programs.

What kind of students were we and what are they now, what is our kinship and what distinguishes us? The question is not easy to answer, it is rather philosophical. I am convinced that the first students of the past and today are not fundamentally different. The student years were, are, and will be the happiest in every person’s life.

The current generation of students is more pragmatic and practice oriented. The students aspire to obtain a decent education, then build a brilliant career and become highly qualified specialists. Teamwork and friendship are perhaps what the students lack today. They are, unfortunately, very divided. That is why we are actively developing student scientific societies, student councils, conferences where our students can meet and talk to each other.

The advantage of the old days was that we spent more time together and were essentially a cohesive student family, enjoying each other’s successes and supporting each other in difficult situations. By the way, the existence of this fraternity then helped our graduates a lot in their adult, professional lives. At one time the following slogan was even put forward, «Alumni of the Financial University, hire an alumni of the Financial University!» Fortunately, this practice is being implemented today.