Businesses and universities working together – a model example?

By | January 8, 2014

Michael Wall

Guest blog by Michael Wall, managing director of Beaumont Robinson, independent financial advisers.

Last September, John Cridland of the CBI urged universities and businesses to work more closely together.  This has long been a wish of the government – the fact that the universities minister sits within the Department for Business, Industry and Skills demonstrates the strength of its importance to them.

John Cridland

John Cridland

But in my view, there are two challenges that make this difficult

–        Businesses don’t really understand how universities work, where to take a problem or how to develop it, or the timescales and processes involved

–        Few universities are really close to businesses so that they spot issues and then have the capabilities to offer a commercial solution to the problem

Six years ago, the financial services industry was facing a major revolution in how we were regulated – and, amongst other changes, this threw up the need for a new qualification and to attract new entrants to the sector.   A number of Yorkshire businesses went to our leading business school, Bradford University School of Management, to see if they could help.  In this blog, I have outlined the challenge, how we worked together and lessons that we have learned along the way.

1. New qualification requirement of Retail Distribution Review

Some  six/seven years ago, a number of businesses at the Financial and Professional Services Group were discussing the Retail Distribution Review, which would affect the whole of the sector and become effective on 1 January 2013.  A key part of this new law was that financial advisers would in future have to have degree level qualifications – but our industry only had low level professional qualifications at that time.

When the accountants and lawyers in this group heard this, they were shocked!

2. Developing an industry-specific qualification

David Cubitt, chairman of Beaumont Robinson, set up the Yorkshire Independent Financial Adviser Forum (YIFAF) and with two other businesses – Ebor Asset Management and Pearson Jones – approached Bradford University School of Management to see how we could set up a degree for our industry.

IFA founding members

IFA founding members

Founding IFAs who helped develop the first BSc in Financial Planning with Bradford University School of Management

The result was the country’s first four year BSc in Financial Planning degree, which was launched in 2010 with eight students in the first year.  We worked with the Chartered Insurance Institute to ensure this was accredited by them, giving graduates exemptions towards the CII’s newly developed Diploma-level professional qualifications.  The degree covers financial advising, wealth management, asset management, banking and insurance.

3. Successes and challenges of the process.

The paragraph above probably makes this process sound very simple!  It was not and there were learning points for all of us in the process.  Here are the highlights of these

–        Few businesses really understand how higher education works, particularly the complexity of approvals with higher education bodies.  In our naivety, the business people thought we’d come up with the degree, specify what we thought should be in the curriculum and have it launched in six months.  But the quality process means the course has to be approved by the university and then a degree awarding body.

While frustrating and time consuming, of course this process is part of why British degrees carry such weight all over the world.

–        Our degree was launched in the depths of the recession and as government spending cuts impacted on universities.  We did not really address how the new degree would be marketed and had expected around 30 students for the first year.  This was probably always unrealistic for a new degree and before it had gained recognition.  However, numbers are increasing and the most recent cohort started with 24 students.

–        The first group of students included undergraduates from Latvia – which was unexpected.  As Yorkshire businesses, we were investing in putting the degree programme together to help the industry generally – but specifically to find qualified recruits for our businesses in years to come.  We hadn’t thought through the implications of Bradford School of Management being an internationally renowned business school, attracting students from around the world – some of whom will not be able to get visas to work in UK.

In the case of the Latvian students, they can of course work in the UK and Beaumont Robinson took  one on placement and she has proved a great find.

–        We had expected the School to take the lead on sorting out placements for the students, but we quickly realised that YIFAF would need to become involved and help make this happen, particularly as numbers have increased. I think we all seriously underestimated the challenge in getting the students placed.

Thankfully, the employment team at the School are very easy to work with and highly professional and together we have developed an efficient way to ensure that every student has a placement in their third year.  The biggest challenge has been helping smaller IFAs on how to take on an intern – few had done this before.

We have a continual dialogue with the course director as well as the placement team and are always looking at ways in which the course can evolve and improve.  I think that this on-going dialogue is as important as the initial contact.

So those were the challenges.  Has it been successful and worth the effort?  Absolutely!

The first cohort will graduate this summer and we are working with the School of Management to ensure that each graduate gets an appropriate job in the sector. For us, we are monitoring the results of our first placement student closely in this, her final year, and will hopefully be discussing possibilities with her for permanent employment. And we currently have two placement students with us from the course for this year.

The course itself is excellent, the teaching first class and the quality of students is good – which will provide good recruits for our businesses in years to come. The ongoing dialogue is vital also to ensure that the course continues to deliver what the businesses want.

Bradford was definitely the right place for us to go to ensure the quality of all this – and Scottish Widow gave an award to David Cubitt on behalf of YIFAF, for our initiative in developing our profession.

David Cubitt being presented with the Scottish Widows Award

David Cubitt being presented with the Scottish Widows Award

David Cubitt being presented with the Scottish Widows Award at a prestigious dinner in London. The award recognised the pioneering Bradford based initiative of which Beaumont Robinson were one of the main instigators, to create a Financial Planning Degree and thus encourage more people to become suitably qualified independent financial advisers.

So if you are keen to develop a bespoke qualification for your industry, we would definitely recommend it – and Bradford is a good place to start (Lorraine Lucas and her team are great).  But just prepare for longer timescales than you imagine, and stay involved throughout to help with marketing and placements and future course development.

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  1. Pingback: Can a degree transform the financial planning sector? | Bradford Management Thinking Blog

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