Ms Chantyl Mulder, Executive Director for Nation Building at the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), has never forgotten something Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, Chair of the State Capture Commission, said almost a year ago.
Addressing former South African Airways (SAA) board member Yakhe Kwinana who was accused of unethical behaviour, Judge Zondo said: “And you were a board member, you’re a chartered accountant”.
Mulder (left) said Zondo seemed to indicate that more is expected of a chartered accountant. “We are expected to uphold the standards of the profession,” she said.
[Kwinana later asked the commission to judge her as a person and not as a chartered accountant as she had full confidence in SAICA and did not want to bring the profession into disrepute.]
Mulder was speaking, together with her colleague, a Mr Robert Zwane, at Universities South Africa’s (USAf’s) 2nd Higher Education Conference on The Engaged University, held virtually from 6 to 8 October. The session was part of USAf’s Teaching and Learning Strategy Group’s (TLSG’s) reflexive conversation on the Theory-Praxis Nexus (the connection between theory and practice).
The previous speaker in the session, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, Chairperson of TLSG and Vice-Chancellor of Rhodes University, had outlined a collaboration between USAf and SAICA that had been formalised in the form of a joint steering committee.
Mulder was elaborating further on this collaboration. “Our technical skills get updated really quickly, but there are other competencies we need to think about how we develop. And we, as a profession, don’t have the answers. That’s why collaboration with universities, our training providers, becomes critical,” she said.
SAICA is recognised and appreciated worldwide
SAICA does not exist in a cocoon. It is a global player, and Mulder said she is “really proud” it has numerous reciprocity arrangements with international bodies.
It is a member of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), and so complies with international best practice. “That, for us, is critical, because we want our members to be recognised internationally, and I need to thank our universities today; we would never have been able to achieve what we’ve done without the universities and the relationships and the collaboration,” she said.
SAICA had recently been reviewed by its Scottish counterpart, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS), who said SAICA’s chartered accountants (CAs) are among the best in the world. “We’ve done it for ourselves, and we can compete with every other massive professional body in the world,” said Mulder.
She said people tended to forget that part of the definition of a profession is about using knowledge in service to others. Many people tend to be wrapped up in self-interest but SAICA’s members are bound by codes of ethics, and they profess commitment to competence, integrity, morality, altruism, and the promotion of the public good.
“These commitments form the basis of a social contract between the profession and society. And the profession, and their members, are accountable to those served, and to the society,” said Mulder.
We are moving into a different world
She said their newest CAs, whom she referred to as “our youngsters”, want to understand their societal role, and are asking how they can get involved.
SAICA has adopted the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Creating these frameworks tied in with SAICA’s integrated reporting because “gone are the days where you just presented financial information. Shareholders have asked for evidence of a sustainable world,” she said. And it was also part of SAICA’s “learning methodologies to help youngsters realise they do not operate in a vacuum; they operate in a society, they operate in a community, where they are expected to play a big role”.
The four 21st century skills most crucial to SAICA
There are many skills sets needed in the 21st century but Mulder identified these four as the ones most needed by SAICA’s CAs:
- critical thinking;
- communication – especially business writing skills that cannot be an add-on but need to be integrated with the rest of the work; and
Acquiring these skills necessitated very different teaching and learning methodologies.
The process of becoming a CA
Explaining the roadmap towards becoming a CA, Mr Robert Zwane (left), SAICA’s Senior Executive for National Projects, said it starts with three to four years’ undergraduate study at university, a time dependent on the institution, followed by a postgraduate diploma in accounting.
Next is professional education which takes a minimum of three years at a SAICA-registered training office, to put into practice what has been learnt at university. Candidates write two professional exams during this time. He said collaboration is vital: the university needs to be speaking to the world of work and vice versa, all considering the needs of society.
How SAICA helps ensure a supply of CAs
Zwane said they cannot focus on education and training without taking the context of the country into consideration. “We cannot say we want CAs, and then we just focus on that. If we want CAs, we must make sure that there is a supply from a school level. We are investing, for example, in mathematics at high school level. That is why we partner with the provincial departments of education, and with corporates, so that we support school learners through our development camps,” he said. SAICA runs these camps in a few provinces.
SAICA believes in incremental change that takes place over time, and creating communities of best practice, which is why they are partnering with USAf, said Zwane.
Concerns for the future
Their challenges include needing to ensure historically black universities are equipped to train and to educate for the 21st century and that assessment models are relevant. SAICA is also concerned about how it and the business community could play a role in addressing the injustices and inequalities that CoViD has exposed.
“In a perfect world, if you have to educate and train well, you have to focus it on people, which requires a lot of resources and a lot of attention,” he said. How does one fund this?
He said Mulder and he battled with questions such as these every day. He told the delegates: “That requires you, as our colleagues and partners, coming together and addressing these challenges to ensure that we are educating students and trainees that remain relevant.
“As SAICA, our strategy, our motto, is contributing to the sustainability of our nation, and we need to look at what is it that our nation requires from us as accountants, and start playing that role,” said Zwane.
The Chair of this session, Professor Francois Strydom, Senior Director of the Academic Centre for Teaching and Learning at the University of the Free State (UFS), relayed a question from Dr Engela van Staden, Vice-Rector: Academic at UFS. She had posted in the webinar’s chat: “SAICA is the most responsive and relevant professional body of all the councils” and also asked: “What is SAICA doing to recognise the digitalisation competencies for their graduates as part of the curriculum for chartered accountants?”.
Mulder said they were looking at digital acumen that was integrated in the learning process. Zwane added that they were collaborating with USAf to bring universities together to share what they are each doing about promoting the development of digital acumen. For example, accountancy departments were starting to employ computer science experts, which was a positive move.
SAICA also needed to upskill and promote lifelong learning among its members that have been in the profession for a long time. One way was via short courses to look at what is artificial intelligence, what is 4IR, and what does it mean for them. SAICA was also considering such short courses to upskill its lecturers.
Later Dr Mabizela commented: “I’m a strong and a passionate proponent of cooperation and collaboration for the greater common good,” he said. There is a saying which goes along the lines of “‘a candle does not lose its brightness if another one is lit from it. In fact, the greater benefit is the dispelling of darkness.’ So, we must always make sustainability a central organising frame, a leitmotif, in all that we do.
Consider subsiding universities and seconding seasoned accountants to teach
“The issue was raised about scarce resources. It is very difficult to attract and retain professors in accounting, because the private sector pays so well. I cannot, as Vice-Chancellor, approve upgrading the remuneration of a professor of accounting to two or three times higher than any other; it creates inequity in the system.
“However, if the profession is so passionate about the sustainability of their profession, how about them providing subvention for universities to provide good and competent people to educate and train more accountants? How about ensuring that the boundary between universities and professions are softened, so that those who are practising in the private sector are able to take time off, and to contribute in the training and the development of the next graduates? That’s the kind of cooperation we should embrace, if we are to deal with issues of resources.”
The Teaching and Learning Strategy Group is one of USAf’s five strategy groups providing strategic advice to USAf’s Board on their areas of focus. The TLSG’s mandate is to oversee teaching and learning related matters within the Higher Education sector for purposes of ensuring quality and purposeful teaching; student access and success; attraction and retention of world-class academics and related matters. The move to partner SAICA on the development of accountants aligns with one of the TLSG’s current priorities, of improving the quality and scholarship of teaching and learning in USAf’s member institutions. The USAf-SAICA relationship also demonstrates universities’ engagement with, and responsiveness to their contexts.
Gillian Anstey is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.