Inside ICAS: Mark Allison - Quality through Education

Student writing on paper
Mark Allison By Mark Allison, Executive Director, Education

9 November 2015

Mark Allison, ICAS Executive Director, Education explains his role at ICAS and the high standards behind a CA qualification.

A few years ago we were teaching an introductory accounting class and feeding back results of a mock exam. The class had done particularly poorly. One student, with a straight face, announced that it was not possible for him and the rest of the class to have done so poorly as they had all been on a firm’s internal training course where they had been told every day, to the soundtrack of Tina Turner, that they were “Simply the Best”.

ICAS is world-class – but how do we prove it?

If you read corporate strategy documents, including ICAS straplines, you will see much use made of superlatives. Can ICAS really claim that the CA Qualification is world-class, gold standard, premium, excellent or indeed “Simply the Best”?

ICAS has 20,000 members who work in over 100 countries and much of the activity of the ICAS Boards, Committees and Executive Team is based around the maintenance of quality. To ensure high standards of quality ICAS needs benchmarks to measure against.

My role as Executive Director of Education

One of the principal responsibilities I have as Executive Director, is to ensure that the CA qualification is benchmarked against and meets or exceeds all reasonable comparable standards. Firstly I need to find these standards, and then to ensure that the benchmarking is thorough and objective.

This is important because the CA qualification needs to travel with you, as future members, to wherever your career takes you. It would be distinctly unhelpful for you to arrive for a new job in Berlin, Hong Kong, or Toronto and find that the qualification you had worked so hard to achieve, was not recognised.

A commitment to quality

Over the years we have developed our understanding of what it means to be able to claim high quality standards. At the simplest level this revolves around the number of reviews and checks on technical material. And sometimes we have not made enough of those checks and annoying errors appear.

On the wider scale, however, we are one of the few Institutes in the world that reviews and changes its syllabus every year. We also update the underlying teaching materials and exams annually as well. This makes the content and assessment of the CA qualification current - not something that all Institutes can claim.

Some years ago ICAS brought in the position of lay members to monitor the activities of boards and committees. These individuals are independent of the staff, and the members, and cast their professional oversight on what we all do. A simple application of Good Corporate Governance practice perhaps, but also an opportunity for ICAS to learn from the best practices existing in other arenas.

Independent recognition

We took this approach further in 2013 by becoming a credit rating and awarding body on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). This puts the CA qualification, and its component parts, on a footing with other qualifications that you already have. To achieve recognition on the SCQF requires quality assurance procedures, with independence and objectivity in areas that caused ICAS to review and refine our processes. Look around and you will not find many other professional accountancy bodies having their qualification recognised on an independent national qualification framework.

Defining standards for the profession

Further afield in Europe, ICAS, and I was there as they say, was a founding member of the European Common Content Project. This provides a benchmark standard around Europe for professional accountancy qualifications incorporating bodies in Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, England, Ireland and Scotland. An ICAS view in such an initiative was not to accept a standard set by others but to take a leading part and to define the standard. That is something we still do 14 years later. We hope in the near future to expand this group to other European countries.

And it’s not just in Europe. Throughout the world we have a number of reciprocity agreements. These mean that the CA qualification is recognised formally by an Institute (and in some cases a government). To achieve such reciprocal agreements requires the setting up of an initial benchmark, and the measuring of a qualification against it. We have always taken a leading part in developing the benchmark then ensuring that the CA qualification matches it and in holding others to account to ensure their qualifications achieve the agreed standard.

And on other stages too we ensure we meet appropriate benchmarks. The UK Government through the Financial Reporting Council annually audits our qualification against the requirements of the Companies Act. The worldwide body of accountants, IFAC, regularly reviews the CA qualification against International Education Standards. One of my proudest achievements was, as Chairman of the International Accounting Education Standards Board, guiding the rewrite of those standards.

Simply the best? – well, quite probably, yes.

January 2019

7 January 2019: Welcome to a new year!

Welcome back to the CA Student Blog! 2019 may have only just begun but we are still looking forward to the ICAS Admissions Ceremony in March. If you are becoming a CA this year, make sure you don't miss any deadlines.

