For the first time in Hungary, Corvinus launches a master’s programme in Political Economy. In the interview with Gergő Medve-Bálint, programme director, the associate professor of the Institute of Social and Political Sciences, Department of Political Science, we talked about, among other things, how the programme reflects on the needs of students and the labour market, how the course is structured, where to find a job and who the degree programme is recommended for.
Why did you take up the position of head of the programme, what is your personal goal as a programme director?
On the one hand, because I feel strong support and commitment from the university administration to the programme, and on the other hand, because I am passionate about the success of this master’s programme. I obtained my BA in international studies from Corvinus University, where I was satisfied with the programme’s global outlook, but my interest in economics was not sufficiently satisfied. So, together with many of my fellow students, we started to think about what extra knowledge we could acquire to help us in the labour market. Finally, I did a degree in international economics and business at KU Leuven in Belgium. It was then that I understood that the political economy perspective provides the most comprehensive, complex view of current world issues.
In my view, anyone who is interested in the relationship between politics and the economy, or in other words, how the economy becomes political (and vice versa), should definitely study political economy, because this is where you get the comprehensive knowledge that will be of most help in the labour market later on.
How do you see the future of the degree programme?
We would like to see a balanced and stable interest both at national and international level. We would like to have a student base where roughly half of the students are Hungarian and the other half international. The degree programme will be taught in English, and I personally believe it is important for students to gain international perspectives, to be internationally embedded either through fellow students or visiting lecturers from abroad. The opportunity is there, as we have a relatively wide contact network of international researchers and tutors. Otherwise, the training is popular in Western Europe, and we hope it will be popular here, too.
What challenges have you encountered during the development of the degree programme?
The difficulty is that almost all colleagues have different ideas about what political economy is. In addition to the Institute of Social and Political Sciences, the Institute of Global Studies and the Institute of Economics are also linked to the degree programme. The colleagues who teach there have different perspectives on the problems, and therefore different interpretations of what should be taught under the heading of political economy.
Reconciling these slightly different ideas was a challenge, but my personal conviction is that we have succeeded in creating a balanced, multi-legged training, which includes political, economic and even legal and sociological knowledge in the appropriate proportions. We try to provide students with a varied methodological toolset, including qualitative and quantitative methods. We strive to equip students with the confidence which will enable them to easily navigate in the academic literature and to prepare independent, well-founded empirical analyses.
What needs have you responded to by developing the degree programme?
One was that there was not much training available in Hungary for students interested in the relationship between political and economic life. We noticed that at BA level, there are several students who have an interest in political economy, even if they may not be able to articulate it at first. So, on the one hand, there was a growing demand from students, and we are trying to reflect that.
On the other hand, in the labour market, several multinationals and consulting firms have expressed the need to employ such graduates who have a confident and systemic knowledge of both in the world of politics and economics. These demands are constantly changing, so it is important to provide students with knowledge that is up-to-date, flexible and adaptable to the changing requirements.
What basic knowledge and interests should a candidate for a master’s programme in political economy have?
I highly recommend it to anyone interested in current world events from both a political and an economic perspective. We are mainly looking for students in bachelor’s programme in political science, international studies, international economics and applied economics, but students from other courses are also welcome with appropriate credit acceptance (see details here – the Ed.)
Political economy in my understanding is, in a simplified way, about the fact that politics and the world of economy cannot be separated, because the two are very strongly interacting. Some say that economic interests and institutions determine political developments, others say it is the other way round. Therefore, it is worth exploring empirically the economic effects or economic interests of a given policy decision, and the possible political consequences of a given economic decision, e.g., an investment decision. So, for those who are interested in such issues, I can heartily recommend this degree programme, because they will gain knowledge that will be applicable in the labour market.
What subjects can you mention that make the training special?
I would rather highlight areas of knowledge. One topical issue, for instance, is the middle-income trap. We examine whether economic upgrading is possible, i.e. to avoid the middle-income trap, in a dependent market economy, such as most Central European countries, where economic growth is mainly based on the mostly low value-added, export-driven activities of foreign investors. If so, what kind of institutions, what kind of economic policies, what successful and unsuccessful examples of economic upgrading exist in the world.
Other questions are whether democracy is a necessary condition for a well-functioning market economy, or what are the social and economic reasons for the rise of populist leaders and parties around the world. Another topical example is why the EU Member States handled the coronavirus crisis differently, and how this can be explained by differences in their political-economic structure.
We offer two specialisations, a specialisation in Central and Eastern Europe and a specialisation in Global Political Economy. Those who choose the former will gain a deeper understanding of the interaction between the region and the European Union, and those who choose the latter will gain a deeper understanding of the political economy and development implications of global trade policy, international capital markets and regional integrations.
How is the training structured?
Training takes place on a quarterly basis. This means that the students will study two subjects per quarter intensively over seven weeks. This means constant revision and student work, but it allows students to get more in-depth knowledge of a subject than if they had to study 5-6 subjects in parallel for a whole semester.
The first year is based on general political economy and methodology. In the first two quarters of the second year, the subjects of the specialisations are taught, and in the last two quarters there is no teaching, but the compulsory internship and the thesis are done. Our objective is to produce theses that reflect in-depth research work. Moreover, the internships may help our students find their prospective employer. These are the underlying reasons why we have reduced actual university education to a year and a half.
In what field can graduates find a job?
The range of potential employers is very wide, as the course leads to a degree in political science and economics. In addition to multinational companies, we can also mention international consultancy firms that regularly advise governments and have government contracts. Personally, I know several foreign colleagues with a degree in political economy who have taken up positions in international organisations such as the European Commission or the OECD. Obviously, a confident command of English is important, but those who get into the degree programme should already have at least an intermediate level of English, and this can be developed further during the training.
In addition, jobs can be found in research institutions and public administration, but the skills acquired in the degree programme can also be used to build a career in the media as a business journalist or editor. I and my colleagues try to find as many internship opportunities as possible and make them available to students.
What values and vision will the students have after the training?
We aim to provide a complex, comprehensive and up-to-date knowledge of current political and economic conditions, actors and institutions. What is very important is that our graduates will have critical thinking, and the ability to understand current political and economic developments and problems at a systemic level. They will be able to analyse them independently and will therefore participate confidently and responsibly in preparing or even making decisions.
Earlier, we also interviewed Dr Zoltán Balázs, professor at Corvinus, who was involved in the development of the degree programme. Read this interview here.
Author: Máté Kovács (Corvinus Communication)