Accountants defect as institute fails to get flexible

January 21, 2000

The professional body for accountants in England and Wales approved a new qualification for chartered accountant students last week - but failed to win support from top accountancy firms. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales now faces an uncertain future.

The ICAEW sought to introduce a new qualification last June. Its members voted to stick with a "one size fits all" qualification, ruling out the introduction of specialist exams, or "electives". Accountancy giants KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers were unhappy. The firms want a more flexible approach, with recognition that not all accountants do the same job. They also want the qualification to reflect the changing business environment, especially e-business.

The ICAEW has stuck with a unitary exam but argues that its new ACA qualification fully integrates business skills, and offers continuous work-based learning without the need for long periods of study leave.

But it was not enough for Ernst & Young, which announced that from autumn 2000 it will train its students with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland. The Scottish system allows greater specialisation and is seen as more in tune with the internet and modern business reader.

KPMG strongly advises its students to study for the Scottish qualification. The big five accountancy firms account for 60 per cent of ICAEW students. A spokesman for the ICAEW said they were "disappointed" with the response but hoped to win support as the new qualification bedded down. "Obviously the ICAEW would be in trouble if we lost all the big five - we would lose the new blood," he said.

Figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service put accountancy as the 14th most popular subject at university this autumn, with 4,873 entrants.

Ninety-six per cent of students who take the ICAEW are graduates. Of these, 18 per cent have accountancy degrees. Last year 10 per cent of all first-class honours graduates in accountancy studied with the ICAEW.

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