World Quant University (WQU)’s Financial Engineering Programme, my thoughts about the Course after 1 year.

A year ago I started studying the MSc in Financial Engineering offered by WQU and I wrote about the course here. As I am writing this post, I have now completed around 60% of the modules so I thought that an update would be helpful for prospective students.

These are the modules that I have completed:

(1) Financial Markets: this is a general introduction to financial markets and financial products. As the course caters towards students with different backgrounds, if you have studied for financial qualifications (such as CFA, FRM etc.) you will find this to be a gentle refresher. As it’s hard to test any maths skills, most of the assignments/essays will be theoretical.

(2) Econometrics: OK, you will finally get your hands dirty and start doing some work with time series. You will start with classic models such as GARCH, ARCH, ARIMA in analysing time series of end of day asset prices. Although you get the choice between R and Python, at least for this module, I strongly recommend sticking to R (lecture notes are better written for R).

(3) Discrete-time Stochastic Processes, (4) Continuous-time Stochastic Processes: these two courses in my opinion are at the heart of the programme; when it comes to asset pricing, having an understanding of stochastic processes and their properties is indispensable when deriving pricing equations of various claims. These two modules will be especially tough for candidates with a weak mathematical background. These concepts are quite abstract so they just require some time to sink in – I wouldn’t get discouraged if you see a massive knowledge gap. The assignments were focused on applying Monte Carlo methods and analytical pricing formulas on exotic derivatives. The projects from these modules were the most enjoyable so far.

(5) Computational Finance
This module builds on a lot of the concepts learned during the previous two modules by teaching students how to implement the concepts in python. It has an emphasis in applying Monte Carlo Methods in pricing exotic options and computing CVA. I found this module to be very practical.

(6) Machine Learning in Finance
They seem to cover a lot of the so called classic topics in ML: classifiers, supervised & unsupervised learning, etc. You will be using tensor-flow in training the various models, making predictions and assessing the model’s accuracy.

Is the Programme Accredited?
With an over-saturation of MOOCs, I don’t blame prospective students for being paranoid about the accreditation of this course. The course is free, however the time that is required in completing it is still a valuable resource. On March 11, 2021 WQU announced that it has been granted accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), you can read their release here. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t count on this degree being something graduates could use when applying for research degrees (I am sorry to have to write this but rigour is still lacking in my opinion). I still think the programme is extremely useful and valuable for working professionals like myself; the overall impression that I got was that the degree is more aimed at developing a practical knowledge rather than academic skills.

Some Negative Points
Overall I am a huge fan of the programme but there are a lot of points that could be improved. The programme is still relatively new so I am confident that WQU will take onboard student feedback. Here’s how I think the course could be improved:

(1) Group Work
A huge chunk of your marks for each module come from the group work portion. This means that the amount of work that you will have really depends on whether you get paired with competent, hard working peers or a bunch of lazy, free riders. After having taken 6 modules I have had the opportunity to experience both types of groups and I can say that having to do an assignment by yourself is a really unpleasant experience. WQU do have a system for students to report group members who do not contribute but I heard/saw numerous cases when there are disputes among group members, very often students just end up getting left on their own anyways which ends up being unnecessary added work and stress. The group work system definitely needs reviewing in my opinion.

(2) Peer Marking
This is another part that adds unnecessary frustration to the learning experience. A part of the grade comes from peer marking and whilst there is an answer key that students need to follow, I have seen so many cases where students have given low marks just out of spite. There is an appeal process but marks are only reviewed at the end of the course which adds extra work for everyone. This part definitely needs to be improved as well.

(3) Quality of the Learning Materials
Although WQU has gone through a lot of effort in preparing course materials and videos, I think there is room for improvement. The videos add no value as the speaker is just reading from a script. The course materials are a bit hit and miss based on the module.

(4) Networking is Lacking
Unfortunately, this part is non-existent at the moment. Although I have seen that WQU are active on social media such as Linkedin, if they want to add value to this qualification, they should put more effort in organising networking events. I have made some good connections but these were via WhatsApp groups and channels and other initiatives driven by students. As a counter argument to this point, one could point out that being assigned to different groups at the start of a new module might give networking opportunities but once deliverables are handed in, groups just fade away.

Some Positive Points
If you have read this far, especially the negative points, I don’t want to put you off from applying to the course. I think this programme is worth the time and part of the value that you get really does depend on the time that you put in. This is a type of course that requires numerous submissions and since the marks are based on coursework, most students will pass (I suspect that the pass rate is very high). The course materials have references to academic papers and the lecturers are very helpful and approachable. There is a forum where they answer questions and they extremely fast in replying. Here are some of the positive points that I encountered:

(1) Coding
Coding wasn’t my forte before I joined the course but having completed so many coding projects that require the use of R and Python, I have managed to reach a level where I am comfortable in coding; I have been able to apply a lot of the skills that I picked up in my daily job.

(2) Curriculum
I think the curriculum has been carefully designed to cover the core subjects that you would expect from a masters in financial engineering. As mentioned earlier in this post, I find the material to be more practical rather than theoretical which is a big bonus for me. I have enjoyed every module so far.

(3) It’s Free!
Please let’s not forget that this is a free course. I think WQU are doing an amazing job in giving opportunities to students across the world to gain an education in financial engineering without forking out hefty tuition fees. I was critical about some of the peer marking and the group work but I understand that this must be the optimal structure that they could come up with in order to be able to offer the course tuition free.

(4) Flexibility
Students have the ability to defer modules so the course is very well suited towards professionals who are working full time. This was very appealing to me as it gives me the ability to prioritise my daily job. The fact that they have many cohorts is good as this gives the students time to take a short break before resuming their studies. I think this structure is very well designed.

Conclusion
This is everything that I have for WQU so far and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post. For me, the overall experience has been positive and I strongly recommend this course. WQU have been very responsive in addressing student feedback so I am confident that the degree will become more rigorous and more valuable in the years to come. The fact that this course has recently received accreditation is a very positive sign. All the lecturers that I have interacted with have been very friendly and passionate about the subjects that they teach.

I am planning to do another post in 3-4 months as I complete additional modules. Should you have any questions regarding my experience please let me know.

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