Professor Spotlight: Tanweer Ali

The University of New York in Prague provides unrivaled undergraduate and postgraduate higher education in Central and Eastern Europe, with opportunities to study directly from industry leaders and senior executive managers from businesses such as Coca-Cola, British Telecom, Volkswagen, Bell Labs, and UniCredit. 


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We interviewed Mr. Tanweer Ali, an ESC and UNYP business lecturer with a professional background in insurance, investment banking and consulting. Tanweer is originally from the UK, and has lived in Prague for over 20 years on and off. Over the years, he has taught many courses for ESC and UNYP, in mathematics, finance, and more recently, Business & Sustainability and Social Enterprise. 


Could you please tell us about your involvement with the CFA Institute and the CFA Challenge?


CFA stands for Chartered Financial Analyst; it has become a global qualification for financial analysts. A CFA is like a CPA, but for analysts rather than accountants; if you work in an investment company managing a fund or analyzing shares or bonds, that’s the qualification you increasingly need. When I worked in investment banking, I got my CFA charter, and I set up the CFA Society in the Czech Republic back in 2002, and was its first president. The CFA Research Challenge competition started in 2010, and was initially run as a pilot project at the Prague University of Economics; at that point I was one of the judges. After the first year, they opened it up to other universities, and I was the contact person for UNYP/ESC. Participating teams are highly competitive, with many competitors pursuing post-graduate degrees in finance. I knew many of the strongest students well, and I thought “As good as our students are, this is going to be tough!” We managed to win in the third year, and several times after that. The competition has now been held eleven times in the Czech Republic and our team has won five of them, which is an excellent result. 


It’s a fantastic experience for students, and something impressive that they can put on their CVs when looking for internships and jobs. As well as enjoying a fulfilling experience, the students learn a lot about finance, business and teamworking – skills that will help them throughout their careers.


Do you follow the careers of your former students?


I follow quite a few, and I’m deeply impressed by how well they’ve done and the range of different things they do. Of course, a lot of students, even students in the business program, don’t end up working in the business sector – our alumni work in many different countries doing many different things. Many of our students have very successful corporate careers, and it’s great that we have their success stories, but then there are people who branch out and do their own thing, and they’re very successful at that too.


In 2019 I taught a course in which I got the students to meet real-life entrepreneurs and see people who ‘got their hands dirty’ - people who started their businesses from scratch, who cleaned the floors of their stores every night, and got up first thing in the morning to get things ready. I focused on companies founded by former students of Empire State College and UNYP. We met a former student who set up a chain of barbershops in the Czech Republic and a Lebanese alumnus now based in Prague who imports a range of food items, amongst others. For another class, I brought in Martin Viecha, who currently works at Tesla as chief investor relations officer. He reports directly to Elon Musk. We have had people working for Goldman Sachs and other big names in the corporate sector. I have taught students who are now working for the UN, and one of our alumni was a Deputy Minister of Education in the Czech Republic for a while. Our graduates have been very well represented at world class institutions like Cambridge, Oxford, the London School of Economics. I want to highlight these people to my current students, and introduce people to possible career paths. 


I have a story about UNYP’s reputation. There was a time when every year, a bunch of our students went to the London School of Economics. And one of my former students, who was from Ukraine, went there for her master’s, and she was trying to get out of her statistics course because she did statistics at UNYP. So she was in a line, waiting outside the professor’s office, and there were some guys, Ivy League graduates, and they said “Don’t bother, because he doesn’t give any exemptions.” Even they had to take this course, although they graduated from Columbia and Harvard. Nevertheless, she went to meet the professor and explained that she took statistics at UNYP. And the professor said: “Yeah, I know it, it’s a small institution in Central Europe, they’re excellent students, and they teach good statistics classes there, so you don’t have to take this class if you’ve done it there.”


In your opinion, how do ESC students in the US benefit from the partnership with UNYP?


From the perspective of the American students, the college’s international reach means that they are part of a global network of students and then alumni; they can start to make these connections even when they are still students. Students of Empire State College have numerous opportunities to interact across geographical boundaries. Of course, because of the pandemic, this exchange has had to transfer to an online environment, but I think that, ironically, Covid has made the exchange better than ever. Previously, some people couldn’t afford to travel so certain events were inaccessible, but now everyone is used to meeting and getting to know each other in a virtual environment. 


I think there’ll be more opportunities for mutual participation in events. Moreover, I think that students can be taught more things because the faculty members who are based here can sometimes teach students based in the US giving more of an international feel to the institution. 


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