University of Stellenbosch Business School launching new Blended Learning PGDip for Financial Planning
The University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) is planning to extend its Financial Planning courses to students across the country with a new Blended Learning format in 2020. We speak with Dr. Lee-Ann Steenkamp, the head of USB’s Financial Planning programme. We discuss her academic and work career, how she got involved in the programme, and why USB decided to add the blended learning format to this course.
Interviewer: Hello Dr. Steenkamp. Before we get into the meat and bones of this discussion, I feel it’s important to give our readers a bit of context on how you got to where you are today. Were you always interested in this field, or was there a “happy accident” that led you in this direction?
I took a scenic route, like most people do. You leave school and you have a certain plan in mind, but you don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for.
I studied accounting at Stellenbosch University and went on to do my Honours in accounting, which was part of the Chartered Accounting stream. I loved taxation, so I always wanted to specialise in tax. I ended up doing a Masters in Commerce at UCT, and for a number of years I lectured at the Stellenbosch University’s School of Accounting. Thereafter I taught at UCT, as well as UWC, for a number of years.
Later on I decided I wanted to understand carbon tax better, because the government has been talking about carbon taxes for 10 years. I wanted to understand the policies that inform this tax better, so I ended up doing my PhD in Climate Change law. So accounting, tax, climate change!
When the Financial Planning programme was transferred from another department to USB (and one of the reasons was to make use of this blended learning technology), the head position became available. I love Stellenbosch University, and I’ve always wanted to come back, so I applied. And here I am.
Interviewer: Why is financial planning so important in the South African context?
South Africa has a very poor savings culture. Very few people can afford to retire, let alone retire comfortably, so financial planning is an important skill set to have, regardless of whether you pursue the certification or not. It gives a student a holistic view of the entire financial planning process and how everything fits together. It also gives students the confidence to engage with their clients.
A lot of students also pursue this as an “add-on” to their current skills – for example, they might come from an actuarial background.
Interviewer: USB currently offers Financial Planning in a Modular format, and there are plans to introduce a Blended Learning format soon. What was the reason behind the introduction of this new format?
The Modular programme started way back in 2005 and is made up of four modules. These modules consist of weekly lectures – every Tuesday and every Thursday, six weeks at a time. Unlike some other modular programmes, students don’t get as much time on their own. It’s a serious, time-heavy commitment that we ask of students.
Knowing this, the thinking behind introducing the Blended Learning format is opening up access to more people. Because the Modular programme is residential-based, and it happens every week after work, it was really limited to a specific geographical area. We could only service students from Cape Town and Bellville, and we really wanted to offer the programme to the entire country.
Interviewer: What benefits will Blended Learning offer prospective students over the current format?
The biggest thing that this format offers is flexibility for our students. Many of them are working individuals, have family commitments, and you know the traffic around Cape Town is horrid. In that sense it’ll help them save time and money.
For students in the Gauteng area, who were previously excluded from this programme, they can now join us without having to fly down or move. There have been students in the past who had to transfer their careers and come live here for a year to do the programme; that’s how committed they were, but now they only need to travel for exams.
Interviewer: Do the Modular and Blended Learning classes happen at different times?
The Modular Tuesday and Thursday evening classes at the Bellville campus will continue as normal, but the lectures will also be live streamed for the Blended Learning students. We made this decision so we don’t have too many changes in one year. Of course things can change in the future, if the numbers grow so big that people have different classes, but for the near future it’s business as usual. The key difference is that blended learning students will have the choice between attending the face-to-face lecture, or viewing it remotely.
Interviewer: How will assessments work as part of the Blended Learning programme?
All of our assessments will be online except for the final four exams for each module. At this stage, students have to come and physically write the exams here. This is because we emulate what the FPI does in their board exam. It’s a sit-down exam, for four hours for all the modules, except for the last module.
Interviewer: When will this new teaching format be accessible to students? And what can students expect?
After many years of planning, and going through all the approval processes and training, we are ready to launch blended learning next year in 2020. Students from anywhere in the country can attend our lectures and get a Stellenbosch degree.
When the new format begins at the start of 2020, it’s business as usual. We start with our orientation session around the middle of January. We expect all students to attend that orientation day, regardless of where they’re from in the country because they need to register. Lectures start immediately thereafter.
Interviewer: Thank you for your time Dr. Steenkamp.
If you’re interested in growing your financial skills through our business school, this programme will equip you with all the knowledge and skills you need to become a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER®. Contact us today if you’d like to find out more about our new Blended Learning or Modular formats, or if you’re interested in any of the other programmes we offer.