A world of potential: SBE unveils new MSc in Economics and Strategy in Emerging Markets

Launching in September 2018, the new MSc in Economics and Strategy in Emerging Markets follows on the heels of the successful Emerging Markets specialisation, now in its third year, in the BScs in International Business and in Economics and Business Economics. We spoke to Tania Treibich, assistant professor of economics at Maastricht University’s School of Business and Economics and programme leader of the new one-year taught master’s programme, who believes the degree will appeal both to SBE’s BSc graduates, and to students joining the faculty from elsewhere.

How did the MSc in Economics and Strategy in Emerging Markets come about?

Tania Treibich: “Initially, the idea came from Professor Bart Verspagen, director of UNU-MERIT. That’s why from the beginning we had the idea that this programme would be a collaboration between UNU-MERIT and SBE, but given his duties, he was not as available to work on the implementation, so that’s why I took over. I created a team around me to develop the programme, and also started interacting a lot more with the bachelor’s programme.

“We’re really looking forward to working with Kaj Thomsson [who leads the emerging markets specialisation in the BSc in International Business] to have interconnection, exchanges, between what he does at the bachelor’s level and what we do at the master’s level. This is partly to prevent overlap, because we want students who’ve done the bachelor’s to be interested and not repeat what they’ve done already, by offering content at a more advanced level. We also want to be open to welcome other students; especially because it’s valuable for our internal students to have exchanges with students coming from more business-focused or even liberal arts backgrounds.”

How big is your team?

TT: “The core team organising the master’s are Kaj Thomsson, Neil Foster-McGregor from UNU-MERIT, and Cindy Lopes-Bento from the Department of Operation and Strategy. On the teaching team, we have people involved who are teaching the bachelor’s, so they are experts on these topics, including Piet Eichholtz, who’s doing the finance course with me. Of course what is different from the bachelor’s programme, in terms of teaching, is the involvement of UNU-MERIT researchers, including Zina Nimeh, Eleonora Nillesen and Maty Konte from UNU-MERIT. That’s part of the new structure that will be developed for all master’s programmes at SBE, where along with the courses, students will have a semester-long project to do.

“For the new MSc, this is where the expertise of UNU-MERIT will be a key factor, led by Kirsten Haaland. UNU-MERIT researchers work a lot with the World Bank and UN organisations, writing reports and research for them and leading projects on the field in India, Africa and so on. They have a lot of expertise and do a lot of commissioned work. MSc students will develop their own semester-long project on a topic they choose that is related to UNU-Merit commissioned work, and interact with the researchers there, in teams of five or six students rather than the usual two or three students in SBE projects.

“They will learn about project management, how to distribute roles, and see how they can apply what they are learning in the courses to an output format that is more like what they will have to do if they go on to work for such international organisations, for example writing policy briefs and making presentations.

Who do you expect to apply for this MSc?

TT: “Both business and finance students can apply, but we’re looking for students who are interested in the economic mechanisms – so when we think of business, it’s more to do with business economics, strategy, financial aspects and how they relate to the macroeconomic environment. We’re looking at both the firm perspective – the business side – and the country perspective or international perspective, and international flows. Students should be interested in this interconnection, and realise that, in order to prepare international strategies on how to enter markets, on how to develop products for different markets or financial products addressed to particular environments, they should know about the economics involved.

“Of course we’re looking for students with the motivation to know about these particular kinds of countries – the emerging economies – and not only focusing on our perspective [in the West], but being open to learn about how other countries and other institutional setups work, and how you have to adapt economic concepts and strategies to these particular environments.”

Will most students in this programme go on to work for NGOs?

TT: “No, and that’s why it’s an interdisciplinary programme. We aim to address both people who want to work in international organisations or NGOs, but also people who want to work in firms. Financial firms investing in emerging markets; multinationals that have supply chains developed across countries or that want to enter different markets: they all need to know about emerging markets, and they all need to know about it at both the level of a firm and of the macroeconomic environments.”

Are these two very different groups of students hard to accommodate?

TT: “We’re not starting from scratch, of course: this is already the distinctive feature of the bachelor’s specialisation in emerging markets, where we have students both from the business and economics sides, and we’re learning about dealing with these issues. I think this variety is valuable for the exchanges within the classroom, given the type of learning experience we have here at SBE and at UM in general. There are exchanges between students, and we try to develop this, so each person can present a point of view and be more challenged than if everybody agrees on the same values, and the same point of view on the world.

