New models of degree provision that offer undergraduates a fast track to jobs in accountancy through partnerships with major employers could soon be extended to collaborations with smaller firms.
The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) is working with universities to design programmes that would allow more students to access the type of high-profile scheme announced recently by firms such as KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Under the models - which have been praised by David Willetts, the universities and science minister - school-leavers can embark on an accountancy degree that then leads to employment with a specific firm and the ICAEW's professional Associate Chartered Accountant (ACA) qualification.
Students on the KPMG scheme, which is being run in conjunction with Durham University, have all their tuition fees paid and also receive a salary - starting at about £20,000 in London - which is paid throughout the six years they are trainees.
Hazel Garvey, director of business development, learning and professional development at the ICAEW, said that although it would be difficult for smaller firms to offer the same benefits as KPMG, the institute was discussing how to involve them in similar collaborations.
The institute already runs the Undergraduate Partnership Programme through which students on accountancy degree courses at three university business schools - Cardiff, Manchester and Warwick - can gain work experience with an authorised employer during their studies that helps them towards their ACA.
"We are conscious that not all employers can do a bespoke scheme," Ms Garvey said, adding that the body was looking at working with universities on more "flexible" projects that would still offer school-leavers a quick route to accountancy alongside a degree.
Shaun Robertson, head of learning at the ICAEW, said the latest crop of projects had been in the pipeline for some time and were not a response to the raising of the tuition fee cap and its potential impact on students' career decisions.
"We have always been keen on open access and so it is really about trying to open up more and more options for people," he said. "Firms want the best people wherever that talent is from - they are not specifically concerned about background but (schemes that help more people into the profession) mean they can fish in a wider pool."
At the same time employers did want trainees with academic experience, therefore schemes that linked vocational training to a traditional university course were ideal. "Employers want the best of both worlds," he added.