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At Cass Business School in London, a flow of students in smart suits enters the restaurant, but not for a leisurely dinner.
They are attending the signing ceremony to celebrate the partnership between the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA) Association and the school.
The Cass MSc in investment management has received the stamp of approval from the Association and the degree covers 60 per cent of the organisation’s curriculum.
Students can take the CAIA exams – in a range of topics such as risk management and credit derivatives – and become members of the network. The CAIA designation is globally recognised so this could enhance an individual’s career prospects.
Soon, the restaurant is buzzing with students and professionals drinking wine and networking.
About 100 nationalities are represented across all masters programmes.
Susan Roth, director of specialist masters programme, says: “When students graduate, the chances are they will be working for an international organisation. The Cass experience helps prepare them for this.”
But what draws people to Cass to learn about arcane areas of statistics and the intricacies of finance?
According to Ms Roth, students apply to the school because they want to be taught by professionals with industry experience.
The faculty is a mix of practitioners and professors who have day jobs in the finance field, such as managing hedge funds.
Ms Roth says the school offers students what they are looking for and that subjects such as private equity and hedge funds are not usually offered as core modules elsewhere.
Cass has the advantage of being located in the City of London – one of the financial hubs of the world.
This means it has access to a stream of finance and business experts to give presentations at the school.
Richard Payne, director of the MSc in Finance, says that these include business leaders, regulators, legislators and government ministers.
Recent speakers have included Joaquín Almunia, vice-president of the European Commission, and Lord Adair Turner, chairman of the UK’s Financial Services Authority.
Nicholas Motson, lecturer in finance, points out that: “It is important that we teach students the theory but also the practical elements that will help them in the workplace.
“One of the key reasons we have built such a strong reputation as a leading business school is our success at placing students from our MSc programmes in financial services firms.”
On average, the employment rate is about 75 to 80 per cent within three months of graduation, the school says.
“It is important to realise that we have been successful despite the turmoil in the financial sector and this being the toughest environment in living memory,” he says.
Mr Motson says the £21,500 course fees “should be seen as an investment, with students more than recouping that through higher earnings.
“Our fees are not high compared with other top business schools.
“With the widening higher education participation we have seen over the past decade, an MSc is a way for students to differentiate themselves and in fact many employers demand it.”
Another selling point is that some of the postgraduate finance courses are recognised by professional bodies.
On top of the CAIA-approved MSc, the MSc in finance prepares students to sit the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) level one and two exams.
The school is also in the process of designing an elective on ethics in conjunction with the CFA.
The problem with teaching ethics can be that some scenarios in certain texts are unrealistic, explains Ms Roth.
She says it is essential to teach students using realistic scenarios and that they understand their legal obligations, plus the effect of their decisions.
Cass also has corporate partnerships, for example, Citigroup is sponsoring the school’s “raising equity capital” elective and is offering one internship to a student.
“There is no doubt that our professional partnerships and accreditations help our students with their job prospects.
“Many of our accreditation bodies offer professional exemptions to the students,” says Ms Roth.
Securing a place on one of the nine masters in finance courses is competitive.
Ms Roth predicts the school will receive about 5,000 applications for 600 places for this year.
She stresses that candidates would need a background in economics, business studies or something quantitative, such as engineering, to be able to cope with the programme.
When it comes to feedback, “the word-of-mouth factor cannot be underestimated,” says Ms Roth.
According to a recent survey, 95 per cent of former students recommended Cass as a place to study a masters programme to their friends, colleagues and relatives.
“I love that,” enthuses Ms Roth. “It means we are getting it right.”