Many students of economics and finance dream of one day taking a seat at the European Central Bank (ECB) as the president of a European national bank, but very few get to do it before even graduating.
Master’s students at the Maastricht University (UM) School of Business and Economics (SBE) have this rare opportunity as part of a course called ECB and Monetary Policy. The course uses the policy of the ECB as the starting point for analysis, and SBE’s Professor Olaf Sleijpen, who originally set up the course, thought it would be a good idea for students to visit the ECB.
Professor Tom van Veen, who now teaches the course, explains: “Professor Sleijpen had worked as a personal advisor to the first president of the ECB,” he says, “and given his contacts and the fact that we are so close to Frankfurt, he thought a couple years ago that we should go there.”
The result is a simulation game the students are invited to engage in at the ECB. “The students simulate a meeting of the presidents of the various banks during which they set the interest rates,” van Veen explains. “We have groups of four or five students who are assigned a particular country and who prepare a statement explaining why they think we should increase or decrease the interest rate.”
It’s a particularly unique experience because it feels so real, van Veen says. “We sit in the actual room where these meetings take place in reality,” he says. “It’s on the top floor of the ECB, and nobody is ever allowed to go there—but we can.”
The meetings are chaired by either van Veen or another SBE faculty member, and are also attended by two representatives of the ECB. Each team of students nominates a team member to speak as the actual president of their country’s nation bank. Each ‘president’ presents what they think is right for Europe and then there is a discussion.
While the students receive feedback, they do not receive a grade. “This is purely for the experience,” van Veen says. “The students get insight into how these meetings actually go in real life, and what the communication is like between the bank presidents.”
What students like the most, van Veen says, is the authenticity. “They get to sit in the room behind a sign with the name of the bank president they are representing and they get to feel like they really are that person,” he says. “It’s quite formal. You have to switch on a mic if you want to speak. It’s very exciting for students to sit in the actual room.”
Van Veen is a strong believer in the value of this real-world exposure while studying. In his course on Macro Economic Policy in Europe, for example, he always brings students to the European Parliament. “We have a discussion with a member of parliament or an assistant to a member and we get a tour, see the big meeting hall and talk about the procedures for speaking in the Parliament,” he says. “And then we have a Q&A session and short lecture.”
This visit, van Veen says—just as with the ECB experience—is an important added value for the course.
Read more about Tom van Veen on the UM Expert Guide.