Into the big time with big bucks

September 12, 1997

Whether it is watching river flows, cash flows or linguistic flow, the three subjects below are attracting students

ACCOUNTING graduates appear a little unloved. First, accountancy firms say they prefer to employ generalists. Then, other university departments can be sniffy about accounting's academic credentials.

Richard Wilson, professor of accounting at Loughborough University, says: "Some academic colleagues look down their noses at accounting as a Johnny-come-lately that has something to do with trade."

Now some firms are even by-passing the university system altogether and running their own courses for school-leavers. Last year, KPMG introduced a four-year training scheme for 18-year-olds, offering a starting salary of Pounds 11,000.

Smaller firms also like this kind of arrangement because it gives them a crack at top candidates, impossible in the usual post-degree results scramble with the big five - Coopers and Lybrand, Price Waterhouse, Deloitte & Touche, Ernst and Young and Arthur Andersen.

Yet the popularity of accounting as a degree course continues, with more than 30,000 applications every year. Universities like it because it brings in large amounts of money from foreign students. Students like it because they believe it brings them jobs.

In the late 1980s, more UK graduates entered training contracts run by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales than entered any other single occupation. But fewer than one in five had taken a degree in accountancy or finance.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants admits it prefers graduates in other subjects as better "all-rounders". For example, a large proportion of those gaining jobs last year had studied classics.

The jobs market for accountants also shrank during the recession, although it is now improving. The few people given training contracts in the slow years are finding plenty of opportunities, including non-accountancy jobs in the city.

Accounting only gained its first professorial chairs in 1947 at Birmingham and the London School of Economics and for many years was primarily a practical and vocational discipline.

Now students spend time putting accounting techniques into context, learning communication skills and writing essays. Ethical issues and green accounting have moved up the agenda, while students probe the deeper impacts of accounting methods on society. Students also take a language or information technology.

Alan Sangster, chairman of the accounting education group of the British Accounting Association, said: "The biggest change is that now there is much more theory."

International accounting is also becoming important as business goes global and accounting systems become more uniform.

Graduates have a choice of training contracts run by six bodies - the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy and the Institutes of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

All but ACCA work together as part of the Board of Accreditation for Accountancy Education, which lays down common degree requirements which institutions must meet to earn accreditation.

Accountancy facts

* In 1996/97, there were 23,979 students studying accounting in UK universities. Of these, 3,214 were overseas students.

* So far this year there have been 34,254 applications to study accountancy, compared with 34,444 total applications received last year.

* In 1996, 4,744 people were accepted to read accountancy - 131 more than in 1995 and 630 more than in 1994.

Source: UCAS and HESA

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