At 65%, South Africa’s most recent Gini Coefficient (a gauge of economic inequality measuring income distribution among a population) confirms that wealth distribution continues to be massively unequal.
The National Development Plan (NDP) points to education as the fulcrum upon which all other efforts for economic development hinge.
Key to the improvement of education is the need to redress the educational inequalities of the past. Improving the standard of education offered by Historically Disadvantaged Institutions (HDIs) is imperative if we are going to get this right.
These educational institutions have traditionally been underfunded and underdeveloped, but the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), through its Thuthuka projects, has committed itself to the South African transformation process by working with these institutions through properly funded capacity-building projects.
Accrediting HDIs’ accounting programmes
With this objective in mind, SAICA along with strategic partners such as FASSET, Bankseta and the National Skills Fund have undertaken to build capacity with the ultimate goal of accrediting these HDIs’ accounting programmes so that students at these institutions can study to become chartered accountants (CAs[SA]) without having to leave their provinces.
To date, the project has seen the accreditation of the Undergraduate BCom CA-stream at five of the country’s six HDIs. Three of these HDIs have also received SAICA accreditation for their postgraduate accounting programmes.
The final HDI is expected to receive accreditation of its undergraduate programme during the course of next year. This is a significant milestone as the accreditation process for any accounting programme can take between five to seven years to complete.
The volume of students that programmes such as this can accommodate is equally impressive. Throughout the accreditation process, an HDI has the capacity to accommodate an average of 100 first-year students with the goal seeing as many of these students complete the four-year university qualification (three years of undergraduate and one year of post-graduate studies) that it takes for an aspiring candidate to qualify into entry into their three-year training contract.
There are over 500 potential/prospects chartered accountants who begin their journey towards becoming a CA(SA) at an HDI every year. While not every student completes their four years of studies towards CA(SA), a majority complete the degree and graduate.
This is a collaborative process, where we, along with our funders and partner universities work with HDIs in order to assist in the transformation of the country by building capacity and developing talent and skills in the South African economy. This results in a skilled workforce which enables the country to increase its economic growth leading to more jobs and prosperity for all.
Once capacity is built through the projects, an independent team evaluates whether they meet the SAICA accreditation criteria and it is huge testimony to the capacity-building projects that only one provider’s undergraduate programme remains to be accredited.
The accreditation process is no easy feat. It takes between five to seven years, with the initial focus being on capacity building from the first year onwards.
This culminates in the formal accreditation process, which includes a pre-accreditation phase that allows for informal feedback and an opportunity for the university to ready itself for the final accreditation visit.
The final three-day accreditation visit verifies the department’s ability to meet the necessary criteria. Accreditation by SAICA is over and above other regulatory requirements from the Department of Higher Education and Training which first need to be met by these providers.
“Capacity building is not about the experienced partner university simply sharing their material and assessments with the HDI. It is their responsibility to leave the HDI department of accounting in a position to carry on delivering a high-quality programme after the capacity-building partner has left. The key to success lies in the development of the academic staff who teach on these programmes,“ – Mandi Olivier, Senior Executive of Professional Development at SAICA.
Through this process SAICA seeks to establish whether or not the programme meets the appropriate national and international educational standards of the chartered accountancy designation, and ensures the delivery of competent CAs(SA) with relevant skills to the market place.
Walter Sisulu University (WSU) and the University of Zululand (UNIZULU) are the latest HDIs to receive accreditation, with the University of Cape Town (UCT) being the capacity-building academic partner for both HDIs.
Speaking at WSU’s recent accreditation celebration, Francis Kwahene, Head of the Department of Chartered Accounting at WSU commented on the strength of the partnership with UCT saying:
“UCT opened their doors to us, providing intellectual property and guidance every step of the way. The relationship was phenomenal. UCT had to commit financially and with other resources, and did so willingly.”
Keeping students local
For students the benefits of HDI accreditation extend beyond the obvious. By making education of this quality available at multiple locations throughout the country, often outside major centres, the necessity for students to travel to distant towns or cities is alleviated.
The result is more students have the benefit of staying close to their families while studying. Thus the inevitable stress which accompanies the jump from high school to university is mitigated.
It is with the benefit of nearby family support that students will have the best possible chance of academic success.
Kwahene agrees with this saying,
“I believe that an average student with family support will fare far better than an exceptional student with no family support.”
By raising the caliber of education available within the area it is hoped that, once qualified, students will not relocate. Instead, they will use their knowledge and experience to contribute to the economy of the local area.
Through this capacity-building project, the province’s young people are being provided with quality education and the chance to become a CA(SA). Simultaneously, the HDI is increasing the number of black CAs(SA) and contributing towards the goals of the country’s National Development Plan.
Making an impact
To address the problem of economic inequality we must first address the issue of poor economic growth.
As the NDP points out, an improvement in the quality and accessibility of education is at the core of economic growth and social stability. By increasing the number of SAICA accredited institutions, sustainable benefit is being created through the development of highly skilled chartered accountants who in turn provide ongoing support and development to their communities.
The NDP calls on the private and public sectors, as well as civil society to rally behind a united vision. SAICA is proud to play its part in working with our key partners. We will continue to heed the call for improved quality education for all.