ICAS Foundation: A friend indeed
The pandemic has been especially disruptive for young people at university. We meet three accountancy students to hear about their experiences during lockdown and what the ICAS Foundation is doing to support them
University is meant to be an exciting and, for most, transformative period in a young person’s life. A busy schedule filled with lectures, social events and possibly part-time work, it provides an important stepping stone between school and career. It’s a time for young people to discover and explore their interests with the safety of an extended network of support.
But the pandemic has turned all that on its head. Busy, buzzing campuses have turned largely empty, with the adoption of remote learning mirroring the exodus from offices to home-working. And many students have returned to parental homes until restrictions are eased, physically separating them from the friends with whom they would ordinarily share the triumphs and challenges of university life.
A survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) during the autumn 2020 term highlighted just how impactful the pandemic has been for young people at university. It found that students were more likely to have not left their home or accommodation in the previous seven days (between two and three in 10) than the general public (less than one in 10). The ONS also found they had lower levels of life satisfaction and higher levels of anxiety.
It’s clear that young people are under pressure and that their networks of support are more important than ever before. The ICAS Foundation is steadfast in its mission to assist young people in need. Even before the pandemic, it had helped more than 230 young people to study accountancy and finance at university; now it is providing additional support to its existing students and encourages those who are struggling to get in touch. Support can take the form of financial help, mentoring, access to tools and resources and, of course, an ear to listen.
We catch up with three ICAS Foundation students, at various stages of their degrees, to discuss how the pandemic has changed their experience of university.
First-year student, Lancaster University
I first became interested in accounting and finance when studying business at A-level. The numerical analysis really intrigued me and I became quite set on studying it at university. Going to university is a big financial investment, so I started doing research on bursaries and scholarships, which is when I first heard of the ICAS Foundation. Everything came together when I accepted my place at Lancaster University.
The support from the ICAS Foundation has been really helpful, especially starting university at a time of uncertainty. The mentoring scheme has meant I could always get feedback from an experienced CA. Whether it’s my university course, CV tips or something more general, it’s great to know I can speak to someone who has been in my position before. The funding from the foundation has helped with study materials and travel costs when I was working part time to support my studies.
As I’m in my first year of university, I’ve not yet decided what I want to pursue after graduating. The foundation and my mentor have been really helpful in giving me the information I need and then letting me make my own decision. There’s the freedom to pursue accountancy or perhaps something else.
The pandemic has meant starting university has been very different to what I’d expected. I lived in halls during the first term, when there were fewer restrictions, which gave me a bit of the university experience. There was a digital freshers’ week and, although the majority of classes were online, there were some in-person sessions too. It was difficult to adjust to remote learning at first, as I really like that in-person interaction with lecturers, but it has become the new normal. I am looking forward to face-to-face extracurricular activities resuming – including football training with Bowland College FC at Lancaster University.
The ICAS Foundation has been really helpful by checking in regularly and letting me know about the available support, which has been reassuring. My main goal is to remain determined, achieve good grades and not let the pandemic hinder my personal and professional development. Setting goals and having a structured approach during this crisis is key. That would be my advice.
Third-year student, University of Strathclyde
I have been interested in accountancy ever since I was young. I love logic, numbers and problem solving, so it was a perfect fit. When I got into the University of Strathclyde, I was told about the work of the ICAS Foundation. After applying for support, I was awarded a bursary and given a mentor who, pre-pandemic, I would meet in person to discuss how I was getting on – though this is via email and video calls for the time being. My mentor gives me advice on anything I’m struggling with.
It’s always useful to hear from someone who has worked their way up and completed their professional exams. When I ask about aspects of coursework I might be struggling with, my mentor has really useful insights. And there’s also career advice about, for example, the process of doing professional exams in the future.
Life at university became very different when remote learning began. There were a lot of pre-recorded lectures, as we didn’t know how long the pandemic would last. Now, there are more live ones, which I prefer, as you can ask questions and participate. On the social side, it’s also completely different. Luckily, I’m staying at home rather than in student accommodation, so I’ve got my family with me.
Staying motivated has probably been one of the hardest things. Before the pandemic, there was much more structure to university life. To stay on top of things, I set myself a list of what I want to achieve at the beginning of each day. It’s important to remember to take some breaks, though, as it can be quite tiring sitting at your laptop all day.
The ICAS Foundation has checked in with me frequently, asking how I’m getting on, which I really appreciate. They also sent out PowerPoint presentations of activities we could do, such as useful online sessions to improve our skills or prepare for online interviews. One session that looked at the various software used in accounting was particularly useful.
My plan following graduation is to become a CA. Working with the foundation has really opened my eyes to what ICAS does and how it represents its members. Before, I didn’t really know much about it, but by going to various career events, I’ve got more of an insight into what the qualification provides and how it can progress your career.
University of Glasgow
My choice to study accountancy came before I learned of the ICAS Foundation. It was always the subject I enjoyed most at school and taking part in the KPMG discovery programme ignited my interest. I became a foundation student during my second year at university after a friend explained the support it offers. I applied for a crisis grant, because I was in a tough spot, but I was instead invited to apply for the ICAS Foundation Programme, which includes ongoing support such as a bursary and mentoring.
Mentoring has been invaluable. I had been quite stressed about possibly missing out on internships. My mentor explained that they’re highly competitive and suggested I apply for a wide variety of programmes, not just one or two. When my internship was cancelled because of coronavirus, and the company offered an interview for a graduate role instead, my mentor helped with networking and interview skills.
I’m one of very few students who stayed in Glasgow rather than return home. So, socially, the last year has been filled with Zoom quizzes. But the foundation has been really helpful, sharing a lockdown toolkit and pointing us towards useful activities to get involved with, such as the Grant Thornton virtual audit. It’s great to know it has been thinking of us during these tough times.
I’ve always been passionate about diversity and inclusion, particularly social mobility, and being part of the ICAS Foundation has stoked that further – my dissertation is on professional service firms’ response to this issue. I hope my relationship with the foundation will last long after university. At some point, I’d like to be a mentor myself and give something back.
The ICAS Foundation is a registered Scottish charity No SC034836
To find out more about the work of the ICAS Foundation visit icasfoundation.org.uk.