But before I cover this point, I want to reflect on some of the progress that has been made in the past few years.
It has now been almost six years since I became the UK’s first doctor of financial planning but as I mentioned last month, during the next few years I expect to be joined by several new financial planning ‘doctors’, some of whom are practising advisers. Following publication of last month’s column, I was delighted to hear from one of the half dozen doctoral students I know. He contacted me to let me know he was now in the final furlong of his PhD.
By final furlong, I mean he has now submitted his thesis for examination. As readers may know, a doctorate requires a significant amount of original research, which is then written up as (approximately) a 100,000-word thesis. The PhD candidate is then required to defend his or her research and thesis at an intense verbal examination. At this ‘viva’ a group of senior academics probe the candidate’s knowledge, their research methodology and findings. It is a very exhausting process and few, if any, actually ‘pass’ without needing to undertake some further work. Typically, a ‘pass’ is ‘with conditions’ that can take between three and 12 months to satisfy. However, the good news is that the candidates know that a ‘pass with conditions’ means they have virtually completed their PhDs and this gives them the necessary boost to go on and complete the conditions. This boost is really needed, as after (usually) three years of full-time research and study, or six years if part time, you are mentally, and sometimes physically, exhausted.
Needless to say I was over the moon to hear from my friend and delighted to receive a copy of his thesis. This means that, subject to a satisfactory viva, in a few months’ time there will be another financial planning doctor in the UK and during the next few years I am confident the number will increase further. This is really great news for the profession because some of these new doctors may go on to complete valuable academic research in areas that will help influence the shape of government policy, regulation or market developments. I know my own thesis and research made a modest contribution to the RDR and pension debates, but more can be done and I am delighted that others will now be taking this forward.
The reason why it is so important to see universities offering financial planning (and associated) bachelor and master degrees, and the opportunity for some to go onto complete doctorates, is twofold. Firstly, it adds credibility to our profession, and secondly the research undertaken can offer genuine insight to problems facing the nation. While I am proud and grateful for my time at Middlesex University it is also pleasing that the next doctor in financial planning will come from a different institution. It is also good to note that at least two of the PhD students I know are at universities that are members of the Russell Group. For readers who are recent graduates, or those who have children at (or thinking about) university, you will know that the Russell Group is seen as the top echelon of universities in the UK, including Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, Birmingham, and Leeds etc.