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The Open University is offering a foundation degree in financial services aimed at people on the retail front line who want to develop their careers

A new foundation degree in financial services launched last week from the Open University and the National Skills Academy for Financial Services. It is targeted at people who are already working in the financial services industry but may want to update their qualifications or move to the next stage on the career ladder.

The OU had started to work on financial education two years ago but only at the direct-to-consumer end of the market. It simply aimed to help people understand their money better and proved popular with students. At this point, the OU decided to develop a foundation degree to develop higher skills for those who wanted to build their career in financial services.

The OU model is flexible and incorporates distance learning and study support. Sylvia Perrins, CEO of NSAFS, says: “We really endorse this technical learning and the devel-opment of study skills. The OU approached us over a year ago to discuss what a foundation degree might look like. We consulted with a network of employers to create a model that was flexible and progressive and delivered what they wanted.”

The degree in itself is not a route to qualification, but if an adviser already has level three or level four they can be fast-tracked through the course. The NSAFS has launched a new degree with Bristol City College and Plymouth University, where the first year covers the diploma programme. The group is planning to roll out more of these local foundation courses throughout the country.

Qualifications are important but experience and evidence that you can do the job also matter

The foundation degree normally takes three to four years to complete part-time – the equivalent of two years of full-time study. It can be completed in as little as two years.

The structure has also been designed to allow students to go on with direct progression through to an honours degree at the OU. With each module you complete, you earn a set number of points.

To qualify for the foundation degree, students need to amass 240 points – 120 points at level one and 120 points at level two. Levels one and two are equivalent to studying in the first and second years at a conventional university. Most of the modules are worth 30 or 60 points, with some worth 10 or 20 points.

The course is equivalent to the first two years of an honours degree so students only need one more year to top up to a full degree. Perrins says: “We have created it for the general development of the individual so it covers the regulatory framework, ethics and behaviours. It is about someone having a broader skillset and having studied a broad range of issues, including things such as economics and finance.”

Perrins says the degree is aimed at people working in the industry, often those who are on the retail front line and want to develop their careers. She says the degree is likely to attract an eclectic mix of younger people who want to kickstart their careers or older people who are going back to learning. She believes it might suit women returning to the workplace after having children or office administrators wanting to improve their prospects.

She adds: “We believe in helping people get skills. Qualifications are important but experience and evidence that you can do the job also matter. It is not just a qualification – there are soft skills, such as leadership, that are incorporated into the course. You can be very well qualified but can you manage people? It’s an important issue for advisers.”

The development of the degree has been led by Ian Fribbance, senior lecturer in economics at The Open University. He says: “This model of coll-aborative teaching where OU materials will be delivered within the Skills Academy network throughout England and through other colleges such as Neath Port Talbot College in Wales is a new way of working for us. It opens up the qualification to a whole new set of students.

“With the current increased emphasis on regulation and training, there has never been a more crucial time to launch a qualification like this. We already have students enrolled for the new qualifications and financial services employers are showing interest.”

Sample modules

  • An introduction to business studies
  • Managing in the workplace
  • Personal finance in context
  • Developing effective performance at work
  • Introduction to financial services
  • Personal investment in an uncertain world
  • Financial accounting
  • Economics course
  • Development of financial practice
  • Introduction to bookkeeping and accounting
  • Starting with maths
  • Understanding management


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