For and against: Struggle to change attitudes

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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