In the ever-evolving world of fintech, there are pioneers who explore the uncharted territories of academic innovation. One such trailblazer is Dr. Vasile Alecsandru Strat, the Dean of Bucharest Business School and an Associate Professor at the Department of Statistics and Econometrics in Bucharest University of Economic Studies. Recently, Vasile took the stage at the prestigious Unchain Festival in Oradea, Romania, captivating the audience with his insights on the crucial role of academia in shaping fintech’s future.
Today, we delve deeper into the question that has sparked a buzz during the panel – “Why is Romania the forgotten centre of academic innovation?” We aim to uncover the challenges, opportunities, and untapped potential that Romania holds within the fintech landscape, while exploring the power of collaborative efforts between academia and businesses.
Collaboration Between Academia and Businesses: Mutual Benefits
In a world where finance and technology entwine, the synergy between academia and businesses has emerged as the lifeblood of fintech innovation. This is clear to Vasile Strat, as we commenced our conversation discussing the significance of the academia-business link. The first aspect of it he mentioned, was “businesses seeing students as potential future employees.” With that in mind, innovation-driven fintechs and businesses need to ask themselves: “How can we equip students with different skills and competencies? How can they be more innovative, more entrepreneurial, and more technical?”
Drawing on his experience as the Dean of Bucharest Business School, he emphasises that businesses should also be integral to educational programs. “Businesses should be closer to academia, for example by partnering with business programs. Members of fintechs or banks, should be often invited as speakers in classes, they should help in providing business cases and contributing to curriculum design. Companies need to allocate resources in order to help create competencies, skills and hands-on experience for students.”
He emphasised that such collaboration isn’t solely beneficial for students, but also for businesses. By actively participating in shaping educational content, businesses can ensure that graduates are well-equipped with the skills they need upon entering the workforce.
“Think of it as a mutually beneficial exchange. Academia gains practical insights, and businesses gain a workforce that’s attuned to their specific demands. This kind of synergy ensures a smoother integration of graduates into the fintech ecosystem,” Dr. Strat elaborated.
As we segued to the realm of research, Dr. Strat’s insights illuminated another dimension of collaboration. “This is another direction where there should be partnership in terms of fintechs. Fintechs always try innovating. This is what they do – they bring technology with finance together and do something better through innovation.” Innovation, he underscored, becomes a potent bond between fintechs and universities that provide innovative research: “Here, joint projects should flourish. Universities working alongside fintechs can delve deeper into this realm, even shaping practical business cases. For instance, having students tackle real-world challenges underpins the essence of a business school.”
He emphasised that academic research has the ability to influence regulatory frameworks, shape industry narratives, and uncover fintech’s untapped potential. Reports and studies crafted by academia can provide an unbiased evaluation of the fintech ecosystem, lending a significant impetus to the sector’s growth. Research-backed insights can bridge the gap between fintech innovators, regulators, and industry stakeholders.
Summing up the symbiotic advantages of such collaboration, Dr. Strat articulated, “Imagine students grappling with real fintech challenges and brainstorming solutions. The outcome could be mutually advantageous: students gain practical insight, universities showcase fresh perspectives, and businesses potentially find innovative solutions.”
Eastern Europe’s Education and Research Landscape
Dr. Strat’s insights highlighted a crucial facet of Eastern Europe’s educational and research landscape. He emphasised that while the region boasts a strong foundation in technical education, there’s a pressing need to pivot towards fostering entrepreneurial mindsets. According to him, it’s essential to recalibrate curricula to better align with the intricate dynamics of fintech and engage industry experts in the academic process.
“Eastern Europe has a formidable technical education framework, but we must evolve further by cultivating a more entrepreneurial spirit among our students. This involves integrating practical experiences and insights from industry experts into the curriculum,” Dr. Strat pointed out.
Delving into the intricacies of Eastern Europe’s innovation landscape, Dr. Vasile Strat doesn’t shy away from acknowledging one of its pressing challenges – economic allocations. The region’s higher education system, predominantly state-funded, is designed for accessibility, yet Dr. Strat astutely points out its limitations in nurturing high-performing individuals and top-tier innovators. Drawing parallels with the American education model, renowned for driving competitiveness and innovation, he hints at an alternative path.
However, as Dr. Strat dives deeper, the issue expands to encompass limited resources within Central and Eastern European (CEE) universities. These institutions often grapple with constrained budgets, which inevitably impact their research capabilities in comparison to their better-funded counterparts in the Western world. Dr. Strat’s perspective encapsulates the complexity of these resource allocation challenges, shedding light on how they intersect with academic performance and innovation endeavours in the region.
Curious about his vision to tackle these issues, I asked Vasile about his suggestions on how Eastern Europe can move forward to embrace its potential. On top of business-academia collaboration, Vasile emphasised the critical role of cross-border collaboration in shaping a robust fintech ecosystem.
“We are actively engaged in various research and educational initiatives alongside our colleagues from Bulgaria, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland. Recently, we concluded the Data Science International Summer School, a collaborative endeavour between our university and the Research Institute at Sofia University. This event brought together speakers and participants from not only Bulgaria but also numerous international locations, spanning across Europe, the USA, and beyond,” Vasile shared.
Elaborating further, he detailed the collaborative strides made within the fintech sphere.
“The Bulgarian fintech association with academics from Sofia have compiled a comprehensive report on the fintech ecosystem, covering several preceding years. A similar endeavour was undertaken in Romania by a group of academics working together with the Romanian Fintech Association. Now, in 2023, we are collaborating on a joint report that encapsulates the fintech landscapes of both Romania and Bulgaria. However, our ambitions transcend national borders. We intend to extend our purview to encompass Southeast Europe, including the Balkans. This broader perspective is essential for the fintech sector, as its core offerings often revolve around services that are inherently borderless.”
He envisions this collective effort as a means to create a comprehensive fintech ecosystem, effectively breaking down the barriers that might hinder growth. Through combined knowledge and expertise, different nations can expand their market horizons, ultimately contributing to the collective advancement of the fintech sector.
Navigating the Intersection of Academia and Fintech Innovation
In the realm where academia converges with fintech, Dr. Vasile Strat’s insights are a clarion call for dynamic collaboration. His emphasis on partnership, entrepreneurial mindset, and global connections highlights Romania’s potential in the fintech arena. Dr. Strat’s sagacity stands as a guide for academia, businesses, and regulators to venture into the unexplored territories of fintech innovation, where collective efforts propel progress.
Author: Barbara Listek