For and Against

The learning materials for the Advanced Stage of the new ACA hit the streets in the first week of August and students will take the new exams for the first time in November. The launch of the new ACA follows an extensive consultation period where the ICAEW worked in conjunction with training bodies of all sizes to understand fully what they want from qualified ACAs. The development of the new qualification has transformed the way we work with students and training firms, and we have greatly enhanced our student support programme. In the wake of the vote by members against the proposals for electives in June 1999, one of our major client firms, Ernst &Young, unfortunately decided to transfer all its new recruits to a competitor body. Our biggest client, PricewaterhouseCoopers, also put a substantial minority of its students through the same route, hence the drop in student numbers reported here. We consider the drop to be temporary, and rather than focus narrowly on this, we are concerned with the bigger picture in terms of recruitment into the profession as a whole over the next few years. Students of the ICAEW qualify with excellent salary prospects and a choice of prestigious career paths. In addition, ACA students do enviably well in exams and the pass rate for the final admitting exam this summer topped 80%; the highest-ever since it was introduced in 1994. Our students are of the highest calibre, and in turn, we are dedicated to ensuring they have the competitive edge. We will continue to adapt the qualification to meet the demands of the market, and believe ‘keeping a finger on the pulse’ in this way ensures that our qualification evolves with the business environment. The integrated business-based qualification we have developed provides both the specific and generic skills that will continue to be attractive to the best graduates and their employers, and in relaunching the ACA, we have come up with a world-leading qualification for the business advisers of the future.STIL A QUALITY QUALIFICATION

The new ACA, the AAT fast track and ground-breaking ICAEW/PwC/Newcastle University degree, demonstrate our flexibility and commitment to reacting quickly to market demands. Our innovative approach of placing technical issues within a realistic business context will enable our members to maintain their position as the primary professional business advisers in the UK and elsewhere.

– Brian Chiplin is director of education and training at the ICAEW


Who would be in charge of education and training at the ICAEW? Step forward Brian Chiplin, the man lucky enough to be sitting in one of the hottest hot seats in the institute.

Doubtless he was expecting the flak over the fall in student numbers – after all the drop is down to Ernst & Young’s defection and so has been figured into the budgets for a while.

He may even take comfort from the rumours that suggest E&Y will return to the ICAEW’s training fold when the three-year deal with the Scots has run its course. But as every qualified accountant knows, while the headline numbers always matter, so do underlying trends.

The institute and its member firms know there is a fierce battle going on for the top graduates to secure the future of the profession. All the accountancy bodies are slugging it out for Britain’s best: also there is growing competition from other professions and – perhaps hardest of all for the qualified professional to contemplate – many of those poised on the cusp of working life need persuading of the advantage of a professional qualification of any sort.

You can’t necessarily prevent those changing attitudes but you can try and work around them.

And that is why the institute has made changes which it reckons makes the qualification attractive to both would-be chartered accountants and firms of all sizes who should be training students. The ones who still need persuading to join in are the smaller firms.

Their biggest complaint is the opportunity cost – in other words the chargeable time lost – of having a student stuck in a classroom instead of with a client earning fees is still too great.

Aside from that sector, the anecdotal evidence suggests that training firms, the training suppliers and the students are happy with the changes that have been made. The institute sounds confident that the work done over the last couple of years will be enough to stave off disaster.

US secretary of state Dean Acheson remarked famously that ‘Britain has lost an empire but has not yet found a role.’

In the field of education and training the institute still has both an empire and a role which those in charge of E&T – such as Brian – thinks it is on course to hang onto. It is in the interest of all its existing members that time proves them right.

– Peter Williams is a chartered accountant and a freelance writer.

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