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SAICA, accountants and academic freedom

with 32 comments

Economist_probability of computerisation

I’ve had countless conversations with accountants, inside and outside the profession, about their jobs, and specifically about the training they receive at universities across South Africa. I’ve also written about it before, and received positive as well as critical and dismissive feedback. There I basically argued that an Accounting degree should not be the default option for most of South Africa’s brightest kids.

Others have echoed my sentiments. Here’s Sizwe Nxasana, CEO of FirstRand, saying that Chartered Accountants (CAs) need to improve their problem-solving skills: “They sometimes have a narrow view of the world and are unable to deal with high levels of complexity.” (He said this at the SAICA – the South African Institute for Chartered Accountants – conference.) Nxasana claims that the current Accounting syllabus does not allow students to develop the skills necessary for top-level managers.

So, without labouring the point, my advice would be to carefully consider your options when choosing a degree. There are many for whom Accounting is a passion. They enjoy technical challenges and have the ability to remember copious amounts of information. Let thou go forth and become Accountants! But there are many, many kids who study Accounting because they are bright and want to make a lot of money, kids who see Accounting as a stepping-stone to something bigger. This is where I think there are other stepping-stones worth considering. Take the road less-travelled, I say, a road that will allow you to aim higher, go farther, and enjoy the journey a lot more. (There’s also this from Political Scientist Chris Blattmann on whether you should study accounting. And the short answer is at the bottom of this post.)

But it is not only students that need to reconsider. I think Accounting departments in South Africa are perfectly positioned to help deliver students capable of thinking outside-the-box. Some of the most brilliant South Africans arrive at their doorstep, eager to be filled with knowledge and scholarship and all those wonderful things universities offer. But the reason that Sizwe Nxasana complains about accounting students’ “narrow view of the world” is that the accounting profession strictly follows a narrow rules-based compliance philosophy in education, whereas universities generally follow a broader principles-based approach. There is a good reason for this: Accounting departments in South Africa are heavily influenced by a professional body, SAICA. An excellent paper, The accounting profession’s influence on academe: South African evidence, by two accountants, Elmar Venter (University of Pretoria) and Charl de Villiers (University of Waikato, New Zealand), shows the heavy-handedness of this body on academic Accounting departments across South Africa. To sum it up: SAICA runs Accounting departments. They set the syllabus, they determine the criteria necessary to be employed, they even pay the salaries. The authors cite interviews with heads of department (HODs) which state the following: “It doesn’t help to resist them (SAICA). They have a complete stronghold on what happens at universities”, or “I would say that 90% of my focus is on the CA (SAICA) programme”.

This was not always the case. Until the 1950s, accounting education was offered mostly by technical colleges and correspondence. In an agreement between universities and the profession, accounting was introduced with examinations accepted by SAICA. South Africa’s apartheid isolation meant that international professional bodies were unwilling or unable to compete with SAICA – which is also the reason that SAICA affiliation today is not really helpful abroad. According to Venter and De Villiers, “the incorporation of CA education into universities’ programmes was initially controversial in South Africa, because vocational training had no academic standing at the time. Nevertheless, the profession was successful in moving its professional training into universities and thereby taking advantage of state-subsidized university training.” And later they note: “The legal status indirectly given to SAICA to accredit universities resulted in the creation and maintenance of new rules and structures within academe.” These rules and structures limit what Accounting departments can teach, and even who is allowed teach. If Accounting departments veer away from what SAICA wants them to do, they lose their accreditation. “This means that all Accounting departments follow the SAICA syllabus to the letter and emphasize technical aspects, virtually ignoring any broader, research-led, fundamental, or conceptual accounting issues.” One Accounting HOD even said: “Students are trained like race horses”.

Why don’t scholars in Accounting departments resist this influence? Why don’t they set their own course content and research programmes? Why don’t they heed Sizwe Nxasana’s call and change the curriculum?

