2022.08 The Taiwan Banker NO.152 / By Edward Hsieh
Grounding Financial Higher Education in PracticeBanker's Digest
Finance is a skills-oriented industry. Taiwan's junior college financial departments were established in the 1980s to the 1990s, more than 30 years ago. Their original curriculum seems unable to meet current industry needs. Everything from admission screening to instruction and training during school, and internship, licensing, and preparation to enter the workplace, has changed with the times, which also highlights efforts by finance departments in line with industry trends. Nevertheless, bottlenecks still need to be broken to meet practical needs and increase the relevance of education, which depends on exchanges and cooperation with practitioners. Admission screening focuses on processes The 2019 syllabus emphasized that students should upload “learning history files.” The idea was to allow students explore different fields in high school, and at the same time understand their own aptitudes. These files also make it possible for universities to observe students. Universities can use records of applicants’ three years of high school to find out whether they are interested in the major they are applying for, so that they don’t enter university for a few years only to find that they have chosen a major unsuited for them. Yenn-Ru Chen, head of the Department of Financial Management at National Chengchi University, said that the department emphasizes four key points in admissions examination: learning, reflection (ability to reflect on learning processes), language and mathematical logic, and enthusiasm for learning. This means that they hope admitted students will not just study to find the correct answer, while ignoring development of broader problem-solving ability. Hsiu-Chuan Lee, Director of the Department of Finance of Ming Chuan University, and Jui-Chuan Della Chang, Director of the Department of Finance of Chiayi University, also mentioned the importance of the learning process. Lee observed that the high school students he has met in recent years, and even elementary and junior high schools, have become stronger in financial management. Especially in northern Taiwan, student literacy has become deeper. The new curriculum can present grades outside of exams, capture students’ learning trajectory and personality traits, and help universities find those who truly understand finance and who are willing to learn it. Chang mentioned that students who participated in financial camps or took physical or online courses in related fields will make a stronger impression. However, Lee also emphasized that the results of students under this mechanism should be evaluated after 4 or 5 years following the accumulation of a comparable sample and the completion of 4-year university courses. In addition to general universities, the 2019 syllabus is also used for screening and admission in the technical vocational system. Yaofeng Tseng, Director of the Department of Insurance and Finance of National Taichung University of Science and Technology, and Chia-Wen Chang, Director of the Department of Finance of Chihlee University of Technology, both emphasized that learning history files are important to the technical vocational system. Admissions screening helps universities understand whether students have financial talent and are capable of future learning and development, to guide them to directions suitable for their development. Mathematics A or B is not the focus, rather whether it can meet the needs of industry For the mathematical requirement that the outside world cares about – whether to use Mathematics A or B – Chen said that National Chengchi University will need to use comparative logic in their courses, including calculus, statistics, economics, and financial derivatives, or in further studies or careers. The reason for using Mathematics A is that admitted students will have stronger mathematical ability. This choice also breaks past the one-size-fits-all impression of the outside world that Mathematics A is only for science and engineering, and business management does not require such strong ability. Jui-Chuan Della Chang and Chia-Wen Chang both mentioned that a variety of positions exist in finance. Head office planning or investment, risk management, and actuarial departments need stronger mathematical ability, but more business-oriented jobs also exist. Therefore, a certain level of mathematical ability is enough, not necessarily to the level of Mathematics A. Lee emphasized that Ming Chuan University, which also uses Mathematics B, emphasizes that the department attaches equal importance to both logic and communication. Mathematics skills needed for engineering are not necessary; the key point is having logical ability to understand problems and program structures, and to communicate with programmers or engineers and propose solutions for the company and customers. Therefore, whether to study Mathematics A or B should not be the crux of the issue for higher financial education. The focus is on positioning of skills cultivation in each major, and whether graduates can meet the needs of employers and customers. Even outstanding recruits may not be able to meet the needs of the industry without a proper education. This highlights the importance of curriculum planning and execution. Diverse, cross-disciplinary coursework to complement professional skills, following industry trends Facing rapid changes in the industry, it seems that curriculum modules designed by finance departments many years ago no longer meet current industry needs. The finance departments of National Chengchi University and National Chiayi University have made use of resources from other colleges, such as asset management, to offer courses related to big data, fintech, and programming. Professors at National Chiayi University and Ming Chuan University have even learned programming languages such as Python and R outside of school, at their own expense. Ming Chuan University also offers a digital finance credit program covering econometrics, fintech system planning and design, digital financial marketing, and fintech management. Chen emphasized that in addition to programs such as big data, fintech, and supply chains, the Zhengda University also has the first CFA program in Taiwan, and allows six students to apply for the certificate for free each year. The Finance Department will also continue to review and adjust the course arrangements. Even so, Robin Zhou, Deputy Dean of the College of Commerce of National Chengchi University, says that according to many graduates and EMBA students, the compulsory courses lay a solid theoretical foundation. When the students move to internships and employment, they should find these solid underpinnings very useful, although the real key is whether or not they can be understood and applied correctly. Even the finance departments in technical vocational colleges of technology have many courses