Interview: Solveig Nicklos

To what extent has the value of a bachelor’s degree diminished over the last few years in Bahrain, and what can be done to combat this?

SOLLVEIG NICKLOS: The commoditisation of bachelor degrees and MBAs is a global issue. This is the outcome of an increase in the number of degree holders, the number of institutions providing them and the varying levels of quality of the awarding bodies. Another related issue is degree or vocational inflation, an outcome of recessionary cycles. During a recession, hard-pressed individuals take jobs for which they are overqualified, and eventually the degree becomes a prerequisite for the position, even though there is nothing inherent in the job that requires it.

Employers must re-evaluate the relevance of the qualifications they require from potential hires. Education for education’s sake is incredibly valuable, but may not be truly necessary for a job, while professional certifications – such as Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) – have become the differentiating factor in a market saturated with bachelor degrees. These badges are proof of mastery and skill, and far more valuable to an employer. If what is needed is a professional certification, such as the Association of Accounting Technicians’ (AAT) criteria for a practicing accountant, then this should suffice without an undergraduate degree. A brave market should concentrate not on ticking boxes but on recognising required skill sets. That would help to revalue degrees, as well as being more cost effective for employers.

How would you rate the success of the Bahrain Qualifications Framework (BQF)? What more could be done to ensure quality is improved?

NICKLOS: The BQF is a tremendous initiative that is vital to the success of the market. As it is still being implemented I cannot yet comment on its success, but the fact that it is being done is a monumental achievement. It is vital that an objective third party evaluate what is being titled a diploma or advanced diploma. False certification occurs globally, but is especially dominant in the emerging markets.

The National Authority of Qualifications and Quality Assurance for Education and Training has approved the BIBF’s organisational infrastructure and provisionally placed a number of our programmes on the BQF register as a pilot run, which will eventually lead to higher quality across the sector. Ensuring a full roll-out to raise awareness is critical, as the public need to factor the results into their decision-making processes before the BQF can provide value to educational institutions that go out of their way to comply with the implemented standards.

How well is Bahrain’s education sector keeping up with technology and technical training?

NICKLOS: From a technological standpoint, BIBF is launching a state-of-the-art dealing room training facility, with more than 20 trading stations and fully-equipped multimedia and market tools such as Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters Eikon. To provide cutting-edge expertise and technology, BIBF has partnered with specialist providers in the UK and the US that have a record of providing training to bulge-bracket banks like JP Morgan, Citigroup, HSBC, Morgan Stanley, Barclays Capital and Deutsche Bank.

One partnership with the UK’s International Capital Market Association (ICMA) Centre is developing the world’s first simulation of Islamic financial markets. Based on the ICMA’s proprietary simulation platform, ICT rader, the simulator will give students exposure to the trading dynamics of Islamic financial instruments such as sukuk (Islamic bonds), sharia-compliant equities and commodity murabahas (an Islamic financing mechanism). These developments will help to increase the value of human capital and educational tourists in this field, thus preserving Bahrain as a financial centre in a substantive way.