Gen Z candidates lead revival in finance masters courses – Notice Today Web

Gen Z candidates are showing greater enthusiasm for finance masters — countering a wider downturn in business education. But this bright spot in a shrinking market presents a challenge for training providers, who must meet the evolving expectations of a cohort with different needs and values.

Some 27 per cent of Gen Z prospective students (born since 1997) are now ­considering a masters in finance, compared with 13 per cent of millennials (born between 1981 and 1996), according to a survey carried out by the Graduate Management Admission Council, which runs the GMAT entrance exam.

And, in both 2022 and 2023, more than half of US finance masters programmes saw growth in applications, even as overall demand for business training dropped 3.4 per cent last year. Most applicants are from Gen Z, with the average age of GMAT test-takers being 25.

Nalisha Patel, regional director for Europe at GMAC, attributes this to Gen Z’s preference for security. She says recent tech sector lay-offs have driven young people seeking a high-paying business career back towards finance, which is now viewed as more secure and financially rewarding. Despite shedding staff, banks still offer some of the highest salaries.

“Gen Z wants to do something purposeful but also wants a good salary, which is not surprising given the state of the economy,” Patel says. “People are looking for a return on investment, as these are not cheap degrees.

Graham Hastie, associate dean for degree education at London Business School, agrees: “Gen Z preferences are hugely influenced by having come of age in a tumultuous time, defined by economic downturn, geopolitical instability, and the Covid pandemic. For this reason, many are seeking stability.”

However, they do not want to study merely the same old subjects as their predecessors. Gen Z wants a finance curriculum emphasising practical skills, technology and social responsibility, according to research and training providers. For example, according to a Deloitte survey, among Gen Z, six in 10 are anxious about climate change.

Business schools and training providers are adapting to this need by incorporating social responsibility, ethical investing and sustainability into their courses. Alan Hatfield, executive director of content, quality and innovation at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants says that, for this generation, it is important to have sustainability embedded “right across the curriculum”. The ACCA has introduced a certificate in sustainability to ensure its current and future members have these essential skills.

Training providers are also incorporating technology topics, such as blockchain and artificial intelligence, into their finance courses, acknowledging Gen Z’s status as digital natives. These technical skills are crucial for modern finance professionals and are highly valued by Gen Z students, notes Francesco Sangiorgi, academic director of the MIF at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

He highlights the school’s efforts to update course offerings to reflect market developments, including a stronger emphasis on data analytics, machine learning, and fintech.

The Frankfurt School has also revamped content delivery, creating short videos on topics including mathematics and Python, a coding language. “We don’t simplify the content to the extent of an Instagram Story, but we want our content to be engaging and resonate with this tech-savvy generation,” says Sangiorgi. He adds that traditional long lectures are much less appealing to today’s students.

Julia Plotts, academic director for the MIF at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, agrees, noting Gen Z’s preference for practical, hands-on learning. For example, USC Marshall offers real-world opportunities for students to manage money through student-advised investment funds, in exchange for academic credit. Founded in 2015, the Student Asset Allocation Fund manages $3.5mn owned by the university’s endowment.

“They really like these practical modules, maybe because they grew up on TikTok and social media, whereas my generation grew up in a lecture hall,” says Plotts.

Viktor Kovács, a 24-year-old Hungarian student at IE Business School in Madrid, chose the Spanish MIF programme as it teaches practical skills that are applicable in the job market, on top of a theoretical foundation.

He highlights a classroom project involving a real-time M&A deal: the luxury goods group Tapestry’s acquisition of Capri Holdings, owner of Versace and Michael Kors, last year. Kovács, a former Morgan Stanley employee, believes this will be directly relevant to his hoped-for future career in investment banking.

“Studying finance opens up some of the most lucrative career paths a graduate can wish for,” says Kovács.

And, as training providers continue to innovate and tailor their programmes to meet Gen Z’s expectations, the popularity of the MIF and other finance courses is expected to grow.

“It’s hard to predict long-term trends, but the trajectory for finance programmes is positive,” says Patel at GMAC. “But to attract the best of these students, business schools must think about evolving courses beyond traditional core finance subjects.”

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