Because SAICA pays. Here’s Venter and De Villiers on the subject:

SAICA’s education fund also provides direct subsidies (called subventions) of academic salaries to assist universities in attracting and retaining lecturers. These subsidies are not available to academics who are not involved in the CA programme. Hence, CA academics who are involved only in non-CA activities in a department, such as graduate programmes, supervision and research, do not receive any subvention. The education fund is funded through levies from training providers, mainly the “big four” accounting and auditing firms. At each university, a committee that includes a SAICA representative decides on the distribution of the subventions to individual CA academics. Although subventions are not part of the employment contracts between the universities and academics, CA academics are well aware of this incentive and the fact that they are entitled to it.

Venter and De Villiers’ paper is enlightening and terrifying at the same time. SAICA is the reason generations of accountants will be trained without a broader understanding of complexity, problem-solving or trends in the global economy. SAICA is the reason that accounting scholars have little incentive to do research, even though they may be keen and capable, and the contribution to society would be much greater. SAICA is the reason that there is an unnecessary tension between Accounting and other departments at South African universities, a tension that arise because academic freedom is butchered for the benefits of the Big Four.

This academic interference may have severe consequence for the accountants of tomorrow. Expanding the range of academic choices for accountants – providing the skills Sizwe Nxasama and other decision-makers demand – may be increasingly necessary not only for their success in the job market, but also for their survival. New evidence published by The Economist this week suggests that accounting degrees may be less sought-after in the future. Above I copy a table which ranks the jobs that are least likely to be replaced by computers over the next two decades: spot the accountants and auditors just above the telemarketers at the bottom of the list. To interpret: there is 94% likelihood that some accounting jobs will be replaced by computers or robots. Add to that the fact that many accounting jobs in developed countries can now be outsourced to poorer regions – like Zambia, who pays their British-qualified accountants a fraction of the South African equivalent – and there is the serious possibility that the demand for South African auditors and accountants in future may decline. The only way to remain competitive, for accountants and many other professions, is to begin to add value in areas where computers are useless: strategic thinking, creativity, in short, thinking outside-the-box.

The situation is not yet dire, but it would require academic accountants, like Venter and De Villiers, to take a stand and reject the status quo. When the status quo also pays the salary, change seems unlikely.

Written by Johan Fourie

January 20, 2014 at 07:27

32 Responses

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  1. Enjoyed reading through this, very good stuff, thankyou . “Hereafter, in a better world than this, I shall desire more love and knowledge of you.” by William Shakespeare.

    Rodrick Manhardt

    May 21, 2016 at 23:11

  2. Reblogged this on .

    swanepoelj

    April 21, 2016 at 14:06

    • Very true, indeed. Most people don’t understand what the CA qualification means. It is called “Accounting Science” for a reason. It is built to develop problem solvers that are able to apply themselves to any situation.

      Will a computer be able to perform the following:
      -Risk based assessment of material misstatement inherent in financial statements?
      -Drafting accounting standards
      -Advanced business decision making & strategy
      -Project/corporate finance decision making
      -Being trusted with issues of governance
      -Interpretation of subjective tax issues
      -Lead organisations and teams in a lot of varying situations

      I could go on, but perhaps take a look at the basic competency framework of any entry level CA(SA), and I am certain that you will find a lot of skills that will prove contrary to popular belief that we prepare journal entries and prepare financial statements.

      As for bookkeeping, you would only need to download and pay for Xero to know that it is already able to automate a lot of things (including reading receipts with the right add-on). The thing is though, CAs are NOT geared towards bookkeeping at all. It’s not even taught!

      A counter view (with an isolated example) is that CAs should make very good management consultants then? Objectively, they have and do. However, the “green” CAs are seen as thinking too narrowly, which I think this article does a fair job of highlighting. If I were SAICA I would emphasize this skill set more than it already is being emphasized.

      Anyway, perhaps the most nauseating point is when the author said the following: ….”which is also the reason that SAICA affiliation today is not really helpful abroad.”

