Education and Assessment - Update on Changes
At the end of July 2005 the ICAI Education & Training Department (ETD) released a consultation paper on a proposed new education and assessment structure. The consultation paper proposed a number of major changes to the existing system and a series of new developments in the professional education of Chartered Accountants.
The consultation was extensive and comments were received from a wide variety of stakeholders: training firms - small, medium and large, trainers outside practice, trainees, student societies, universities, institutes of technology, individual members, ICAI lecturers, exam moderators and examiners, ICAI staff, ICAI committees, network groups and district societies.
This article summarises the comments received on some of the major areas covered by the consultation.
Move to competency based education
There was very strong support for the adoption of a competency based approach to education and assessment to replace the current ‘body of knowledge’ based system. Greater detail was requested on its operation including:
4Clarity of the meaning of 'competency' as distinct from learning outcomes;
4Levels at which competency is to be achieved;
4The integration of education and assessment based competencies with:
6Competencies acquired during the period of professional training and the new CADiary of Professional Development;
6Life long learning.
Increased integration of topics
The idea of an integrated Business Environment paper at the Preliminary Competency Evaluation (PCE - current Professional Two) was reasonably well received but concerns were expressed that it is perhaps positioned too early in the cycle. The views expressed point to focussing the integration of material primarily at the FAE level, supported by the use of broader case work at the Advanced Competency Evaluation (ACE - current Professional Three) level. The integration of business law in the relevant subject areas throughout the programme was supported, as long as company and commercial law also form part of the main examination syllabus. The introduction of a blended learning approach at all levels will support the integration of material.
Small group teaching
The concept of small group teaching was supported subject to resource constraints.
The adoption of a blended learning approach to education, (i.e. a combination of face-to-face and computer mediated learning environments) was supported as complementing the education programme and facilitating greater ownership of, and access to, the education process by students. It also enables the presentation of materials in a broader context and in an integrated manner.
A mandatory induction course for all trainees that will cover such topics as learning to learn, higher intellectual skills development, personal and professional ethics and the use of the CADiary was supported although some requested that it be integrated into the formal assessment process.
The adoption of case studies in education and assessment was supported from the ACE level upwards. There were some concerns about the quality of case studies and the alignment of teaching and assessment methodologies.
Principles based education
A principles based approach was accepted, though some questions were raised as to how this might be handled in practice. Again, the alignment of teaching and assessment methodologies was seen as vital.
Individual subject areas
Comments on proposals at PCE level
A wide range of views was expressed on the structure and content of the new preliminary examination. Comments were made on the absence of specific tax and law papers and the proposed introduction of a business environment paper. Overall the thrust of the comments were favourable, recognising the benefits of a sound technical base.
4Taxation: Several commentators felt that the lowering of tax coverage at this level was inappropriate although many agreed that there is an issue with excessive repetition in the current syllabus.
4Company and Commercial Law: Company and commercial law should be very visible in a paper and company law requires greater prominence throughout the syllabus. The concept of integrating company law issues in relevant subject areas did receive support.
4An increased emphasis on double entry bookkeeping was very much welcomed but should possibly be positioned as a separate module to be taken during training contract. This will allow expansion of topics in the Financial Accounting paper at this level.
4The splitting of management accounting and business finance was welcomed. The content of the finance course should be strengthened and broadened so as not to focus solely on business issues.
4The redevelopment of the Personal Computing for Accountants (PCA) test and the removal of the BIS paper were broadly welcomed. There were, however, some concerns about the nature of the coverage of IT/IS issues in the rest of the syllabus, especially at FAE level.
General comments on proposals at Advanced Competency Evaluation (ACE) level
- Concern was expressed about the extent of coverage of the technical material. The volume of material is still too great and requires adjustment.
- The proposal to concentrate on key principles in the teaching of technical material was broadly welcomed although comments expressed reservations about the practical operation of this, stating that teaching and assessment methodologies will have to be carefully aligned
- The absence of management accounting was seen as a weakness and creating a large gap from PCE to FAE. The inclusion of strategic finance was viewed positively.
- There was some concern that with only one tax and one audit paper (supplemented by electives at FAE) coverage may prove inadequate. The material proposed for the taxation paper was generally viewed as relevant but excessive.
FAE multi-discipline case studies
On the whole the concept of Multi-Discipline (MD) case studies was supported as a means of assessing professional skills. There were a number of caveats concerning the content, the approach to teaching and the assessment methodology. A number of commentators expressed caution regarding the challenge for all involved.
Many stated that the FAE cases should be truly multi-disciplinary and not restricted in their content. 'Lateral thinking' is important at this level and the FAE should be an exercise in applying knowledge and judgement.
The proposal of two multi-disciplinary papers was considered the most appropriate. It was generally agreed that new material such as updates and current emerging issues should be included at FAE in the case studies. Advanced IT/IS and Strategic Financial Management issues were also seen as relevant at this level.
The proposed case themes/titles were not supported as they were seen as being too narrow. The preferred option was to have genuine, broad multi-discipline cases that perhaps took different themes. The content should cover the full range of subject areas, including those topics covered by electives.
The issue of electives elicited the most comment and the widest range of views. Within those for, there was a range of views as to the appropriate number and content of the electives. There were also a number of different reasons why people were opposed to electives, including potential damage to the brand, and confusion as to the quality of the qualification. Others took a middle ground and were willing to accept electives as long as coverage of core topics in the multi-discipline cases is not diminished. A large number of commentators just raised queries about the operation and consequences of electives. Further consideration of this issue will be required.
Timings and Proposed Actions in 2006
A consistent view from the third level sector was that the 2006 roll out for PCE was unrealistic given the potential impact on undergraduate programmes and exemptions. It is thus planned to defer the start-up for a year though additional developments will continue in 2006. These include:
- 4Induction programme
- Redeveloped PCA programme and assessment
- Professional ethics education module
- 4Web based and DVD learning tools
- Double entry bookkeeping assessment module
- CADiary to be rolled out for all trainees
Accountancy Ireland readers will be kept informed of the further developments as the new education and assessment model evolves and is rolled out.
For further details, please contact Ronan O'Loughlin, Education and Training Director ICAI at firstname.lastname@example.org or 01 637 7329