Transformation in accounting in the spotlight as top universities collaborate

Various lived experiences must be recognised in SA's transformation processes, says associate professor Goolam Modack, head of UCT's College of Accounting.

His comments come on the back of a six-year collaboration that resulted in two universities being accredited by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), boosting transformation in accounting in the process.

Walter Sisulu University (WSU) and the University of Zululand (UniZulu) received the SAICA accreditation after collaborating with UCT's college of accounting, securing a high standard of accounting degrees for their students, according to a statement released by UCT on Wednesday.

Previously, students with three-year accounting degrees from WSU and UniZulu were required to complete a bridging course at another university to qualify for postgraduate accounting studies.

Over the past three years, as part of the accreditation project, students from UniZulu have pursued their Postgraduate Diploma in Accounting at UCT, and those from WSU at the University of Fort Hare or Nelson Mandela University.

WSU received SAICA accreditation for its BCom (Accounting) degree in 2016, with UniZulu following suit with accreditation of its BCom (Accounting Science) degree in August this year.

The partnership, funded by the Banking Sector Education and Training Authority (BankSETA), was designed to build sustainable capacity in these two leading institutions, which are located in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape respectively, the statement said.

Skills shortage

SA is one of several countries facing a shortage of accounting professionals. SAICA notes that the 14 countries in Eastern, Central and Southern Africa have around 45 000 professional accountants, approximately 34 000 of whom are from South Africa.

According to Accountancy South Africa, meanwhile, accountancy is one of the fields in finance facing the most critical skills shortages. Moreover, it adds, about 79% of chartered accountants are white.  

Gugu Makhanya, SAICA senior executive: transformation and growth, says financial and accounting skills are widely recognised to be key drivers of any healthy economy. Through its Thuthuka Education Upliftment Fund, SAICA partners with universities to build additional capacity to offer accredited qualifications leading to a career in chartered accountancy.

"What is most pleasing about the accreditation is that we have seen students pursue postgraduate study in other provinces and then return home to do their articles," says Makhanya.

Multiple goals

Modack says the collaboration achieved multiple aims: building capacity and furthering transformation in accounting. But it also held benefits for the academics involved as well as the broader community, he adds.

"Academics at UCT have learnt an enormous amount in the process, particularly through the opportunity of being able to work with academics at other institutions, about issues related to language and context, and the importance of recognising varied lived experiences," he explains.

Associate professors Ilse Lubbe and Jacqui Kew, both from UCT College of Accounting and involved in the accreditation project, agree.

Lubbe says transformation has a broader narrative, and the accreditation process at UniZulu had benefits reaching beyond the university.

"In working closely with UniZulu management at all levels to achieve their aims, we helped to further transformation in the accounting profession, but more than that, to build the capacity of accounting in SA," says Lubbe.

For Kew, who worked on the WSU accreditation process, the project is a good example of how collaboration can achieve transformation.

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