      1. “Last year, the World Economic Forum ranked South Africa number one for Auditing and Reporting standards for the fifth year in a row. South Africa beat out 148 other countries to the organisation’s top spot in the Global Competitiveness Index for 2014-15.” – http://www.thefinanceteam.co.za/chartered-accountants-in-south-africa/

      2. Ask to read a newly qualified CAs LinkedIn inbox and you will see at least 5 global opportunities within 3 months of having qualified mostly to the EU, U.K, US and Australia.

      SAICA does have a bit of a stronghold on the universities but I think you would do yourself a world of good to research the degree and nature of influence that the audit firms have over SAICA and the trainees.

      The uni’s can include additional materials into their syllabus, WITS does. Like binomial option pricing….. Trust me, I painfully endured that and many more…

      #findthefacts #feesmustfall #we’renotbookkeepers

      Ad

      December 5, 2016 at 18:46

  3. …after reading your article…(confused sunshine)…I felt “yay!”, great! I’m not the only one with this feeling of “regret”, or confusion rather?. I only did a B.Acc degree and now sit with the debacle of being less employable than those who completed the whole CA(SA) route. The question remains with me,i.e. “what about us? because clearly if you obtained a SAICA accredited degree, it must mean you have potential or something”. So yes, I am also still awaiting for the golden answer on that.

    However, whilst you have this conundrum in your head, do not stop studying, I would advise you to pursue what you love, before you start reasoning on this topic to much and lose out on valuable time, where you could have been doing what you love!

    I am currently doing my final year in Theology and would only advise you to study and practice what you love as well.

    Bradley

    April 11, 2016 at 10:01

  4. […] to oversee their financial operations. Almost every business needs a bookkeeper. This means the demand for accountants will never slow down, nor will it dry out. As long as there are companies out there in need […]

  5. That same article says that the functions of financial managers, financial analysts, tax consultants chief executives, directors and investment bankers are not very likely to be replaced by computers. In my opinion, the person who compiled it didn’t have a very thorough understanding of what an accountant and auditor does. Yes, auditing source documents and figures is one aspect of auditing, but it is impossible to assess whether the financial statements are free from any material misstatements without an assessment of risks in the entity. In a way the article also contradicts itself- who will audit the work of financial managers for example. Their work involves the use of significant judgement. The CA syllabus includes financial management, managerial accounting and strategy as CORE subjects. It is very unfair to state that we are not capable of thinking outside the box. In fact, for current CTA students (such as myself) discussion questions in all our subjects require “thinking outside the box” combined with critical thinking and a very sound understanding of the subject matter.

    Jacques

    June 17, 2015 at 09:17

  6. This blog is very insightful and interesting for a prospective CA(SA). Even though there are some true facts in this post, there are some fact that I feel are a bit exaggerated and untrue. Johan you mentioned here that prospective individuals (students) should take the road less taken. I do feel that an accounting degree is overrated and the number of people studying accounting is large but I believe that accounting is a good basis for anyone to start with. I am a firm believer in life long learning and that an accounting degree won’t necessarily put you a cut above the rest. Getting an accounting degree and then using it to excel in other aspects of the business environment is the road less taken. My point is that an accounting degree would be a good place to start. Many leading business men and women are qualified CA(SA)s. What I strongly agree with in this post is that SA accounting departments offer a narrow minded outlook in education,though I don’t think that the accounting department is the only department suffering this fate. A way to expel conventional thinking and induce problem solving skills is to go the extra mile as individuals by broadening our minds with other information resources in our environment. Thanks for the post though. I actually enjoyed reading it and it got me thinking about some stuff…

    Risuna Mnisi

    October 13, 2014 at 21:52

  7. I am currently a student in my first year of studying accounting. This blog got me thinking. I agree with many of the responses that indicate that the accounting degree is made challenging enough and that it does in fact create opportunities for “thinking out-the-box”. There have definitely been many challenging moments and times where textbooks didn’t give me the answer I was looking for. We are most certainly required to apply our knowledge and think for ourselves a little bit. I also completely agree with the statement that “an Accounting degree should not be the default option for most of South Africa’s brightest kids.” I do believe that one must have a passion for something to excel at it. There are supporting modules that try to help develop thinking skills. One of these is Financial Management. This module teaches one to think completely out of the box and form logical ways of solving problems. I do, however believe that one’s problem solving skills can always be developed to a greater extent.

