Breaking the mould in EIT Digital's FinTech master school

Sanya Shoaib never worried too much about how things were done before

Though she is one of three sisters from Pakistan, where tradition dictates "a woman is dependent on her father, brother or partner," Shoaib said, "My father raised us three sisters to be independent." She ignored convention when she launched a startup at age 16 - and when she decided to get a master’s degree in the heavily male field of FinTech.

The programme she chose also breaks convention: EIT Digital Master School, which transcends typical curricula with an innovative, wide-ranging educational experience that empowers graduates to take charge of their careers.

Students in the two-year EIT Digital Master School choose from among seven technical programmes and attend two world-class universities located in different European countries. They receive two degrees, one from each school, and engage in two kinds of learning: technical competence and practical skills in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Because it is EIT Digital's programme, students are plugged into Europe's largest digital innovation ecosystem. The network of more than 350 European corporations, SMEs, start-ups, universities, and research centres, provides valuable connections. Students prepare their master's thesis in collaboration with a company, developing a business plan for the commercial exploitation of their project - essentially a roadmap they could use to launch their own startup.

Learning innovation, entrepreneurship and independence

"Doing your Msc via EIT Digital not only gives you a master's degree at the end of your course, it also teaches you independence," Shoaib said. "I got to learn about FinTech, which is my major, and also got the chance to do a minor in Innovation and Entrepreneurship."

Entrepreneurship is nothing new to Shoaib, who has launched two startups in Pakistan. That experience showed her that her country needed to develop in the area of FinTech. "I did feel the lack of financial technology and financial options in my own country," she said. "I felt the dire need to learn more about finance and technology."

It's not only in her home country that FinTech has room to grow, according to Shoaib. "Look around: Everything from our daily conversations to ordering groceries is digitised and aided by technology. But finance is the only sector that still hasn't gone completely cashless or entirely dependent on technology," she said. "Personally, I feel like FinTech is the next big thing."

EIT Digital's FinTech programme prepares students for this big thing. It uses a combination of face-to-face workshops, group activities, and hands-on exercises to cover FinTech basics, job-specific skills, and the impact of AI, blockchain and other developing technologies. Students also have an opportunity to apply their skills with an internship at a FinTech company.

Not only for the boys

Traditionally, FinTech has been dominated by men, but of course this did not matter to someone like Shoaib.

"I believe it's not just the FinTech field that is facing this issue," she said. "It's almost every industry that has a gender bias." While she acknowledged that FinTech is a particularly male-heavy field, she maintained that things are changing. "Women-led FinTechs have developed at a slightly quicker rate than businesses started only by men, with more cash being channeled into female-led startups," Shoaib said. "So the improvement might be slow, but it is happening, and I believe I am a part of that improvement."

She was pleased to find wide diversity among the students in the EIT Digital Master School. "I have met so many fellow students from countries that I had only read about in my geography class, and it is an absolutely amazing experience to be able to learn about their cuisines, cultures, beliefs and countries," Shoaib said.

Shoaib will finish her first year of the programme, at University de Rennes, in the Brittany region of France, in the spring of this year. "The teachers are among the most experienced and helpful that I have ever learned from," she said. "It has been an unforgettable experience." Her second year will be at ELTE University in Budapest, a city she has visited and enjoyed.

"Studying from two different universities will help in me getting a job in the future and it will also give me more exposure in terms of personal development," she said.

FinTech in her future

When Shoaib completes her two degrees, she said she plans to put them to work. "I will definitely research financial technology systems after I graduate and help improve the financial system in my own home country, as well as other countries that face the same issues."

For now, Shoaib said she's enjoying the EIT Digital Master School, which she would heartily recommend to other students interested in the various fields covered.

"I would say go for it! Research all the programmes they offer and apply in the one that attracts you the most," she said. "You won't regret it."

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