Nearly 25 years ago, when I was acting head of the Business School of Trinity College Dublin, I helped to set up two postgraduate programmes aimed specifically at senior bank employees, and I taught on one of these for a while. It was actually an important development, and I believe played at least a small part in weaning the Irish banks off the then still dominant principle that all career progression was internal and based principally on length of service. Around the same time, DCU (which I was to lead some years later) was also establishing strong educational links with the banking sector, which again proved to be very influential. And of course postgraduate banking courses became common in a number of universities in these islands.
But as the bankers yesterday marched into the Commons Treasury Committee in London to attempt to explain why £7 billion worth of bonuses are an excellent idea at this time, the higher education link is also, perhaps, changing. One university – Napier University in Edinburgh – has announced that it is closing down an M.Sc. programme in professional banking because it cannot get enough students to do it. It is too early to say whether this represents a general trend, but as the banking profession becomes socially isolated it may become more difficult to develop its culture through higher education and continuing professional training.
We may – and I think we should – oppose excessive pay-outs to bankers whose business practices brought down whole economies, but we must also look to the future, and education is an important element. This is not the time to abandon university banking programmes.