    Tarryn van Niekerk

    October 12, 2014 at 21:01

  8. As a first year accounting student this blog is very interesting and informative but I do not fully agree with the article. In this course, there are modules such as financial management that are there to develop the way of thinking of a student. In financial management you are taught how to handle and deal with different workplace problems, problems that require good problem-solving skills. This will help students be able to think “outside-the-box”. Not only does is develop their thinking it also incorporates other modules like economics even though they are not looked at in dept.

    Siphokazi

    October 12, 2014 at 20:03

  9. I am currently a first year BCom Accounting Student, studying full time.
    SAICA has addressed many of the concerns raised and is frequently changing to adapt to produce the most efficient and successful Chartered Accountants possible.
    SAICA influences future accountants at a first year level in defining what it means to be a CA (SA) out in practice through its regulated requirements as well as preparing them for their purpose in the accounting and worlds.

    A qualified accountant is trusted as a well-developed and knowledgeable professional in their field. Accounting aims to teach the core fundamentals which an accountant will need to become knowledgeable in their field. Currently at universities students are required to take not only accounting but other subjects such as financial management from first year through to their honours year. This is designed to develop students’ logic, abilities to problem solve and think ‘outside’ the box. The additional three years of articles promotes these skills.
    This helps equip a future CA to become a holistic professional instead of a Chartered Accountant with a simple ‘narrow view of the world’.

    Tess McIntosh

    October 12, 2014 at 18:54

  10. I find this article quite interesting because on one hand, we are told that SAICA produces the best Chartered Accountants all over the world and on one hand, here, we are told that our syllabus is limiting and leaves certain gaps in the development of our chartered accountants. I feel that education should not constrict our ability to think, however, its role is in giving us tools that are going to revolutionize our world in terms of the career paths we choose. I feel our course should allow for more engagement with society and it should place us in the positions that we are going to find ourselves in when we qualify as chartered accountants. Qualifying a CA should be more that getting through that board exam, it should be about the confirmation of our ability to think, solve problems and have a large scale impact on our society all throughout the public and private sectors.

    Reabetswe Motjuwadi (ALL124 Student)

    October 12, 2014 at 13:34

  11. I am a first year accounting student at the University of Pretoria and recently completed an assignment on what companies expect from graduates. What is common from your article and the research found is that graduates lack true leadership qualities. They are not innovative enough, do not possess interpersonal skills and cannot solve problems in the high pressured working environment. True, accounting students benefit from the current financial management course but from the feedback given from the financial industry including Mr Nxasana this surely is not sufficient to cater for the high demands of the working environment. I strongly believe that the authorities of the accounting world, SAICA, ”The Big Four”, university lecturers and key business companies should get together and modify the current syllabus at universities to ensure that our future accountants become true leaders and future champions.

    Shuniz Ahmed

    October 12, 2014 at 10:24

  12. As a first year accounting student I find that the course I’m taking now is very challenging and one has to be able to solve problems. If I just think of the way in Accounting they never ask the same thing the same way twice in tests. In our 3rd Yeartest they found a way to make 2 of the easiest subjects very difficult
    Therefore I don’t agree that the Accounting Syllabus isn’t challenging enough.

    Cecile de Lange

    October 11, 2014 at 23:53

  13. I am a first year accounting student at the University of Pretoria. After reading various amounts of accounting blogs, this specific blog was very informative and helpful regarding the bigger picture and what it entails. According to the financial world we are seen as narrow minded and unable to solve difficult problems, when we are specifically taught to think logically and outside the box in Financial Management, I do disagree with this statement that has been formulated by the financial world. I do agree with the statement that SAICA has a strong hold in the way we are taught which is not necessarily a good thing. After reading this blog I was reassured to know that the job market for accountants will only grow in the future.