By now you should know if you have passed TPE with flying colours. All you have to do now is complete your training contract, hand in your logbook for final sign-off and apply for ICAS membership.

What you need to know

  • You can check the status of your logbook by contacting Education Support.
  • Applications for membership must be submitted by midday Friday 1 March 2019 to be eligible for the 2019 CA Admissions Ceremony.
  • The event will be held at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC) on Saturday 23 March 2019.
  • You can invite up to two guests free of charge.
  • The dress code is formal.

ICAS 2019 Admission Ceremony - Register now

If you didn't receive good news about your TPE results, don't panic! You will be automatically enrolled to resit exams in the next diet. However, if you wish to defer this, please contact the ICAS exam team as soon as possible.

Can't make it?

If you are unable to attend the Admissions Ceremony, you will still be inducted into membership in your absence and can use the designation CA after your name.

New CAs in London are invited to a special drinks reception on Thursday 4 April 2019 at The Deck in London’s National Theatre to celebrate with the ICAS Chief Executive, ICAS President, and 2018 One Young CA Michael Scott.

Don't forget to follow the excitement of the day and support your fellow newly-qualified CAs on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram with the hashtag #ICASclassof2019.

Reminder: Have you received TPE joining instructions?

TPE 2019 officially starts this week.

Some TPE students heading to the May 2019 examinations will receive joining instructions directing them to the introduction material, which advises that technical knowledge needs to be up to date.

TC and TPS Technical knowledge is assumed at TPE. It is important that you start to work on this as soon as possible.

Those students awaiting TPS results in January, before being enrolled for TPE, will be contacted with details about the introduction material to allow you to start working on your technical revision. A second round of joining instructions will be sent out after TPS results are issued.

Get in touch

Are you looking forward to the Admissions Ceremony? How do you hope to use your CA qualification going forward? Tell us by emailing or tweet @ICAS_students.

In this week's blog, we help those diving into new subjects and modules with guides for moving to a different level and preparing course materials. We also take a look at setting targets for the new year (personally and professionally).

Five student tips for the new year

As we ease into the new year, it’s all too easy for previous worries to resurface after the holidays. Here are quick-fire tips for starting your year right and with success in mind.

How to tackle TPS assumed knowledge work

Aimed at students who will be sitting their first attempt at TPS exams in June 2019, TPS Level Controller Lauren O’Brien explains the ins and outs of the TPS pre-course work.

Transitions: TPS to TPE

TPE Level Controller Catherine Devaney explains how the level changes from TPS, and what you are expected to complete when achieving your qualification.

Eight New Year resolutions for CA students

Fresh out of ideas for your New Year's resolutions? Here are eight targets for CA students to meet in 2018.

Studying for TC? It's time to get back to basics

ICAS tutors have put together a series of Back to Basics guides, infographics and support material on many of the TC subjects that students have found tricky in the past.

The joys of costing: part 1

There are several topics that are likely come to mind when students think back to their good old Business Management (BM) Days. A straw poll of former BM students revealed that absorption and marginal costing still give some nightmares!

December 2018

Monday 10 December: Signing off and wishing you a great 2019!

As we approach the end of the year, this week's blog will be the last until we welcome you back in 2019.

We want to wish all those CA trainees sitting FR, ABS, Taxation and Afin this week the best of luck, and we have our fingers crossed for those students receiving TPE results on the 20th!

While we look ahead to a brand new year, we also take a look back at some of the most popular articles this year.

Most read in 2018

  1. Back to Basics: Calculating a tax-adjusted trading profit / loss
  2. Tests of control and substantive testing
  3. Back to basics: Overall vs Performance Materiality
  4. Back to Basics: Calculating the cost of debt
  5. Back to Basics: Valuation of ordinary shares - four methods

Fun facts

Student Blog 2018

Get in touch

What would you like to see on the CA Student Blog in 2019? Would you like to be a contributor? Share your feedback at @ICAS_students on Twitter or email

In this week's blog, we share advice for overcoming nerves and clearing those final exam hurdles before the holiday season. We also examine the growth in fraud schemes surrounding online payments in 2018 and how to steer clear of them. Finally, to round off the year, we recommend a couple of TED Talks on career building and making better decisions - or if you'd rather watch something more seasonal, check out our five festive films list.

