Anete Pajuste: Looking for the Reasoning Behind Business Numbers
Professor Anete Pajuste, the head of SSE Riga’s Department of Finance and Accounting, came back to her alma mater when she started teaching there in 2013 after working in the private sector at a bank and as an advisor to the head of the Latvian Postal Service. In those almost six years, she has seen changes both in the way subjects are taught and in the challenges students face in learning them.
“We use a lot more simulations and there are more data sets available, certainly compared to when I was a student at SSE Riga many years ago. It is also easier for students to access knowledge, with Google and similar apps, so the work of the teacher is to guide students and help them synthesize knowledge through discussions and case analysis,” she says.
Asked whether easy access to Google and information on the internet has led to her being challenged by students pointing to facts or viewpoints she hasn’t considered, Pajuste answered that it hasn’t happened to her. Instead, she finds that the overabundance of information can confuse students and make them seek someone to explain and put things in context.
Separating information from noise
“There is more information available, but there is a lot of noise out there and they can get lost and want to have the lectures and guidance as to what are the right sources,” she explains. Pajuste is also concerned that googling for answers and solutions can sometimes decrease the need to think and has made some students see business and accounting problems in terms of easily applied templates
“Students more than before seem to want the one right template where they can plug in the numbers and get the answer. So now if you want to know the area of a circle, you plug in Google. Before, when you didn’t have these templates you had to know how this is done and what are the assumptions behind it. Now students want one model, one template and they get frustrated if you say there are several models for something,” Pajuste says, adding that blind reliance on formulas should be taught as one contributing cause to the last economic crisis.
“We very much believe that students should understand where formulas come from, especially with all the evidence from the crisis of how formulas can be used badly with disastrous results. So, you have to understand the assumptions behind whatever templates you plug the numbers in to. We try to convey that there are multiple ways to get an answer,” she remarks.
Students more aware of social and “green” issues
Asked whether people training to be managers of the financial and accounting side of enterprises, perhaps with a career goal of being a chief financial officer (CFO) have to calculate new factors such as environmental impact, corporate social responsibility and the like, the professor of accounting and finance says that students seem pro-actively interested in such issues.
“The positive thing about this generation of students is that they care about these things. when they go out for job interviews, they want to know whether the company is green and what it does for social responsibility. It’s a positive trend that they care more about these big issues and will bring that to the companies they are thinking of working for,” she says, adding that “you have to think beyond increasing shareholder value, more like increasing shareholder welfare.”
Looking back at when she was a student at SSE Riga, in the second class to be admitted, Pajuste recalls it being “ a great experience” with an intense sense of community - and the school like a home for many - where friendships for life were forged.
“Now I have friends on company boards all around the Baltic and there is always someone you can call up for an opinion or advice,” she says, noting that sometimes her former classmates and fellow alumni can come to give a short guest lecture to SSE Riga students.
Back in the mid-1990s. a highlight of the then two-year intensive undergraduate course was a two-week trip to the “parent” school in Stockholm. Today, Pajuste admits, young people are used to travelling to European capitals for a weekend and have a wider range of business education and other educational opportunities.
“They are not as ‘hungry’ as we were, we were looking to get better jobs than our (Soviet-times) parents who lived in difficult times, and the present-day students have many more choices as to where to get an education,” she says, but emphasizes that SSE Riga is still one of the best business schools in Europe.