    Tuks student

    October 11, 2014 at 18:21

  14. I found this article very interesting although the comment stated that accountants are narrow-minded drew my attention. I believe you will find narrow-minded people in any field of study. It is the way we are taught in school from a very young age. We are taught and learn to believe that there is only one correct solution to any question – this hinders our creativity and our ability to think freely and come up with solutions in our own way. As adults we become very conscious about whats right or wrong and as a result we seldom think outside the box to find solutions.

    ALL student

    October 11, 2014 at 17:45

  15. Being a 1st year B.com accounting sciences student at university, I found your blog very interesting and relevant to my current studies. I understand and agree that accounts are governed and students are thought by means of a strict set of principles and policies set out by SAICA. Where my difference in opinion comes in when, the author says “accountants will be trained without a broader understanding of complexity, problem-solving or trends in the global economy”. I believe that during the accounting degree (well I’m only busy with 1st year) more subjects are done to broaden your knowledge in the different areas. For example problem solving skills and thinking critically and differently is dealt with in a subject such as Financial Management, trends in the economy as well as how an economy works is thought during Economics. I also do believe that CA’s are strategic thinkers and creative, skills which a computer cannot posses. Also the claims that “the current Accounting syllabus does not allow students to develop the skills necessary for top-level managers,” if this claim is true then why is such a large percentage of top level personal such as CEO’s and Directors, Charted Accountants?

    FYD Student

    October 11, 2014 at 17:10

  16. Currently, I am in my 3rd year studying accounting science and this blog post has brought some interesting issues of the nature of this CA qualification. Compared to other degrees in the economics and management science, the accounting science degree is known as the ‘golden child’ in the family. The degree has an integrated complexity throughout its 4 majors, but looking at the degree in isolation does have said restrictions. The CA programmes in some universities have a syllabus set in stone; it doesn’t give room for entrepreneurial structure, innovative accounting modules or more aggressive practical modules. Tools needed to be more equipped for the working world; where complex thinking, problem-solving and financial risks are on steroids. Hence we, students, don’t get the shock of our lives when we are confronted by complex situations. I remember, my maths teacher in high school; taught us like we were varsity students. He told us that, “We need to ask WHY??” So having SAICA set a syllabus for the CA programme and then having employers complain of how graduates aren’t fully equipped for the work place or that they have narrow thinking on complex situations. Gives rise to the question: WHY isn’t the syllabus more flexible and enhancing?? I personally love accounting and its involvement in the corporate world, but I also believe it’s not enough to just be a CA. It wields so much power, that most CAs aren’t even aware of. As stated in the blog post, “Students are trained like race horses”, and where students should be trained as JOCKEYS instead.

    Georginah Ntimbane

    October 11, 2014 at 10:49

  17. This blog is quite interesting. Many times we do not see the Chartered Accounting field as anything less than a high ranked job in society that pays well and that will give one the lavish lifestyle that is defined as success in today’s world. I agree with Sizwe Nxasana when he says that CA’s need to improve their problem solving skills. Yes, we have Financial Management as a core module which teaches one how to manage finances but it does not teach one how to manage people. Modules that could possible assist with “real world problem solving” like Industrial Pshychology or Business Management are done in first year for 7 weeks and are not to be seen again. You ask “Why don’t scholars in Accounting departments resist this influence?” This is because I took out a student loan which I will have to pay back once I obtain my degree and start working and resisting the influence of SAICA, is not of the essence to me right now. As sad as this reality is, it is not only my reality but that of many students, not just Accounting Science students.

    Kgaugelo Mosiane

    October 10, 2014 at 16:31

  18. I found this blog extremely interesting. Its fascinating to discover the complexities concerned with the accounting qualification, due to its professional body. I would also like to point out that accountants are not obliged to follow the SAICA route, they can choose to follow the investment route (professional body being the CFA), they can also choose to go through the financial management route (professional body being CIMA) and so forth. Both CFA and Cima qualifications are internationally recognized as they stem from the UK, and the definitely teach their students’ problem-solving skills, or rather “thinking out of the box” skills.

