Professor Alex van der Watt CA(SA) discusses the impact of CA2025 on the qualification process.
The chartered accountancy qualification is constantly evolving. SAICA recently entered the final stage of its CA2025 project, an ambitious project that aims to completely overhaul the qualification process and competency framework to ensure it remains fit for purpose in a rapidly changing world.
SAICA called on Professor Alex van der Watt CA(SA), a Professor of Practice at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and an independent consultant to SAICA, to discuss the impact of CA2025 on the qualification process and the delivery thereof and help walk academics through the proposed changes and transition process.
‘We are very fortunate in South Africa as the accounting profession is served by excellent accounting programmes with fantastic resources,’ says Van der Watt. He explains that the SACA-accredited accounting programme is often seen as a university’s flagship programme for two reasons: they are quality programmes and attract the best students to the university. ‘Staff teaching these programmes are also passionate, energetic and care deeply about their students,’ he explains. ‘They are committed to ongoing reflection and understand that change is often necessary for programmes to remain relevant.’
For Van der Watt, there are two important points when it comes to the qualification model. ‘First, we need to ensure that the qualification model is fit for purpose, meaning that it is able to develop the competencies in the competency framework.’ He believes that we need to constantly ask questions that challenge the qualification model. While some of that work is ongoing, he also reminds us that SAICA’s Initial Professional Development (IPD) committee has a set of principles to guide any changes to the model.
Second, Van der Watt says that if we look at the components of the qualification model, it is important to understand that parties (academics, training offices and providers of professional programmes) have a collective responsibility to develop the competencies. ‘The academic programme is an incredibly important part of the qualification model, but some competencies may be best developed in the training programme or the professional programme.’
Challenges and limitations
Successful implementation of CA2025 may require substantial changes to academic programmes. ‘Changes may be required to the curriculum but, most importantly, we believe a new approach to teaching and learning is needed in order to develop the required competencies,’ says Van der Watt.
He acknowledges that the implementation of CA2025 will require time. ‘Academics are busy people with competing priorities, and finding time for reflection and innovation might pose a challenge.’ A further challenge is the preparedness of learners for university studies. ‘It remains important for SAICA to provide an opportunity to learners from disadvantaged backgrounds and providers of academic programmes need to ensure that their delivery models respond to the learning needs of all students.’
Other challenges that may hamper the ability of providers to respond to the new competency framework include the qualifications of teaching staff and their understanding of new technologies and ethics vocabulary. ‘We need to recognise that most staff teaching on accredited programmes do not have formal qualifications in education, and staff development is therefore crucial.’
Detailed timelines are still to be approved and implementation of the academic and training programmes is scheduled to take place over the next four to five years.
What are the main changes?
The overall objective of CA2025 is to develop responsible leaders who behave ethically and create sustainable value for a wide range of stakeholders within an organisation. CA2025 acknowledges that to achieve this, changes are required to both the curriculum and the delivery model.
‘There needs to be a balance between the development of technical knowledge and skills and the development of professional values and attitudes and enabling competencies,’ says Van der Watt, emphasising that technical skills must in no way be neglected at the expense of the development of other skills. ‘It will, however, be important to reduce the technical content (not the rigour and complexity) so that there is space to also address the professional values and attitudes and acumens and get the balance right.’
He explains that there is a need for specific skills such as creativity, problem-solving and critical thinking. CAs must also embrace technology and be able to deal with new knowledge all the time. ‘Rapid changes in technology and in terms of knowledge will require the development of life-long learners who have the ability to deal with change and new knowledge,’ says Van der Watt. ‘In other words, accountants must have the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn.’
While huge changes are being made to the curriculum, the biggest change of all will be seen in the delivery model. ‘We need to recognise that the focus of the qualifying process is currently on the development of technical knowledge and skills and that we need to adapt in order to create well-rounded, life-long learners.’
Van der Watt explains that while typically around 50% of the academic curriculum is centred on the so-called ‘supportive courses’, students do not understand the value of these courses. ‘They only view the core disciplines (the historical approach to teaching in silos) as important, and we need to change their perception,’ he says.
When it comes to the assessment of competencies, we need to recognise that in academic programmes, there are many different ways to develop and assess the required competencies. ‘Projects are a great way to assess and develop competencies, but although students find them interesting and enjoy them, they don’t think they are important,’ he says. ‘If it doesn’t count, it doesn’t matter to them, as they are focused on passing the traditional or mark-based technical assessments.’
Van der Watt uses ethics as an example, explaining that students often say they cannot relate to the ethical examples used in class and that it does not make sense to them. ‘They learn the SAICA Code of Professional Conduct and answer questions but can’t relate it to their own lives,’ he says. As a result, they may not be able to identify and deal with the ethical dilemmas they face regularly. In theory, the delivery model is student-centred − this is great, but we need to ask ourselves whether that is really the case, says Van der Watt. ‘Are we actually developing independent learners?’
Developing graduate attributes
‘We need a strategy for the development of competencies,’ says Van der Watt. For him, it is important to make clear to students when they arrive at university which competencies will be developed over the course of their degree and how these competencies are going to be developed and assessed. Students should also be enabled to continuously reflect on whether these competencies are indeed being developed. ‘Universities and other providers need to focus on what we call graduate attributes,’ he explains. ‘This speaks to why universities exist, and problem-solving and critical thinking skills are two of the most important graduate attributes.’
Van der Watt believes we need to ensure that the full campus experience contributes to the development of competencies and skills, including the time that students spend outside the classroom, particularly after COVID-19. ‘Class time can also be used much more effectively, and students will have different expectations when they return to campus after the pandemic.’
He believes that an effective teaching and learning model helps students to understand how learning takes place, thereby developing independent, self-directed and life-long learners.
AUTHOR | Roberta Coci