The story begins when (Basic Accountancy Course) BAC was introduced in mid 1990's and students could join after intermediate level. Even at that time, senior members (including my father) were reluctant and against the idea that students without graduation will be inducted in the profession. They were of the view that students at this stage are not mature enough to enter into professional qualification. Unlike pure sciences, Accounting & Finance are applied subjects and students need more exposure before entering in the accounting profession. On the other hand, the rationale was very clear. Accounting profession in Pakistan was facing a serious challenge in terms of attracting good students. The bright students preferred engineering & medicine for the reason that the route to CA is very long (4 Years post-Graduation at that time). In addition, pass percentage of the students was very discouraging. Length of the route and uncertainty, both were the real impediments in attracting good quality students. The alternate route was opened with a cognizance of trade-off with a graduate program.
The institute was aware of the compromise of graduate degree, hence, announced a degree awarding program for students of BAC in collaboration with Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU). The students were asked to register with AIOU, submit prescribed assignments to mentors/tutors and appear in Islamiyat and Pakistan Studies (compulsory subjects for graduates). The students who successfully completed BAC, submitted assignments and passed compulsory subjects were supposed to get BA (Accounting) Degree from AIOU. Several students of different batches of BAC got registered with AIOU, submitted assignments and passed compulsory exams, but degree was not awarded. When approached ICAP and AIOU there was no proper response. What I got to know informally that the program was announced before a formal agreement, and some regulatory approvals were pending. Lately, I got to know that subsequently AIOU asked some reciprocal arrangement (I am not sure what they were asking on what grounds. Only seniors involved in negotiation can resolve the mystery.) The scheme than vanished without any recourse for the affected students and no alternate scheme ever came up. In 2003, an equivalence was granted by HEC against qualification, however, that equivalence is not good enough for getting visa/immigration in some countries that have a potential market.
This issue is still a pain point for many students and members and has remained unresolved for more than two decades now. The issue of graduation is essentially pertains to global acceptability. There has to be a resolution to the issue or at least a closure of discussion one way or the other. This issue probably has lost its priority later on at the Education & Training Committee (ETCom) and Council level, hence, no serious efforts can be seen for a resolution durlast decade.
BAC classes were started by ICAP in collaboration with some Tutors (now called Registered Accounting Education Tutors ‘RAETs’) in different cities. RAETs were owned by members of the institute by design of the scheme. ICAP also started classes of BAC at its own premises to keep but for some reasons these classes were discontinued at a later stages. The RAETs were designed to be the nursery for students of the institute and this designed has worked really well and produced thousands of members. Initially, there used to be a Pre-Entry Proficiency Test (PPT) for induction in BAC schemes. The pass out percentage of PPT was no different from ICAP results. I personally know dozens of students who have appeared multiple times in PPT before joining ICAP as a student or leaving ambitions of becoming a Chartered Accountant. This was a pre-screening mechanism to ensuring that students with good aptitude and knowledge base are joining the profession. However, at some point in time at a later stage, a commercial decision was taken to eliminate PPT. Several other changes were made to education scheme; such as, a modular scheme was introduced, retention of papers, granting exemptions, rolling back exemptions, etc. All these resulted in an influx of students, thousands of students entered RAET and many left without passing a single module.
During this complete transition cycle of education schemes, RAETs have grown to large institutes but the quality of education has not progressed and uplifted at the same pace. The study material and teaching style is exam driven and focused on passing out in difficult exams of the institute. Every teacher/institute has his secret recipe to pass; e.g. selected questions, notes, etc. One beauty of early days of profession that is lost during the transition is a referring to multiple books. Book selection for every topic used to be a daunting task back in 90s. Shukla, Gupta, Drury, etc. were the common names back then. The students now are restricted to the study material and selected questions. This reduces exposure of the students to various types of literature and orientation of research.
During campaign for Council elections 2017, I had a discussion with various members who are affected by not having a graduate degree. Some of us, have got degrees from recognized universities for our own reasons. But in general, people who been more focused core qualification and do not possess a recognized degree. This becomes an impediment at times, in getting jobs, work permit and immigration in some countries. Some non-members, who have extensive professional experience with a couple of papers remaining also become a victim of not having graduation. This is a real concern and needs to be addressed.
An idea came up that ICAP gets a degree awarding status from HEC or creates a university. Some very limited and myopic views are also being discussed at various forums. This needs to be evaluated in a very broad and open context. A university cannot created for a purpose of distributing degrees. The core of university is knowledge creation and knowledge dissemination. The knowledge creation process differentiates the university from a tuition center. Even in knowledge dissemination the focus is more on broad based grooming and philosophical coverage. Whereas, tuition centers focus on particular subject and applied side. As a matter of best practices, university is a nursery for all professional bodies who train a student in a particular subject, after a broad based grooming; not vice versa. A widely acknowledge gap in presentations skills is due to difference between the university environment and our education schemes. There is an inherent difference in the design that cannot be covered with presentation skills certificates.
The road-map for ICAP from here, is to get some transitional arrangement with degree awarding universities to design a workable program for members and students. For now, ICAP needs to exhaust all options of collaboration with recognized universities for providing graduate and master degrees with some additional efforts . These shall not be only in accountancy; we can diversify to add value, e.g. corporate finance, forensics, public finance, policy development, system assurance, etc., which really adds value for the members and students. We do not need only a piece of paper to be framed on a wall. Our members are hardworking and intelligent; they will go for value addition.
The road-map for future needs to be studied in detail. The changing business environment in complex economies, technology oriented future and other serious challenges demand professionals groomed in a diverse environment of university. We have covered the complete cycle of transition, the purpose of relaxing the entrance criteria as designed in mid 1990s has been achieved. This is an already increasing trend on opting for graduation route for CA. I know some very senior chartered accountants, have opted the graduation route for their children.
There is a need to re-evaluate the educations schemes and entry routes in the overall context. An objective and independent study in this regard is required to assess all the options based on actual data that evaluates on an overall basis and some inferences that are referred in this article. The objective is to assess the direction of the institute and make sure that we produce professionals that remain relevant in the global market to enhance the brand value of CA Pakistan.
Fawad Ahmad, FCA
Contestant for ICAP Council – North Zone A
I am a chartered accountant, belong to 6th Batch, BAC at ICAP, Patyala Ground, Lahore. I did my graduation in political science and journalism, from University of the Punjab, once denied degree under program announced in collaboration with AIOU. I am also an alumnus on National Security Workshop at National Defense University, Islamabad.
This article is written in context of discussion in a WhatsApp group, created for election by some members. The group includes 220 plus members, past and existing council members, senior members of ICAP and contestants for Council. It is difficult to articulate your view in a live chat, especially, a subject this sensitive and strategic. I have tried to express my views clearly and candidly. I am open to any questions on the subject or otherwise.