    Zamantungwa

    October 9, 2014 at 16:49

    • Isn’t it that following the SAICA route furnish you with all the required Skills in all the four majors namely auditing,accounting, financial management and taxation but with CFA and CIMA you are restricted or your main focus will be only on one field? so from my side if SAICA seems to be the best though some improvements need to be done on their side

      Fortunate Mahlatse Mangaba

      October 10, 2014 at 10:24

      • Mahlatse

        In actual one also specializes even if they follow the SAICA route. The general assumption is that most qualified CA’s become external auditors. However, they have a choice for instance, to major in tax. CFA and CIMA are not at all restrictive. The best professional body would definitely be CFA because of its dynamic nature

        Zamantungwa

        October 11, 2014 at 10:23

  19. I am currently studying Bcom Accounting at the University of Pretoria and your blog was very informative and helped me to understand the background of accounting and the way we are being taught to think inside the box rather than think outside the box. However I do not fully agree with the statement saying that we are narrow minded in some ways because there are subjects such as Financial Management that teach us how to look at a problem in a different way than an accountant would and how to think logically. This subject also provides us with valuable skills to us in the business world as soon as we enter it.

    Tuks ALL 124 Student

    October 9, 2014 at 11:52

  20. I am currently in my first year of study at The University of Pretoria, currently enrolled for BCom General (Own Choice). This wasn’t my first choice of course. As a kid I was always exposed to Accounting, seeing that my late mother was an Accounting lecturer at a local college where I grew up. At first instance of my high school career, I fell in love with Accounting (Some would say otherwise), at that very moment I knew the direction I wanted my future to take. Motivated by mother’s legacy, I started focusing on what I had to do in order to get where I wanted to be. Unfortunately life comes with ups and downs – my final matric results just weren’t enough for me to enrol for as a First Year CA student – Thankfully that didn’t burn my hopes of one day becoming a qualified CA.

    At first, commenting on this blog was just part of my assignment, but after reading the first part of this post I’m glad they gave us this assignment to do (as unorthodox that sounds). “There are many for whom Accounting is a passion. They enjoy technical challenges and have the ability to remember copious amounts of information. Let thou go forth and become Accountants! But there are many, many kids who study Accounting because they are bright and want to make a lot of money, kids who see Accounting as a stepping-stone to something bigger. This is where I think there are other stepping-stones worth considering.” After reading this part I laughed a little inside, reason being that between the passionate and money seeking kid I’m stuck right in the middle, with the love for Accounting and hoping to enjoy the fruits the hard work will bear. Thanks for this post it’s really given me a different perspective.

    Gomolemo Innocent Moriri

    October 8, 2014 at 15:08

  21. I am currently in my first year of studying a CA degree and while I agree with your views regarding restrictions of the syllabus arising from SAICA’s frigid control, I do not believe that the syllabus prompts inabilities to cope with complex issues and narrow view of the world. The BCom Accounting degree covers a variety of aspects over the scope of its subjects. For example, financial management is a subject that is required to be taken from 1st year to honours and is solely based on strategic thinking in relation to business activities and development of students’ abilities to problem solve and think outside the box. While the subject based on accounting might not develop equal thought provocation, it aims to teach the fundamental basics of accounting procedures and tools. And although this subject is almost completely controlled by SAICA, comparability and standardisation of accounting records is an essential aspect of sound economics and therefore, warrants this control.

    Shannon Aerts

    September 30, 2014 at 18:07

  22. I am currently a first year student stuyding accounting. I recently read a newspaper article in the “Rapport” of 25 May 2014 where the journalist indicated that the job market for accountants will still increase in the future. In this article it is also recommended by ACCA that the role of the qualified accountant must be developed and expanded to overcome future challenges. This supports your opinion, which I agree with. However, I do not agree with the probability that computerisation will lead to job losses, because an auditor’s holistic input will still be necessary.

