Crisis action at ICA

English ICA officials have launched a last-ditch attempt to prevent major firms withdrawing graduates from training as chartered accountants, by floating ideas such as workplace-based assessment.

The move came as Big Five firms KPMG and Arthur Andersen followed the lead of PricewaterhouseCoopers in expressing public doubts that the institute could find a compromise that would satisfy their training needs, yet reflect last month’s vote by institute members against optional examination papers, or ‘electives’.

Arthur Andersen training partner Andrew Pawley said the firm was considering its options. He added: ‘There is no getting away from the fact we were disappointed that the electives vote did not go through.’

KPMG audit head Ted Awty said: ‘The English ICA will find it difficult to come up with something as helpful as electives. We are casting our net wide in terms of options.’

Both said the idea of a new qualification developed in association with a business school was among several ideas which were under consideration.

PwC UK managing partner Peter Smith told Accountancy Age last week his firm – which provides more than a third of the institute’s students – was considering launching its own qualification. ‘We can structure a learning and education regime and have an internal regime which is very specific and attractive, and that is the way we are tracking in any event,’ he said.

But Ray Currie, chairman of the institute’s education directorate, expressed hope that a compromise could be found.

He said ideas relating to workplace-based assessment, which were debated at last Friday’s institute education and training forum, would be among those considered as a replacement for the rejected elective papers.

A student could be asked to produce a portfolio of projects worked on in the office before being interviewed by institute examiners. Competence-based assessment in the workplace, monitored by the institute, is also under consideration.

Currie said firms defecting to business schools was ‘a serious possibility’ though leading UK business schools were unable to comment on whether they had been approached.

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