“But of course it’s a challenge in terms of the tools used and the more applied aspects. For example the project. It focuses on the outputs that will be used if you work in the public sector, but if you’re a firm and you’re interacting with international organisations, you also need to know what a policy brief is, or what the role of the World Bank is in these countries.

Maastricht University has quite an international student community, but the majority come from Germany and Belgium rather than Malaysia and Mexico. Do you expect to have more of the latter group in this course?

TT: “We don’t have a lot of students from Asia, but we have quite a few from Eastern Europe, and some from Latin America, as well. We already see interest from these types of students in particular, and especially among exchange students. Some are taking the [bachelor’s] emerging markets courses, and have told us that they are really interested in following a master’s programme focusing on the issues that they know about. It wouldn’t be just a repetition for them, because it will involve learning the concepts from that perspective. Some will want to go back to their countries to develop policies or work in firms with this knowledge, and some will want to stay in Europe or go to other emerging markets.

“One student I know is from Moldavia and she’s going to Chile. Just because you are from a particular background or a country doesn’t mean you want to work in that country. In the bachelor’s course, we see that of course there are a lot of German students, but that many of the German students who take the specialisation are those with a family background from elsewhere: Mexico, Brazil, Asia. Your passport does not define your culture, or what you know about these other countries.”

How does this subject, emerging markets, fit your own background and interests?

TT: “I’m originally French, but my dad is from Uruguay, so I also have a Uruguayan passport, and I’m bilingual from birth. So from a personal perspective I’ve always had an attraction to Latin American countries. My own research doesn’t reflect emerging markets yet. My work focuses on policy and how to evaluate it; from a theoretical perspective, I really believe that policy should not be one size fits all, and that we should always look at the context, at the background where you implement policies. That’s particularly relevant when you study emerging markets, because the institutional background and the economic conditions are very different, and you cannot just apply the same policy recommendations there as the ones used in advanced countries: you have to be more creative. It’s also very challenging and very interesting, as an academic, to try to see how you have to change your own theoretical framework to adapt it to these contexts.

Are there similar master’s courses offered elsewhere?

TT: “There are some programmes outside of the Netherlands focusing on emerging markets, but always either strictly from the business side or from the economic theory side. In the Netherlands there are a few programmes focusing on development economics or development studies that include perhaps one course on emerging markets, but that’s it. We learned from our experience helping our bachelor’s students to find master’s programmes that suit them that there really isn’t anything else that is exactly like we’re offering, or that would be a continuation from our bachelor’s. That’s why we felt so confident that when we developed this programme, we would be presenting something new: the fact that we look at the interrelation between business and economics, and that we strictly focus on emerging economies rather than on the more development side, on issues related to the poorest economies. We’re not studying how civil conflict or natural catastrophes affect these countries, but more issues such as: what are the sources of economic growth, why do they have more economic volatility, what does it mean for the business environment there?”

What are the countries you’ll focus on? Latin America, Eastern Europe, India, China?

TT: “It’s not a fixed list, but depends on the dynamics and the performance of these countries. Mostly, of course, we will focus on the Latin American and East Asian countries, plus Eastern Europe and South Africa, and some other African countries depending on the dynamics.

“In the bachelor’s specialisation, in the third year, students can choose an area of focus, such as Latin America, Asia or other areas. But that’s not what we have chosen to do in the master’s, for lack of time and lack of space, but also because we focus rather on the international relations between countries: how all these countries are part of the global system, connected through flows of goods, flows of knowledge, flows of finance, etc. Of course, a student who is particularly interested in Thailand or Brazil can develop their own country profile, through the project, through the thesis, or possibly through an internship or the discretionary aspects in the programme.

How many students do you expect to have in the MSc in Economics and Strategy in Emerging Markets?

TT: “In the bachelor’s specialisation we have between 50 and 60 students currently. For the master’s, our target number is something like 75 students per year. We will open hoping for several tutorial groups, but even if we have a smaller number in the beginning, we hope it will grow, and then we’ll see how it goes. We don’t have a fixed amount, of course: as we grow, we’ll have to expand capacity, but we’ve been careful to be sure that we already have enough capacity to accommodate that number of students.”

What excites you most about this new master’s?