    Renice

    September 28, 2014 at 12:58

  23. […] The Economist listed a number of jobs that are likely to be replaced by robots. (I wrote about it here.) The top four jobs most unlikely to be replaced are recreational therapists, dentists, athletic […]

  24. Great post! I came across your blog by accident, read the ‘Why and what to study in South Africa’ post, read the comments and discovered this article! I’m SO GLAD I did. You’ve articulated my thoughts on the CA(SA) culture and education in our country in a way I never could. I’m a former aspirant CA and part of the reason I didn’t go all the way with the qualification is due to the fact that I HATED the course material. Not surprising seeing as Medicine/Science was my 1st choice (I got into medical school but couldn’t accept the place, decided to go with accounting instead, on a full scholarship). Anyway, I hated the fact that we couldn’t study economics further, I couldn’t understand how we were meant to be ‘leaders’ in the economy without a solid grasp and understanding of economics, marketing, management and basically everything pertaining to running a successful business/company (I would have been happier studying a BBusSci degree as there are more options with that degree).

    For someone who genuinely enjoyed studying the first year ecos, stats, comp maths and philosophy courses, I was disappointed that none of that carried further into the material in later years. I also have yet to come across many CAs who enjoy their auditing jobs, they all want to move into banking/non auditing roles. I am also disappointed by the lack of options for those students who decide that CA(SA) is not for them, but are sitting with BCom/BAcc/BAccSci degrees that are not at marketable due to the fact that they only have majors that relate to the SAICA training. Even the CIMA/ACCA/SAIPA route is not offered to students as a viable option so many feel that the ‘only choice’ is for them to complete their CTA. Only after they do do they realize that the only advantage SAICA has over the other accounting qualifications is the CTA year (can’t call it ‘honours’ because I can’t respect an honours degree obtained without doing a research project)., an effective barrier to entry, and the other bodies do not have as many registered training centers for article completion. Far too many students are entering universities to study accounting now, to the point that the pass rate has been increased in first year to 60% to cull the numbers from the get go, and further ‘manipulation’ over the course of the degree to ensure that the numbers get smaller and smaller. Its a very troubling situation as the best young minds are being led away from fields of study that could impact our drivers of production and economy and are instead going for the ‘sexy’ option. Its very sad to have a conversation with a CA(SA) about current affairs, world news etc and have them ask you what ‘Davos’/WEF is when you mention it so I can understand what Mr Nxasana meant when he spoke about lateral thinking and problem solving skills not being emphasized enough.

    Anyway, it seems like I have a bias towards Economics as a field of study, maybe I do because at least there you can think for yourself and formulate an opinion. You can use statistical models and formulas to test your theories, almost like a scientist. You can research, you have opportunities to go overseas for semester programs and Masters/PhD study. You can settle in academia or work in industry etc

    So, I want to know if you have any advice for someone like me who was never passionate about accounting and wasted many years in University ‘because you HAVE to finish what you start’. I’ve been working for a few years to save up some money to go back to pursue a different degree. I’m not thinking about age at this point, I just want to do something that will make me happy. I’ve been thinking Economics because I can get credits for my completed commerce courses (maybe a BBusSci or PPE) and medicine because it is my first love/first choice (either start from 1st year or do the GEMP). These are completely different fields I know, but I would appreciate it if you had any advice on how I can get to answer the BIG question of which direction to go into.

    I’m sorry for writing such a long response, and thank you for taking the time to read it. I enjoy reading your blog🙂 x Confused.Sunshine

    Confused.Sunshine

    January 26, 2014 at 12:24

    • Dear Atlegang: Thank you for the response – it is great that you share your experiences. I think it would be tough to completely switch career, and study medicine from the start. Why not combine your love of medicine with your obvious interest in business and global affairs: health economics is a really interesting field, and one that is likely to expand in the future. A Masters in Economics with a specialisation in health would allow you to pursue many interesting career options, in government (The Ministry of Health, for example, but also provincial departments), in the private sector (working for Medi-Clinic as a researcher, or for a private consultancy) or in academe.

