How to incorporate fintech and Web3 into university curricula

In bringing financial technology and cryptocurrency into university courses, educators must cover regulatory uncertainty, cybercrime risks and asset bubbles while keeping up with developments. Larisa Yarovaya provides insights

Larisa Yarovaya 's avatar
18 Apr 2024
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Financial technology, or fintech, is reshaping finance globally, offering new career opportunities for graduates who are tech-savvy and equipped with knowledge of the blockchain ecosystem. Web3 signifies a new internet era, driven by decentralised blockchain systems, holding promise beyond finance and transforming businesses.

Many higher education institutions (HEIs) are now introducing entirely new programmes or integrating fintech and Web3 into curricula through new modules. However, the rapid evolution of the blockchain-asset ecosystem poses a challenge in determining whether content is essential or temporary. Scarcity of research expertise also puts pressure on institutional resources and delivery of the new content. 

In four years of developing and leading the BSc Finance and Financial Technology programme at Southampton Business School, I have introduced numerous new modules and examined many fintech programmes in the UK and abroad. Here are key insights for designing and teaching new modules, along with the challenges to be considered.

Begin with technological aspects

When developing a new programme or module focused on acquiring knowledge and skills in blockchain-based applications, it’s crucial to prioritise the foundational concepts that students need to grasp. While blockchain’s applications are diverse, understanding the technology itself should be the starting point. The technological aspects of blockchain form the basis for students to effectively navigate this rapidly evolving landscape. Therefore, including foundational modules in programme curricula and within the syllabus of each specific module is imperative.

One might argue that technological aspects are evolving rapidly as well. This is true, but many fundamental concepts, such as cryptography, have remained unchanged for many years and should be studied. If students have a strong grasp of the basics, navigating further technological developments becomes easier. Other essential topics include understanding types of consensus mechanisms and the functioning of the Bitcoin protocol. These concepts are indispensable whether integrating blockchain content into a finance or supply chain module or any other discipline.

Skills development is crucial for the employability of any graduate. Fintech and Web3 programming skills, big data analytics and advanced financial econometrics are useful modules that can be effectively taught using real-time data. Therefore, adapting to changes should not be an issue if materials are frequently updated, and students will apply the developed skills to many other tasks in the future.

Regulatory, ethical and environmental issues

We have a duty of care for our students. Therefore, despite the excitement surrounding certain aspects of Web3 and fintech content, we should emphasise the ethical use of technology. For instance, cryptocurrencies often experience asset price bubbles and high volatility, so we must educate students about the risks associated with such assets. Educators should draw a clear distinction between investments and gambling, clarifying that the materials covered during the modules are for educational purposes only and they do not advocate for actions or investments in new and largely unregulated assets.

Another significant area to consider is regulatory ambiguity and uncertainty. Students should actively learn to navigate the evolving regulatory landscape and stay informed throughout their studies, placements and future employment. Clear acknowledgment of cybercrime, money laundering, fraud and other issues is essential. Consider using a combination of case studies that showcase both the remarkable successes of companies that have adopted blockchain and the major failures. These case studies can offer a more coherent overview of the industry and highlight the main success factors, which often rely on transparency, ethics and regulatory compliance.

Tutors should discuss the environmental critique of the proof-of-work consensus mechanism, such as the enormous energy and water consumption of Bitcoin mining, as well as the production of e-waste. We should also consider environmental sustainability when addressing any technological innovations, including blockchain. As educators, we must openly acknowledge the environmental impacts of the innovations we introduce for analysis in the classroom, especially considering students’ increasing concern about climate change.

Main tips to consider in teaching fintech and Web3

  • Books are valuable resources, but their content can quickly become outdated. Therefore, supplementing with journal articles and policy reports can help keep pace with changes in fintech and Web3.
  • Organise guest lectures and talks by practitioners. These offer practical insights to enhance classroom learning.
  • Invest in staff, especially in light of the popularity and growth of blockchain research. Empowering existing staff or attracting new colleagues with relevant expertise can significantly improve the delivery of fintech and Web 3 content.
  • Ensure regulatory compliance, promote business ethics and address environmental sustainability in order to maintain educational quality and achieve positive graduate outcomes.
  • Clearly explain and acknowledge the risks associated with new assets such as cryptocurrencies, NFTs and “meme coins” to safeguard students’ financial well-being and mental health.
  • Regularly revise module materials and content. This is good practice for any course, but it’s crucial in the ever-evolving blockchain-asset ecosystem.

Larisa Yarovaya is a cryptocurrency scholar, associate professor of finance and the director of the Centre for Digital Finance at Southampton Business School, University of Southampton.

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