A bitter row between two accountancy bodies over the basis of exam exemptions will end up hurting the students most, it is being claimed, writes Bibi Berki.
The Association of Accounting Technicians, which has 69,000 students worldwide, says it is disappointed by the decision of the bigger Chartered Association of Certified Accountants to reduce exemptions for AAT students.
Many AAT students go on to further qualifications with the ACCA, which has 180,000 students. Previously AAT students had been exempted from the whole foundation stage of their course, but they will now be exempted from only two papers.
The decision was made against a background of increasing rivalry between the two bodies, in an already cut-throat and competitive market.
The AAT was founded in 1980 to provide a National Vocational Qualification for accounting staff at technical level, often going on to work in a support capacity.
But it was not until three years ago that the ACCA decided to create a rival qualification, called the Certified Accounting Technician or CAT.
AAT chief executive Jane Scott Paul said the ACCA was now "discriminating" against AAT students.
"There is a widespread consensus in the accountancy world that the AAT qualification is an excellent foundation for future study," she said.
She claimed the exemption decision raised concerns about the "effects on our students".
But the ACCA said the decision was prompted by changes to the way the AAT assessed students' work.
"We were uncomfortable with their move from central assessment to devolved assessment," said ACCA head of communications Bob Reynolds.
The battle between the two groups is also being fought abroad, where the ACCA says it is doing "increasingly well", with its CAT qualification available in 150 centres. An industry insider said, "The main area (in which the AAT) is going to be hit is abroad."
The accountancy industry is already having to deal with the fallout of a vote last month by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales against specialisation. The result has led to some of the top accountancy firms saying that they will rethink their professional training.