Think Tank 1.0 Big Data Challenge: Breaking the barriers between higher education and business

By Stoyan Genov, Raiffeisen Bank in Bulgaria |

Innovative solutions for analysis of large databases, developed by students from Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski, are being tested in a real business environment at Raiffeisen Bank in Bulgaria. Together with the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration at the Sofia University, the bank held the first edition of the Think Tank 1.0 Big Data Challenge. During the project, the students worked on a practical case study in the field of credit card database analysis. The authors of the best models were given the opportunity to present their projects in front of the Management Board of Raiffeisen Bank.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Teodor Sedlarski, Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration at Sofia University: Think Tank 1.0 could be the model for future cooperation between businesses and universities

Mr. Sedlarski, did the Think Tank 1.0 contribute with practical experience to the theoretical knowledge of the students from the Faculty of Economics?

Not only did it succeed to contribute with practical experience to their theoretical knowledge, but it also achieved an important additional effect – to raise their motivation significantly. Cooperating with real business is very important for our faculty, because such initiatives show our students that what they are studying is exactly what the business needs. The task of developing models for database analysis was assigned by the bank, the Management board evaluated the student’s projects. This way, the students in our Master’s programs are already confident that there is no discrepancy between what they learned at the university and the needs of the real business.

Is that the right way of cooperation from which all sides – students, university and business could benefit?

The Think Tank 1.0 Big Data Challenge project is something that is being held for the first time ever in Bulgaria, it paves the way for modern higher education. The collaborative product benefits all the sides in the project – the Faculty of Economics shows current and prospective students that they are offered the practical knowledge they are looking for in the university, the students themselves benefit because they see how the business works and get an opportunity for career development. The bank also benefits from the access to the best students in Bulgaria, their skills, creativity and ideas.

What is the feedback from the students who took part in the Think Tank 1.0 challenge?

The Think Tank 1.0 initiative is actually the most specific and most accomplished task in the Master’s Program “Modelling of Big Data in Business and Finance” since its launch two years ago – for the first time students came up with such a comprehensive project and presented it in front of the highest level of the business management. The approach itself – to get a task from the bank, to develop a solution, to present it to the Management Board – all that gave the students the impression of a new level of education. They had direct access to the managers of one of the leading companies in the financial sector in Bulgaria to present their ideas and get feedback.

Can students contribute to the development of the real business?

Finally, the time has come for business and higher education in Bulgaria to break the barriers between them and start a new period of full confidence together. Our students can be useful to the business very directly. Companies can give consulting tasks to teams of lecturers and students, and these tasks could be also part of the preparation of the subjects studied. The Bulgarian labor market is hot, a large number of specialists in the field of big data analysis are needed and companies need to be more and more innovative in order to win the hearts of the students. Presenting the company via a template presentation, offering traineeships and open house days can no longer keep the attention of young people. The right model is the one we show with Raiffeisen Bank – working with students, sharing expertise, assigning a real task, guiding, providing feedback, evaluating, offering job positions to the most capable ones among the students. Thus, in a modern society trust can be built between young professionals and companies. The university is the place where they can meet and build this mutual trust.

Raiffeisen Bank’s Think Tank initiative will continue to collaborate also with other universities to foster innovation and new technology.

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