The financial services industry has taken something of a PR beating in recent years. Yet it remains an essential part of the economy, offering many opportunities including increased job prospects and enhanced earning potential.
And what’s more, according to Eugene Michaels, lecturer in economics at the University of Derby, university still remains a good way in to the profession.
“Finding a job in the current industry requires a higher level of education, skills, analysis, communication and proven abilities in dealing with change and complexity than ever before,” he says. “By and large, a degree continues to offer a good return on investment.”
So how do degrees help students prepare? In Derby, significant weight is put on exposure to the industry.
“Students meet and interact with business experts, industry leaders and finance professionals,” says Michaels. “We take advantage of our industry connections to involve employers and experts with running workshops and masterclasses and giving advice to the students on our programmes.”
Courses also aim to combine academic and practical learning. “It's not enough to learn the technical skills required to analyse an economic model or write up a set of accounts,” says Jo Michell, senior lecturer and programme leader for banking and finance at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol). “Students need to understand how these skills are applied in a day-to-day situation.”
The UWE Bristol course uses real-world examples and in-class activities such as student debates and presentations. Michell says: “We ask students to think about the decisions faced by policy-makers and finance professionals and to form their own views on these issues. They tell us their degree programmes have prepared them to hit the ground running.”
As for avoiding future crises, universities are looking again at the accepted economic models - even looking to behavioural theory as a way of understanding the markets. “It all feeds into the degrees,” says Michaels. “As our staff are actively engaged in research in this area, their research underpins the teaching.”
Courses also recognise the human element that led to these crises. Hull University Business School was the first in the UK to introduce an undergraduate Business Ethics module in 1987 and today's courses continue in that tradition.
“By encouraging students to develop an ethical business attitude and think critically, we are preparing them to act both responsibly and effectively once they graduate,” says Robert Hudson, professor of finance at Hull University. “We go out of our way to highlight the possibility of human error and misbehaviour and what can be done about it.”
Recent years have made it clear what can happen when the system goes awry. But as well as preparing students for their careers, do universities have a part to play in ensuring similar events don’t happen again? “I would say yes,” adds Hudson. “By nurturing responsible leaders and equipping them with advanced analytical and critical skills, we can make a difference.”