Back to basics: IR35

The distinction between employed and self-employed individuals, discussed in 'Back to basics: the Gig Economy' is also subject to anti-avoidance legislation, known as the 'IR35 rules'. Find out what the rules are, and what they mean for taxpayers.

Machines make better decisions?

Your approach to decision-making, in any aspect of life, can have a profound effect on what opportunities come your way. Could thinking like a computer be the solution to choosing the right path?

Staying safe online: Over £500m stolen by fraudsters in 2018

Despite new security measures and intervention by the finance industry, scammers still made off with £503.4m in the first half of 2018. Find out about different types of fraud and read our top tips for avoiding being taken advantage of.

TED talks: the career advice you probably didn't get

Susan Colantuono, CEO of Leading Women, a management consulting firm seeking to close the 'leadership gender gap' through professional development programmes, presents this TED talk on the kinds of career advice you have probably not experienced. Food for thought over the Christmas and New Year break!

Five skills to calm your nerves

Work, exams and the pressures of everyday life can unexpectedly wear you down. Stress and anxiety lead to sleepless nights, a lack of focus and even illness, but there are methods to treat yourself well - read our nerve-calming skills for a zen-like attitude!

Five festive films!

It’s the season of goodwill and peace to all people, but we also know it’s the season of snuggling on the sofa in a onesie with a box of sugar-overload and a good movie. Here’s our pick of films for festive trainee CAs looking to wind-down over the festive period (and we've managed to sneak in some finance themes too!).

Monday 3 December: The end of share destruction?

Share destruction, a popular mechanism for protecting share value when assets decline, is on thin ice in EU money markets.

Regulators in Ireland and Luxembourg have ordered funds to submit plans for new structures that disallow the process, disappointing investors who hoped it would be exempt from new European Commission money market rules

'Share destruction' or 'reverse distribution' refers to a specific method of cancelling shares that allows funds to maintain a consistent share price even if associated assets lose value. Share cancellation in general will not be permitted under the new market rules from January 2019.

Irish Funds, the trade body for asset managers in Ireland, told the Financial Times: "In the interests of investors and to avoid unnecessary market disruption we have requested and expect reasonable transition arrangements are facilitated during 2019."

These changes are part of the EU's measures to introduce stress test and liquidity requirements for Euro-denominated markets.

Get in touch

Is scrapping the share destruction system a good move? What do you think the effect will be on transparency in money markets? Share your thoughts @ICAS_students on Twitter or email

In this week's blog, we take a look at how tax works in the gig economy and investigate the basics of corporate insolvency. We also show you how to measure your life success and examine the situation surrounding an FCA fine for financial reporting. To gear up for exams, we also round-up the resources available online for TPS and suggest some brain food for exam day breakfasts.

Back to Basics: Gig economy

What is the Gig Economy and how does it affect tax status? We go back to basics on the considerations to be made around employment and self-employment.

Back to Basics: Corporate Insolvency

Insolvency is taught at TPS Advanced Finance and is also relevant to TPE case studies, where a company is, or may become insolvent. Read our back to basics on corporate insolvency for a great summary on types of voluntary liquidation and more.

The triple-A rating: three ways to measure success

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The best exam day breakfasts

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Back to basics for TPS level

ICAS tutors have put together a series of Back to Basics guides, infographics and support material on TPS subjects.

Financial Reporting lessons from Rio Tinto

On 17 October 2017, the Financial Conduct Authority (‘FCA’) fined the global mining group Rio Tinto plc £27,385,400 for failures in its 2012 half-year accounts. But what were those failures, why was such a fine necessary and are there any financial reporting lessons for CA students?


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