Why are student numbers among the professional accountancy institutes declining?

RECENT research from the Financial Reporting Council revealed that membership of the professional accountancy bodies in the UK has increased in the UK and around the world, but student numbers have declined in the UK and Ireland for the past two years.

Between 20011 and 2015, student numbers fell 4.3% overall, although ICAEW was able to grow student numbers by 21% in the period.

Student numbers

It wasn’t so long ago, certainly in our parents or grandparents’ era (depending on how old you are) – accountancy was regarded as a job for life.

Investing time and studying for professional qualification was seen as a necessity, a worthy badge of honour along the steady and long career path in the profession.  Working in a profession long term mattered.  The “blood, sweat and tears” were worth it.


Cut to 2016 and Millennials and Generation “Z”ers have more obstacles but even more opportunities. The rise in university fees means that many students (regardless of the nature of the degree) are now questioning return on investment at an earlier age – can they be learning on the job, become an apprentice and get out in the workforce earlier?

Programmes like Dragons Den/Young Apprentice and the technology/digital boom have also paved the way for many wanting to be the entrepreneur at a young age. They want to be the doer rather than the adviser and why wait years when the mind-set is you seemingly can ‘have it all now’.

Talk to other recruiters for the profession, and many will tell you there have also noticed a major upside in the investment the Big Four and other larger accountancy firms  have made in their “Advisory” practices, including offerings to cover Risk Advisory, IT Audit and IT Security.

Indeed, in the relatively sophisticated marketplace for alternate business services , there are several options on top of the classic “External Audit, ACA” route,

Paul Edwards, Director at KPP Search posits that the diversity in entry points to these consulting firms could be a reason for the decline in accountancy qualifications, as specialist qualifications such as CISA, CISSP, or CFE are more relevant.

So what can the profession do to entice the future generation of accountants?   At the core, we need to realise that the days of the accountant being just a number cruncher have passed.  Today’s accountant needs to have a much broader understanding of business, technology and many more advisory skills to meeting needs of business owners and tomorrow’s entrepreneurs.

On idea, suggested by Bobby Lane, a partner in mid-tier accountancy firm Shelley Stock Hutter, would be to take a leaf out of business studies courses, where it is a four year sandwich course and students gain far more commercial experience at an earlier age.  Not only that there needs to be a bigger communication push to show future students the broad range of benefits the qualification can provide.”

Arguably, a qualification that will set up even the most ambitious for life, even if they do not remain in the profession for as long as their predecessors.

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