Lifetime achievement award: Nicole El Karoui

Risk Awards 2024: Mathematician had to swim against the tide to create first – and most famous – master’s in quant finance

As summer drew to a close, a flurry of heartfelt posts appeared on LinkedIn from students who had won a place on a particular master’s course. They were variously proud, thrilled, delighted and pleased. They wrote about their journeys, their aspirations. “Hard work leads to everything,” one said. And scores of people in their personal networks wrote back, congratulating them, sharing their joy, and posting bicep-flexing emojis.

The course in question is a special one. It may be the only one of its kind to be widely recognised by a nickname. The students called it the “DEA El Karoui” – the first part being a French acronym for the equivalent of a master’s degree, and the second being the name of one of its co-founders, the mathematician Nicole El Karoui.

Formally known as the master’s in probability and finance, the course is offered by Paris-Sorbonne University in conjunction with the École Polytechnique. It is thought to have been the first master’s degree to allow maths and other technical graduates to specialise in quantitative finance – the first purpose-built bridge from academia to bank trading floors, buy-side front offices, and other roles that require both a knowledge of markets and a deep knowledge of maths. Among the dozens of copycat courses that have sprung up since its launch in 1989, the DEA El Karoui still enjoys a special status and – in a market that has come to be dominated by the big US schools – it remains one of the best.

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