      Johan Fourie

      January 27, 2014 at 06:36

    • As a prospective CA myself, I found a degree of validity in some of the points you raised, yet you do seem to harbour a distinct bias towards the profession. I also thoroughly enjoyed Economics and Statistics up to the level we were required to study it, yet beyond a second year level, the content becomes extremely focused and intricate, and is arguably not necessary. That being said, a successful CA is a lifelong learner. I still read up on Economics when i can, as I really do find it interesting, and extremely relevant to society. One can argue the point that SAICA is a dictatorial entity, yet this same entity is one of the most respected of its kind, and is one of the main reasons that SA is a global leader in financial reporting and business practice. I have also yet to come across any CA that enjoys their Auditing job, I’ll give you that, but when you study the 4 different fields that we do, whether you enjoy Auditing or not (I don’t), it is apparent that these fields are not separate subjects, but merely different heads of the same beast. I will also concede the point that an alarmingly large number of prospective and current CAs are ‘simply trained like race horses’, but the fact remains that, to be able to achieve that designation is the mark of a mind that warrants respect, and is indicative of a capacity to learn and be even further trained in a way that can enable one to succeed in jobs of varying descriptions. Today, SAICA offers accredited training at many offices that are out of public practice, and the format of the qualifying exams has been changed in order to accommodate the fact that the vast majority of CAs move out of public practice upon qualifying. The author of this article has neglected to mention that Mr. Nxasana, the CEO of FirstRand, one of our most successful brands, is a CA(SA) himself, as are almost 30% of CEOs in the JSE Top 100. If this doesn’t speak for the reputability of the profession, I don’t know what can,

      Proud Accountant

      April 29, 2014 at 16:57

    • Great article. I was busy searching “non accounting jobs for CA(SA)’s when I came across this post and, Confused.Sunshine. your response is exactly how I feel. It’s like you took the words out my mouth…. I have always loved biology/science and law, I still cannot believe that I chose this career path to “create opportunities for myself” because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I feel ridiculous for having spent a lot of time and money only to do something that I am not passionate about. I am at the stage now where I really need to start doing something I love….and it seems I have chosen a career where I am doing the opposite. Like you, I would also really appreciate it if you had any advice on how I can get to answer the BIG question of which direction to go into🙂

      JustMe

      October 23, 2014 at 16:05

    • confused sunshine.
      these kind of debates will always be there.
      it is very sad to be caught up in such a predicament, how ever what l would want to assure you is that, this is not only a problem in accounting. Economics as a field of study has also been criticized of just dumping theorist in the business environment and contributing not more than idealist in an environment which is in greater need of pragmatist.

      you may what to read the following article from The economist,

      http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2014/11/productivity-phds

      My point is, which ever field you choose there is definitely going to be some cretinism, and to be very frank with you after that qualification Dr,CA, Phd etc from any filed has been attained, success depends 100% on an individual.
      thats why we do have successful entrepreneurs without even a college certificate, qualified doctors finding it hard to pay the bills. CA’s struggling in business while some are CEO’s at INVESTEC.

      IT ALL DEPENDS 100% on YOURSELF. do not bank so much on a qualification, life is more than that!!.

      Kudzie

      November 29, 2014 at 11:08

    • …after reading your article…(confused sunshine)…I felt “yay!”, great! I’m not the only one with this feeling of “regret”, or confusion rather?. I only did a B.Acc degree and now sit with the debacle of being less employable than those who completed the whole CA(SA) route. The question remains with me,i.e. “what about us? because clearly if you obtained a SAICA accredited degree, it must mean you have potential or something”. So yes, I am also still awaiting for the golden answer on that.

      However, whilst you have this conundrum in your head, do not stop studying, I would advise you to pursue what you love, before you start reasoning on this topic to much and lose out on valuable time, where you could have been doing what you love!

      I am currently doing my final year in Theology and would only advise you to study and practice what you love as well

      Bradley

      April 11, 2016 at 10:03


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