in programming. Tseng said that National Taichung University specifically requires programming and insurance/financial systems courses for finance majors, and also offers major electives in big data analysis. Four-year students need 130 total credits for graduation, at least 14 of which are mandatory. Chia-Wen Chang also emphasized that programming skills are already a general requirement for finance majors. Even if they may eventually become brokerage salespeople or bank engineers who do not need to develop and write programs themselves, they will still need to be proficient in system operations and understand their logic. In order to assist asset allocation planning, Chia-Wen Chang also encourages cross-disciplinary study, including micro-learning courses, credit courses, auxiliary departments and double majors – which are all options at Chihlee University. Reshaping curriculum planning and instructor arrangement according to industry needs Regarding the popular area of ESG, most colleges and universities each have their own strengths and plan related courses accordingly. National Chengchi University offers courses related to digital transformation and corporate sustainability in conjunction with industry experts. Sharon Yang, Director of the NN IP & Nomura SITE Financial Research Center of the College of Commerce of National Chengchi University, said that the university also cooperates with foreign experts to offer courses on sustainable finance (responsible investment, green financing, and green insurance) and financial product innovation. Foreign financial institutions provide scholarships. The Department of Finance of Ming Chuan University offers courses for credit on corporate governance and social responsibility, while Chihlee University has established an ESG Center in the Office of the Vice-President, highlighting the importance of sustainability issues. Chihlee is committed to the practice of sustainable development through industry cooperation, training and courses, and continues to make rolling revisions. In view of the urgent demand for skills in the fields of fintech and ESG, it undeniable that current courses fail to meet current industry needs. Moreover, is also worth questioning whether short-term micro-courses or credit courses meet industry expectations. Therefore, top foreign universities have tried to take industry demand into account when redesigning and reshaping courses. In addition to curriculum reform, more instructors with industry experience have also been hired. Industry-university cooperation and innovative cross-disciplinary education have helped inject the pulse of industry development into curriculum design to broaden students' horizons. Internships, certificates and industry-university exchanges strengthen the last mile Considering that students will eventually enter the workplace after graduation, helping them find jobs and shortening the gap between graduation and employment is naturally a focus of universities. Lee said that Ming Chuan University strives to help students enrich their tools for the workplace through industry internships, tutoring license acquisition, and a micro-learning program. “In the past, only technical and vocational schools emphasized licenses. Now, general universities also need to assist students to obtain financial licenses to help students achieve their goals, including from TABF, the Securities and Futures Institute, and the Life Insurance and Non-Life Insurance associations.” In order to assist students in their future career development, National Chengchi University arranges corporate mentors, and also makes full use of the EMBA network resources to strengthen industry-university cooperation. Each course reserves time for industry experts to speak and exchange twice each semester. Yenn-Ru Chen said that National Chengchi University arranges many corporate visits and exchanges. Furthermore, about 90% of the students take internships, combining school education with cultivation of problem-solving skills. Chiayi University divides student internships and jobs into 4 areas: insurance, securities, accounting, and banking. Della Chang said with a smile, “It's a guaranteed win! In particular, some female students take senior year internships in banks, and have performed well and immediately went to gone to work in the industry after graduating.” The university also agrees that licenses are very important, so it has arranged for students to apply for license examinations at financial and other institutions, so that students can get their licenses directly. “Connecting with the industry is the last mile.” Tseng said that National Taichung University arranges internships for students during the summer vacation between their junior and senior years, so that they can put all of their energy into internships during the second semester of their senior year, after all of their coursework is finished, in preparation for employment. In addition, students are also required to obtain a certain number of certificate points before graduation. Chia-Wen Chang also said that students must obtain license points in finance, language and IT prior to graduation. Chihlee University’s theoretical study, coupled with basic certificates and internship services, and even discussions and exchanges from previous graduates, increase the competitiveness of students entering the workplace. Linking industry resources to meet employment expectations Although they already have PhDs in the fields of finance and business management, the instructors still work hard to learn and enrich themselves, whether by taking outside programming courses, or attending the fintech seed teacher class at TABF, bringing new energy to be passed onto students. Despite these efforts, some curriculum committees are still concerned that school education is insufficient. They have arranged for participation by industry representatives and department alumni representatives, hoping to receive continued input from voices in the practitioner community. Nevertheless, some practical courses cannot be completed through classroom instruction alone; connection and cooperation with the financial industry is very important. Tseng said, “I hope that TABF or other financial institutions can stay in contact with finance departments, promote updated financial trends, and enrich schools’ curriculum planning and execution, so that college education remains in touch with general trends.” In summary, the financial industry is changing rapidly, and the industry cannot rely solely upon the college education of the past. Exchanges and cooperation with the practitioner community, shaping the next generation of higher education courses and teachers through cooperation with employers, and cultivating graduates who can solve practical problems to meet the expectations of the industry, will all be important topics. The author is Deputy Director of the Communication and Publishing Center of the Taiwan Academy of Banking and Finance.