The grip and influence of Professional Accounting Organizations (PAOs) on accounting education and training worldwide is firm. This could partly be explained by the perceived ‘late entrance’ of accounting into the curriculum of Universities as well as the role of accounting which is mainly understood as a technology designed to accumulate, analyze and interpret date in economic terms. As the search for higher quality in accounting education remains an imperative, the grip continues to be maintained through a number of mechanisms; including accreditation of accounting programmes in the Universities and other tertiary institutions. This role enables PAOs to shape the contents of accounting degrees, especially at the undergraduate level. In exchange, ‘handsome’ exemptions from certain levels and papers of the professional examinations of the PAOs are granted accredited universities.
The balance of advantage in this relationship appears to lie in favour of PAOs. The Universities and PAOs need to engage each other fairly to ensure that the public interest role of the profession is preserved. Although the role of Universities is knowledge creation, however, one fact is established: professional accounting certification and university degrees are not the same but represent two sides of the same coin. One without the other is incomplete.
Professional accounting education is deep and more narrowly focused while universities are for teaching and research through which insights are brought into understanding the behaviour and the choices made by professional accountants. That is, universities provide the social context which serves as the platform for professionals to think and act as professionals. Consequently, the Universities represent the ‘conscience’of the profession through which academic knowledge feeds into professional knowledge for the purpose of producing ‘balanced’ accountants.
In Nigeria, the role of universities, especially in transforming ‘raw students’ from the post-primary education sector to a level where they become competent to sit professional accounting examinations has not been fairly appreciated. Rather, one hears some cynical remarks that university graduates lack skills. But no one is explicit about the skills that are lacking. Are they fundamental or professional skills? Where are these skills expected to be acquired? The Universitiesdeal essentially with the ‘why’ questions while the PAOs deal with the ‘how’ questions in the profession. That is not to say, however, that the development of professional skills is a non-issue in the Universities.It is that Universities are not the most appropriate places for the detailed acquisition of core professional and industry skills, especially at the undergraduate level.
Even though Universities and the PAOs appear to represent two extremes, what is needed is not a clear-cut dichotomy between theory and practice but a paradigm shift that will create a fusion which will enable accountants orient theories with practice.
Any professional that is narrowly trained will simply become obsolete when the rules and regulations of the profession change as they often do in the accounting profession. With a solid foundation in the theory and wider reflections about the social consequences of the techniques, graduates should be able to hone their skills, excel in their practice. Therefore, there is a need fora mutual relationship between PAOs and the Universities such that the balance of advantage is not skewed in favour of either party.
The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) as a PAO, appreciates the need to educate and train well-balanced professional accountants. It has, therefore been funding research and publication activities in tertiary institutions in Nigeria and beyond. The initiative of the Institute goes beyond funding discrete research projects to that of strategic research partnerships with reputable organizations such as being the academic partner to the World Congress of Accountants.
More recently, the Institute developed a programme called “Mutual Cooperation Agreement with Tertiary Institutions” (MCATI). The philosophy is to deepen and improve the quality of accounting graduates and to benchmark accounting education in Nigeria with international best practices. Thus, the MCATI enables ICAN accredited institutions that sign up to enjoy special and expanded exemptions from some subjects of the professional examination. This allows accounting graduates under the programme to proceed to the professional (final) level of the Institutes’ professional examinations. In order to ensure compliance with the terms of the agreement and maintain quality consistently, the Institute monitors the process in the accredited institutions twice in every academic session. Any deviation from the obligations contained in the agreement by any institution is viewed as a serious breach and could lead to the revocation of the agreement.
So far, the strides made under the agreement are awesome and other professional bodies could take a cue from the initiative as a compass for the current and future development of professionals in all fields. The ultimate result would be resounding and enduring and the issue of half-baked graduates would be permanently over in Nigeria.