Special report: The CA qualification’s revolutionary new delivery method
Welcome to the next generation
Every CA reading this who has attended the ICAS admission ceremony will vividly remember the occasion. It marks the culmination of years of hard work and the moment when you can officially call yourself a CA. But while the ceremony is a permanent milestone in the life of a CA, everything around it is changing.
In this special report, we find out how the latest cohort of newly qualified CAs is having to adapt to a changing world – and not just through being the generation who studied through the pandemic. They share their views on how new technology, new ways of working and – hopefully – a new, more determined approach to sustainability are shaping their lives and careers, both present and future. Read here.
We also speak to Lisa Blum, this year’s ICAS Gold Medal winner, the first time the award has been given to a current student rather than a qualified CA. Blum’s journey reflects the international make-up of CAs, as somebody who was born in Germany, has worked in Australia and New Zealand, and who took the qualification because she sees it as a passport to business anywhere in an increasingly global economy. Read here.
ICAS is also about to embark on a period of profound change. Director of Learning Gail Boag explains how the organisation will deliver the CA qualification in an entirely new way, one that is digital first but will also meet the demands of the evolving business environment. As Boag says, “We cannot overstate the significance and scale of the change that is about to happen.” Read below.
Gail Boag, Executive Director of Learning, on the most significant transformation in ICAS’ history
Gail Boag, Executive Director of Learning for ICAS, is responsible for overseeing some of the most significant changes to the structure and delivery of the CA qualification in the institute’s history. Boag joined ICAS a year ago, having previously served as Dean of Edinburgh Napier University’s Business School. Her background, however, is not rooted in academia – she had been headhunted from industry, where her previous experience included a period with BT as Director of Scotland. A successful four-year spell at Napier coupled with three decades’ experience in the private sector made her the ideal candidate for ICAS. Here, Boag sets out the vision that has informed the transformation while maintaining the CA qualification as the gold standard of chartered accountancy and appealing to a broader range of employers.
We cannot overstate the significance and scale of the change that is about to happen. It impacts the whole of ICAS as well as students and firms, from the Big Four to much smaller authorised training organisations – they have been engaged in this process from the beginning.
There are several factors behind how and why we are changing the qualification, both in its content and its delivery. Globalisation, AI, sustainability… the world is changing – and at a dizzying speed. And the expectations of employers are changing as well. It’s no longer just about technical knowledge – it’s now about equipping students with the skills to understand how to use that knowledge while also applying professional scepticism, critical thinking and problem solving.
To that end, we are developing a new CA that will embed the topics that students really need to understand from a technical perspective, such as carbon accounting, data analytics, digital technologies and risk, alongside the softer skills and competencies required in the profession.
But we are also very proud of our CA. It’s known as the gold standard – and we must make clear that will never change. We will never be an organisation that chases numbers or volume, despite the global opportunity to do so. It’s about making sure that we grow but in a controlled manner, without compromising on quality.
We will also distinguish ourselves in the delivery of our qualification, offering an unrivalled student experience and the flexibility that firms and businesses demand. It removes the barriers and constraints of our current “block and modular” delivery. And it means students’ time out of office to learn their ICAS qualification is more flexible, and can be better aligned with their employers’ needs.
We think this will be good for businesses other than the traditional accounting firms, because they don’t like to let go of their students for three or four weeks at a time to study.
We could have just tweaked the edges, made subtle ongoing changes, but we recognise the war for talent, and that firms face challenges in attracting and retaining students, both in quality and quantity. ICAS must play a key role in bringing more students to the profession.
What does this all mean going forward? There will be a single portal, or learning environment, for students, putting every touchpoint with ICAS in one place, simplifying the process for them and their employers. The CA will be “digital first”, based on excellent pedagogical practice, to support student engagement and successful outcomes, as opposed to the old, pre-pandemic way, where paper notes were converted into PDFs, and then – hey presto! – you had “online learning”.
Everything the student needs to support them on their journey to becoming a CA is in this environment – including course content, formative assessments, timetables, results and discussion boards – because creating strong student communities is an important part of that journey.
We get feedback through our student quant surveys every year and there are two key areas we wanted to address. One is simplifying and streamlining communications, bringing them all together in one place, making it much more structured, and only messaging students when they need to be informed of something. That way, we don’t confuse the messaging and we don’t send unimportant or non-urgent notifications.
The other area identified for improvement has been logbooks, something students must complete to show development in certain competencies and to record the number of audit days in their work experience. We are developing a brand-new logbook through this portal, streamlined for students and their employers. It reduces the number of competencies against which students measure themselves to only 39, split across six distinct timelines, in a simple, easy to complete format.
What happens next
The new student experience portal will be launched this summer, starting with the enrolment process in June. We also intend to transition current students onto that new portal and logbook later this year.
The new CA qualification in its fresh digital-first format will launch in March 2024. We are convinced that together these changes, measured against the rest of the market, will be a game-changer.