The Rector of the university appointed Mari Avarmaa as the Dean of the School of Business and Governance on 9 March 2023. Until then she had worked as the Director of the Department of Business Administration and lectured courses on financial management and management accounting.
We have asked the new dean to tell us how she sees the development of the School of Business and Governance, what the state of economic education in general is, and what topics she is interested in.
Please introduce yourself.
I come from Tartu, a researchers' family, and have always highly appreciated education. I have academic degrees from three universities - the University of Tartu, Bentley University in the USA, and TalTech. I reached the dean’s position through a somewhat unconventional path, having worked as a financial specialist and manager in the telecom and banking sectors until 2017. In my spare time, I enjoy skiing and going to the theatre and cinema with friends; my favourite place to relax is the northern coast of Hiiumaa.
Which of your experiences and knowledge could benefit you in the dean’s position?
My job as the director of the department has familiarised me with our staff’s everyday routines. Perhaps, I can understand their needs and know how the decisions made by the university or school affect the people. Before that, for more than ten years, I worked as a top manager in the private sector, as a board member of the Nordea Bank in Estonia and as the head of management accounting for Nordea Bank in the Baltics. I can use the ideas and best practices I gained there - they say that excellent results can be achieved by transferring experience from one walk of life to another. In addition, since 2020, I have been a member of the Omniva Council, which provides an additional view of what is going on in the business landscape and the activities of international technology-intensive companies and allows cooperating with the best senior managers. Also, over the years, a network of relations outside the university has formed, through which the cooperation of the school can be promoted.
Please describe your vision of the development of the School of Business and Governance.
As the recently updated strategy of the School of Business and Governance states, our development is in line with the university's vision - innovative Estonia in the sustainable world - and we are one of the leading educational and research centres in our fields of activity. I believe that the ability to realise ambitions is at least as important as the vision. As a dean, I see supporting it as one of my roles.
You mentioned that the School of Business and Governance was handed over to you as a strong unit. What do you intend to accomplish as a dean?
As in education generally, it is critical to deal with the problem of succession, regarding both - the Estonian teaching staff and researchers and the ones with an international background. At the same time, it is essential to ensure that the people we already have can put their skills into practice in the best way. Since our society is changing at an increasing pace, it is a big challenge to be ahead of the times. We want to constantly develop the study programmes and teaching methods, e.g., by discussing the topics of sustainability, technology, and data-driven models, and considering the changes in the teaching and learning process caused by the somewhat forgotten COVID time.
We know that the School of Business and Governance unites four areas of study and research - economics, business, law, and public administration. In which state are the teaching and learning activities at the School of Business and Governance?
As our previous dean Enn Listra has always emphasised, we are the strongest university in Estonia that teaches economics. We have managed to be attractive to the better part of Estonian secondary school graduates. Three of our study programmes have international accreditations, and our graduates are highly valued in the labour market. Our teaching staff is diverse - more than 30% of our people have an international background. Among them, many are the top specialists in their fields. Although, current economic and political uncertainty poses challenges for us as well.
Your research topics focus on the development of fintech companies and the financing of non-financial companies. Would you please shed a little light on these topics?
Indeed, one of my interests in recent years has been the field of fintech. For example, in cooperation with my colleagues, I have studied the fintech ecosystem of Estonia and other countries, its formation, structure, and development possibilities. We explain what factors contribute to the development of financial technology entrepreneurship in a specific region and make it a reliable financial centre.
Will dean Mari Avarmaa continue as a lecturer?
Yes, of course. I would not like to be left out of that under any circumstances. I teach courses on financial management and economic accounting, and I intend to supervise final theses in the future, so students are very welcome to come to me.
Any surprises regarding the new position?
Surprises as a dean are to come yet, but a pleasant experience immediately before becoming a dean. When I asked about expectations for the new dean, one of my colleagues had a specific question: why can't we dance at our school parties? I fully agree - there must be an opportunity to dance, in any case.