It all adds up to learning on the job

Study-and-work model revived for accountancy trainees to improve access. Simon Baker reports

July 21, 2011

Existing accountancy degrees could be placed under threat by a new model that would allow school-leavers and employed trainees to gain industry qualifications and reach master's level for just £15,000.

That is the prediction made by one of the key architects of a part-time programme, launched this week at Manchester Metropolitan University, which could become the template for increasing access to the profession for students from poorer backgrounds.

Under the scheme, students - who could be trainee accountants sponsored by their employers or school-leavers set on a career in the field - can gain, in less than four years, industry-standard qualifications and a BA in professional accounting while still working.

One more year of study would give them the key Associate Chartered Accountant qualification and, after a further year, a master's.

Mark Protherough, executive director of learning and professional development at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales - which has helped to create the course with Manchester Met and the Association of Accounting Technicians, said the rise in tuition fees was a key driver.

He said research by KPMG had shown that there was a risk that the hike in fees would limit the pool of talent to those from more affluent backgrounds.

As a result, he had helped KPMG to set up its own scheme - announced earlier this year in conjunction with Durham University - where students will have all their tuition fees paid and receive a salary while studying for a degree and industry qualifications.

Mr Protherough said the Manchester Met course was the logical next step, as it offered smaller firms a low-cost opportunity to take on trainees straight from school.

"We felt we had a duty to offer avenues to these people...We don't want one type of student coming into accountancy," he said.

He is already in talks with other universities about setting up similar courses. He forecast that a number of "centres of excellence" could emerge around the country.

However, he warned that existing courses offered by other universities may be shelved as students flock to get into the new centres, which would expand to meet demand. "Universities with accountancy degrees that don't do this may be under threat," he said.

Mr Protherough suggested that it also represented a shift back to people gaining entry to professions as trainees so they can work and study at the same time.

"Good quality, low cost, part-time routes to professional qualifications will come back into play - we're almost going back 20 or 30 years in that respect," he said.

Graham Holt, head of accounting and finance at Manchester Met Business School, said such links with employers and professional bodies had "got to be" the future of vocational courses.

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