Western Sydney University will offer existing financial advisers shortcuts to postgraduate degrees that should qualify them under new education standards, which are expected to be formalised in September.

Speaking at the Professional Planner Best Practice Forum in Sydney today, Michelle Cull, who is the director of academic program, accounting and financial planning, at UWS, said recognised prior learning was something education providers have been looking at for some time.

“What is not clear in the FASEA [Financial Adviser Standards and Ethics Authority] guidance is what kind of advanced standing advisers may get,” Cull said. “With universities, this is something that we’ve been looking at closely as the other sort of pathway that advisers come from.”

Cull started by acknowledging that many advisers don’t actually know what the education target is that they will likely be working towards.

“When we look at the FASEA guidelines as they stand, probably the most that an existing adviser would have to do is a graduate diploma,” she explained. “The thing is that some people might not know what that means. A graduate diploma is a postgraduate degree, and as it normally would stand at most universities, that is eight units that the student would need to complete.”

Rather than encourage advisers to complete all eight units, Cull said, the universities are taking active steps to formalise processes around recognising prior learning. For WSU, this means assessments designed to ascertain what an adviser should receive credit for.

“At Western Sydney University, we’ve created what we call ‘challenge units’, so you can get credit for up to half of your postgraduate degree – or four units of your postgraduate diploma – by doing a challenge assessment,” Cull explained.

Rather than advisers having to do a full unit, they would enrol in the ‘challenge version’ of the unit.

“You would still have access to the materials and online information, and you would also have a webinar to discuss all the information to prepare you for the assessment,” Cull said. “Then you would complete the assessment tasks as you would if you were a fully enrolled student.”

Cull said the challenge units would be less about recalling regulatory facts and more about the real-life situations advisers were used to handling.

“A lot of the exams have case studies,” she explained. “It’s not about just reciting what the corporations law might say, it’s about applying it.”

Cull said advisers completing challenge units would also pay considerably less than standard rates. She estimated that advisers could generally expect to spend $3000 per unit at most universities, with an extra cost often added for any advanced standing.

“With the challenge units, you don’t pay the full $3000, it’s much less than half of that,” Cull explained. “And if you get credit, obviously you budget for much less than that.”

While individual assessment of each applicant is necessary, Cull said she would be happy to help any advisers looking to organise an assessment.