University teaching: insights from a Business Professor of the Year nominee

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A month ago, Dr Nick Motson and Professor Meziane Lasfer from the Cass Business School at City were nominated by their past and present students for the Business Professor of the Year award in the ‘only global contest to recognise and reward excellence in Business teaching’.


I wasn’t surprised that Nick had been nominated for this prestigious award, as last year he invited me to peer review one of his lectures and it was there that I witnessed first-hand why he was (and indeed remains) a popular lecturer at Cass. My review ended with this:

Nick on the whole you do a fantastic job of asking your students many questions throughout your lecture, this shows that you really care about what they think. You have a good rapport with your students and your teaching style is energetic and enthusiastic – this really brings the lecture alive. It is clear that you spend a lot of time preparing for your lectures and thinking about how they will be delivered in a way that is interesting for your students and I think your students genuinely appreciate this.

So what is the secret to Nick’s successful teaching approach? I recently interviewed Nick to find out more, starting at the beginning of his teaching career less than a decade ago…

Following completion of a Banking & International Finance degree at the-then City University Business School (now the Cass Business School), Nick worked as a trader in investment banking from 1992 – 2005, gaining a wealth of practical industry experience. From 1999 – 2001 Nick studied for a Masters in Finance at the London Business School and it was during this time that he realised how much he enjoyed studying. Encouraged by his Masters experience, and spurred on by supportive guidance from a lecturer who taught him during his undergraduate days, Nick subsequently saved up to study for a PhD at the Cass Business School, which he began in 2005. Nick’s PhD study was in part funded by the Foundation for Management Education (FME), who offered him a two-year fellowship in exchange for contribution to teaching and research at Cass. Nick credits the FME for helping him make the transition from industry to academic teaching, and further with later funding him through the International Teachers Programme (ITP – a development programme organised by a group of 11 leading business schools located in Europe, North America and Asia).

Towards the end of his PhD, Nick was approached by Cass to teach as module leader for several electives as part of their MSc programme. Armed with pedagogic know-how and industry experience, in 2006 Nick set about developing his modules, including ones on Hedge Funds and Structured Products which proved very popular amongst students.

The key to Nick’s teaching success is his ability to bring current, real-world case studies and issues in the classroom, using a teaching by questioning approach to encourage active student engagement. This is a boon for students and employers alike. For example, Nick uses his lectures to actively demonstrate the Bloomberg Terminal (a suite of financial software tools), and the practical skills that students learn from these sessions have been described as excellent by future employers (see also cass case study). A leading investment bank also fed-back to Nick that the product knowledge exhibited by his former students is impressive and better than that of students from other business schools.

Nick is modest of his teaching success, saying he is lucky in that the topics he covers are inherently practical and of great interest to him, adding “if you haven’t got passion for the subject, it is very difficult to teach”. Nonetheless it is clear that Nick devotes a significant amount of time in preparing his modules and lectures to ensure that they remain practically relevant and up-to-date for his students entering into a rapidly evolving industry. His strategies for doing so are simple:

1)      Maintain links and contact with industry to stay on top of differing trends and establish an understanding of the skills that employers want. Nick does this by working as a consultant trainer for private bankers, teaching them the same subjects as for his Cass students whilst simultaneously learning from key experts also involved in the private training courses. In addition, Nick advocates partnering with industry organisations – he describes working with the CAIA (Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst) association in a mutually beneficial way. Here Nick offers to teach 60% of CAIA’s curriculum for a particular programme, and Nick’s students benefit since this comes with the assurance that CAIA’s topics are up-to-date with market needs. Furthermore, Nick describes that associations like CAIA can help run events for students, and offer students to sit their accredited exams at a substantially reduced cost.

2)      Keep in touch with your students to keep in the loop. Nick uses social media like LinkedIn to keep in touch with his former students and learn from them how the market is evolving and has changed since they were students on his course. Nick brings this knowledge into his teaching and has even had one former student invite his boss into a lecture as an external guest speaker.

Speaking about the future, Nick tells me that there are a couple of exciting developments on the horizon, enthusiastically pointing out a range of new programmes currently being considered for approval, in addition to further partnering with other organisations. Given Nick’s successful teaching track record, I’ve no doubt these new programmes will be highly popular amongst students.

I wish both him and Meziane well in going through to the next round in this year’s Business Professor of the Year contest.

Siân Lindsay

Siân Lindsay is a Lecturer in Educational Development at the LDC and is the LDC academic liaison for the Cass Business School at City University London.

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