Matěj Bajgar comes from Tišnov. He graduated from the IES with a Bachelor's Degree in 2009. He earned his Master´s at Oxford, and later a PhD at the same university. During his Master´s studies, he focused on developing economics, and in his doctoral thesis he examined the impact of globalization on the performance of companies in emerging economies. While studying at Oxford, he also spent three months as a visiting scholar at Stanford University. Currently, Matěj lives and works in Paris as an Economist at the OECD. He has also worked as a trainee at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and as a consultant for the World Bank and development consulting companies. He has worked, for example, in Lesotho, Tunisia, Ghana, and South Africa. Apart from his work, Matěj is also actively involved in the preparation of the Discover Summer Academy, this year as a coordinator and tutor of development economics.
In his spare time, Matěj climbs on artificial walls, visits medieval monasteries, and occasionally writes for Czech press, you may have seen his articles in Respekt, Hospodářské noviny, Lidové noviny and elsewhere.
Matěj, you worked on very interesting topics while studying at the IES. During the Bachelor's degree, you wrote a paper on health policy and your award-winning Bachelor´s Thesis was devoted to an environmental tax. How did you get to these topics? It is not a typical mainstream for an IES student. What motivated you?
I have always been interested in topics which directly touch people’s well-being. Environment and health – and also development, on which I focused during my graduate studies – are such topics. Actually, environmental economics were the reason that made me join the IES. I was then attending a series of weekend seminars for high school students, it was called the School of Ecological Thinking. Discussions there made me believe that economics provide useful tools for thinking about environmental issues: externalities, pigouvian taxes, putting numbers on costs and benefits… After two of my friends – Petr Janský and Tomáš Brzobohatý – showed me around the IES, I decided this was where I could acquire those tools.
You have obtained a Master´s Degree and PhD in Economics at Oxford. You also have experience with studying at Stanford. What would you recommend to those interested in studying at Oxford? How should they prepare? What did you like the most about Oxford?
What would I recommend to those thinking about applying to Oxford? I would just say “Give it a try and apply!”. I think there is already so much advice around, so it is hard to come up with something new. The unimak.sk website is a good place to start. It certainly helps to have good grades, have done lots of quantitative courses and think of school as a place where education starts and but not where it ends. Personally, I am grateful for the opportunity to study at Oxford. I learned about development policy from three different professors who, at some point, were chief economists at the UK development ministry. I learned to do research from people who are at the forefront of their fields. It is not like they pour wisdom in your head with a funnel. In the end, what matters most is your work. But having such people around helps. At Stanford, it was yet another level. As much as I love Oxford, it felt that there is as much difference between Stanford and Oxford as there is between Oxford and IES. But then again, it is about your own work, and at IES, too, there are people doing world-class research, such as Julie and Michal (Julie Chytilová and Michal Bauer).
During several projects, you worked in Africa - in Tunisia, Lesotho, South Africa or Ghana. What was the hardest thing about your work in these areas? What made you most surprised?
I would not say I found the work particularly hard, because I always worked with great people, local as well as foreign. What I found the most surprising is probably how similar people are in Ghana and Lesotho to those at home. At first, I was seeing all these differences between “them” and “us”. But after a while, I started thinking “this guy really reminds me of my uncle…”. And another surprising thing I realised one day in Lesotho when I got in an argument with a Sotho colleague about the direction in which there isa border with South Africa. I am used to using the sun for orientation. It took me a while to realise that on the southern hemisphere, at noon, the sun is in the north!
You are currently working in Paris at the OECD. What is your everyday job?
I use micro data to evaluate effects of policies which aim to promote productivity. I mostly focus on innovation policies. We are undertaking a project evaluating tax credits for research and development done by private firms, on which we collaborate, among others, with Martin Srholec from CERGE-EI. In a different project, I have designed an evaluation strategy for apprenticeships in Scotland. These are very different from the mostly school-based apprenticeships as we know them at home, they allow young people to get a qualification while working in an actual job.
You regularly participate in the preparation of the Discover Summer Academy. How should I imagine the academy? It does not seem to be a classical summer school organized by some universities....
The idea behind Discover is to put some of the most curious high school students, whatever they are curious about, together with enthusiastic university students and graduates. Students can pick courses in anything from economics to neuroscience to visual arts, and they can also attend workshops about studies abroad, feminism, poetry… Informal discussions with the tutors, as well as the courses, help the students decide the direction on which they want to set. One thing that I particularly appreciate about Discover is that it is not just about showing how awesome everyone is but we also let the students see that people who are 25 and have a degree from Oxford also have problems – with parents, with confidence, with finding out what they want to do in life…
How do you relax? Do you have any truly relaxing hobby?
A year ago, I started climbing. It helps me forget about everything else and just focus on what I am doing. But now that I think about it, should I call desperately clasping on a little wall protrusion 10 metres above gym floor, my knees shaking, a “truly relaxing hobby”?