ICAS President: In an age of constant flux, embrace change
New developments to the education offering and ICAS Foundation are a vital response to a world in constant flux, says President Clive Bellingham CA.
Like many people, I found the Women’s World Cup to be one highlight of what was otherwise a largely grey and nondescript summer. It’s worth remembering that it is only five years since the women’s football league turned fully professional in England – the first European country to do so. This year’s tournament was jointly staged in Australia and New Zealand – not two of the traditional footballing hotbeds, it’s fair to say. What has struck me is how much progress has been made in such a short time.
Comparison, as they say, is the thief of joy. We now recognise women’s football as a major sport in its own right rather than, as often happened in the past, pointlessly judging its standard against that of the men’s game. There are doubtless some leadership lessons to be learned about what can be achieved in a relatively short space of time with a bit more money and enough will and determination.
Which brings me (for those of you wondering whether you were reading the sports pages rather than an accountancy magazine) to the theme of this month’s column – change. At the start of September, I attended all three ICAS induction days, held in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Induction days are a relatively new invention for ICAS. They didn’t exist when I was a student all those years ago, and it remained that way for many years after. These events are a great idea, but their advent has made me pause for thought about what has and hasn’t changed since I went from Kinghorn to Edinburgh to study to become a CA.
Some of the most striking changes have only occurred in recent months, as you can read in Bruce Cartwright CA’s thoughts on the new student experience. The internet hadn’t been invented when I took my exams (yes, I appreciate that must make me sound ancient). But over the summer we launched the Advantage platform, which serves as a one-stop online shop holding all the information that our future CAs will ever need during their time as a student with ICAS.
Our syllabus will evolve because we, as an institute, always need to keep our eye on the ball and deliver what students need to know, not just right now, but also in the years ahead.
Another very welcome recent development is that students are now free to participate in member events. It may sound minor, but I see that as hugely beneficial because it presents a chance to meet colleagues, peers and other ICAS members in an informal setting. Networking has always played, and will continue to play, a key role in a CA’s career development. It may well become even more important as firms increase their reliance on technology to perform daily tasks.
Clearing the path
We are also providing more pathways into the profession while putting a greater focus on social mobility through our work with the ICAS Foundation. We need a constant supply of new talent coming into accountancy. Again, going back to my student experience, there were only two routes into ICAS – university and college. What is noticeable from 2023’s new intake is a significant increase in the number of school leavers.
There was a time when, if you went to university, you would not only have your tuition fees paid but could also receive a grant from the government. Student loans were first introduced in 1990, while tuition fees came into effect in 1998. Now, in England the average student will graduate with £44,000 of debt, while in Scotland, where tuition fees continue to be paid by the government, it’s £15,000.
When you also factor in the soaring rents – Edinburgh recently recorded the highest annual rise in the UK – along with inflation, it’s not surprising that more young people are turning their back on university as being simply unaffordable. This, in turn, makes the role of the ICAS Foundation even more important in finding would-be CAs who are clearly talented but might otherwise have had to leave education in their teens.
It also made me think that if I were at the induction, having got a first-class honours from Edinburgh University in accounting and finance, and I’m sitting next to someone who has come to the profession straight from school, the good thing to do would be to embrace them because you’re still both embarking on the same journey.
Some things, however, remain the same. Ethics and trust have always been part of our DNA at ICAS – an employer taking on a CA knows they have someone steeped in the importance of doing the right thing. When you become a CA, you become a member of the world’s oldest professional accounting body, incorporated by Royal Charter in 1854. That heritage matters.
ICAS, since its foundation, has always been focused on acting in the public interest. Again, that is something that distinguishes us – and we want stakeholders to trust us, to rely on us, and to put faith in us. Arguably that is more important than ever in today’s dynamic markets.
But the CA is also so much more than just a qualification. For those students at the induction, this is just the start of a diverse and gratifying career. I can talk at length about the opportunities, experiences and friendships I made through my time at PwC, and there are countless others just like me. For all that the public sphere changes at dizzying speed, the value and life possibilities the CA provides will remain a constant.
For more resources, visit the ICAS leadership hub.