TT: “It’s the interaction with the students and also team effort; our team is really working well and likes working together. I think this also shows whenever we interact with the students. Ultimately we are creating something together with the students that is new and learning from them. We’re aiming to create a community of students that also involves the teaching staff, and that works together to not only help students, but also learn from them about how we can improve, how can we answer their needs, and how can we open the way to all the opportunities that they need.”

“Since we are lucky to already have the bachelor’s specialisation, we’ve been interacting a lot with those students, and they’re really willing and motivated to help us, not only to represent the master’s whenever we attend a fair, but also in terms of content. We did focus groups and surveys with the students from the bachelor’s and other students from SBE, to get a clear idea of what they expected and what we could offer, and having an exchange with them about this.

Did consulting the students teach you anything that surprised you?

Tania Treibich: “The fact that there’s a semester-long language course within the master’s really comes from the students. For now we’re just working with what is available at the Language Centre, but as the programme develops, we could well have our own programmes. They can choose any language at any level that is available at the Language Centre, at a minimum of three levels. So if you want to start from scratch learning Arabic, Russian or Chinese, you can, and that makes a difference when you interact with businesses and you’re able to introduce yourself in the local language and demonstrate your interest in the culture. Or it might be that you’ve studied Spanish for many years and you want to become more proficient, so that you can have an interview in Spanish, and maybe work in Spanish.

“So that really came from the students, because in the bachelor’s, they have an internship in emerging markets, and they felt they were really lacking this language component.

“We’ll also have a course on inter-cultural communication; we still have to see how this develops, but we really know that besides the language aspect, it’s the communication aspect that students have to learn about. We can’t teach them how to interact with any people in the world, but we can teach them to be aware that you have to learn about how things are done in each country and to prepare for it; that’s an important part of interaction with people from businesses, from policy, from any type of stakeholders. We’ll start with a couple of guest lecturers, people telling about their own experience, and students trying to reflect on it, but we also hope to develop elements with the ERD department at SBE as well.

“Of course this seems very ambitious. We can’t teach them about all the parts of the world; it’s more a way to approach problems, how to find, identify and apply the right tools. It’s learning to learn, and that’s because, by definition, these contexts are also changing. Whatever you learn now about China may not be relevant in ten years, but what you need to know is, ‘OK, where does China come from, what is the history, the institutional development in China, and how can you understand what happens today, given this historical aspect, and also what is the comparative advantage of China?’ Of course, it’s a big country, it has a lot of people, but why does it matter for its economic development and how can we explain the economic policies and strategies of China given these environments?”


MSc in Economics and Strategy in Emerging Markets: the team

Person Current position Role in MSc ESEM
Verspagen, Bart Director of UNU MERIT, Professor at SBE, Economics Initiated the development of the MSc
Compulsory courses
Treibich, Tania Assistant Professor (SBE, Economics) Programme leader, International Macroeconomics and Finance for Emerging Markets;Trade, FDI and global value chains
Eichholtz, Piet Full professor (SBE, Finance) International Macroeconomics and Finance for Emerging Markets
Golsteyn, Bart Associate Professor (SBE, Economics) Empirical methods in Economics;Program and policy evaluation in emerging markets
De Regt, Erik Lecturer (SBE, Economics) Empirical methods in Economics
Haaland, Kirsten Researcher (UNU MERIT) Policy in Emerging Markets
Lopes-Bento, Cindy Assistant Professor (SBE, Organisation and Strategy) Strategic Management for Emerging Markets ;Business innovation & sustainable dev.
Thomsson, Kaj Assistant Professor (SBE, Economics) Socio-Economic Development in Emerging Markets;Governance and institutions in Emerging Markets
Nimeh, Zina Assistant professor (UNU MERIT) Socio-Economic Development in Emerging Markets
Kuenn, Steffen Assistant Professor (SBE, Economics) Writing a Master’s thesis
Foster-McGregor, Neil Researcher and Deputy director (UNU MERIT) Trade, FDI and global value chains
Konte, Maty Researcher (UNU MERIT) Governance and institutions in Emerging Markets
Quintens, Lieven Assistant Professor (SBE, M. and Supply Chain Manag.) Supply chain strategy
Smeets, Paul Assistant Professor (SBE, Finance) Sustainable investments
Nillesen, Eleonora Researcher (UNU MERIT) Program and policy evaluation in emerging markets