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Celebrating transformation this Youth Month

North West Learners at the SAICA Development Camp

As we celebrate Youth Month, our thoughts turn to education and the efforts that have been made to make education in this country more relevant, equitable and inclusive for all our youth. Indeed, as a profession, the Chartered Accountancy industry, too has much to celebrate in this regard especially it comes to the advancement of our transformation efforts, writes Robert Zwane, Senior Executive: National Imperatives at the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA).

In recent years, SAICA’s transformation efforts have come under intense criticism when:

  1. The pass rate of our two qualifying assessments are viewed as “too high”, the assumption is that we are dropping standards to fast-track our transformation goal; or
  2. If the pass rate of either assessment are viewed as “too low”, our critics take this as a sign that SAICA is raising standards to purposefully exclude black candidates from entering the profession.

There is no truth to either statement.

As a profession, we view the quality of our education standards and our transformation objectives as two distinct, stand-alone goals. The standard setting and quality of the assessments are the responsibility of the Professional Development Committee (IPD) and its sub-committees. These functions are all housed in the Professional Development unit. While the transformation matters – all aspects relating to growing and transforming the number of the candidates – are dealt with by SAICA’s Transformation and Growth Department.

Why SAICA focuses its efforts on both transformation and growth

The ultimate objective of SAICA’s Transformation and Growth initiatives is to grow and transform our membership base to reflect the country’s population demographics both in terms of race and gender. Success will, therefore, be achieved when our membership numbers reflect the demographics of the economically active population.

SAICA’s transformation initiatives are governed by the Thuthuka Education Upliftment Fund (TEUF) Board, which began in 2002 when we launched our first education related projects in the Eastern Cape in 2002. Today, in order to have a greater impact in its transformation and growth endeavours, SAICA’s focus, thanks to the assistance of our various strategic partners, funders and stakeholders, covers the full spectrum from ‘cradle to grave’. This means that our initiatives start from an early school level and continue until a candidate is qualified and registered with SAICA as a qualified CA(SA) where they are then expected to continue their professional advancement through SAICA’s lifelong learning exercises.

It is under the auspices of the TEUF Board, that SAICA’s pipeline creation priorities include, amongst others:

  • Increasing the pool of learners with quality mathematics results.
  • Securing sustainable funding for wrap-around support in the academic programme.
  • Improving tertiary throughput pass rates.
  • Building capacity across the historically disadvantaged universities through initiatives such as the common CTA programme.
  • Unlocking the potential of the distance learning institutions.
  • Transforming the professional examination level (ITC and APC) through initiatives that support improved throughputs.

So how do these efforts stand up?

To answer that, the most important measure for success is to look at whether SAICA’s membership numbers reflect growth as a direct outcome of the efforts put into transforming the pipeline of candidates who have written SAICA’s two qualifying assessments: the ITC and APC.

Let’s take a look…

Membership Overview: the true measure of transformation success

The true impact of SAICA’s combined transformation initiatives is  best represented by looking at how significantly the membership base of CAs(SA) under 35 years old (this is because there is not much that can be done around transforming the inherited membership) has increased over the same period. And what it reveals is significant as it shows that black membership for CAs(SA)under the age of 35 has grown from 13% in 2002 (with only 3% of that number being African) to 48% (25% African) in 2020.

What then is the role of Professional Development?

As mentioned earlier, the Transformation and Growth unit (and its related Boards) focuses on SAICA’s transformation and capacity building initiatives, the organisation’s Professional Development Unit (and related Committees) focuses on developing and protecting the standards of the CA(SA) qualification through all steps in the qualification process.

The qualification process takes a minimum of seven years, this includes the (minimum) four-year academic programme, the (minimum) three-year training programme, completion of a professional programme and the two professional qualification examinations (the ITC and APC). The standards are first defined through the SAICA Competency Framework, which sets out competencies (knowledge, skills, attitudes and values) expected of entry-level CAs(SA), and then articulated through the two qualifying examinations. By combining factors including: entry (eligibility) requirements; policies and procedures related to SAICA examinations/assessments; setting the relevant examinations/assessments; the marking processes of SAICA examinations/assessments; as well as adjudicating of the results, the function of this unit to develop and assess the competencies of entry-level CAs(SA) required to demonstrate the expectations businesses and employers expect for the 21st Century. Both assessments seek to assess how well candidates have developed and can apply these competencies and not just mechanically apply their technical knowledge within a real-world and professional context.

SAICA works tirelessly to ensure its education, training and examination processes are rigorous, robust, fair and in line with international best practice as outlined by the education and training standards of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), while also ensuring that significant time and resources are allocated to ensure that disadvantaged candidates have the best possible chance to succeed thanks to a variety of interventions that the profession runs throughout the education value chain.

We do, however, acknowledge that to have a greater impact in our transformation efforts, more support needs to be given to unsuccessful candidates to empower and prepare them for the professional examinations. We have, therefore, launched numerous initiatives related specifically to the professional examinations.

Looking ahead

Although SAICA has seen and continues to see growth in its membership and transformation of its membership through the various initiatives it has had in place across the qualification process, we acknowledge the importance of improving performance in the qualifying examinations to sustain the transformation efforts of the profession as we still have some way to go before our membership demographics reflects the country’s profile.

This is not a feat we can (or indeed have) tackle alone. For that, we must thank our partnerships (both in the public and the private sector) that have collaborated with us to make this happen and we urge them (and others) to continue to support our efforts. DM

Robert Zwane, Senior Executive: National Imperatives at the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA)


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