In an effort to alleviate the skills
shortage, South Africa’s chartered accountancy body is helping
students from disadvantaged backgrounds gain the necessary skills
to enter the profession. Carolyn Canham investigates the impact of
Thuthuka and its recent results.
Skills shortages are a well-documented
phenomenon within the accounting profession worldwide. In South
Africa, the problem has an added dimension due to a massive
under-representation of black people within the profession.
Agency, 79 percent of South Africa’s population is black African,
but the majority of students from this background are
underachieving compared to students from other ethnic
In 2004, just 7,236 black students passed higher grade mathematics,
compared to 16,907 students from other backgrounds. Of the black
students who passed, only 2,406 learners achieved a C grade or
higher, which is the requirement for pursuing accounting.
Thuthuka is a South African Institute of Chartered Accountants
(SAICA) initiative named after the Zulu verb ‘to develop’. It began
in 2002 in the Eastern Cape as a school-level intervention
programme called the Thuthuka Education Upliftment Project.
Thuthuka bursary fund manager Nthato Selebi explains: “That
programme is geared towards improving the marks of the students to
put them in the best position for university entrance and also
up-skilling the teachers.”
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The second component of Thuthuka is a bursary programme for
university students, which is in its fourth year.
SAICA recently released the pass rates for its students in 2007,
which saw 88 percent pass first year, 82 percent pass second year
and 67 percent pass third year. Selebi says these statistics are
well ahead of the national average but stresses that it is
impossible to compare the Thuthuka pass rate directly with the
national average as it is difficult obtaining comparable pass rates
“The statistics we have obtained are per subject [and those show]
our students are performing either at the same level as any other
[university] student or better,” he says.
The Thuthuka programme’s target for the proportion of its students
to complete their university coursework on time is 30 to 40
percent. Selebi believes the success of the programme is partly due
to the students it attracts. “[The students] understand what our
mission and our objectives are and they understand the success of
this programme hinges on their performance, their sacrifice and
their commitment,” he says.
“On top of that, I think the way the programme is structured [has
contributed to its success]. They have a sense of camaraderie
because they come into university as a group of students identified
as Thuthuka students. They live together, they study together, and
the extra support is there. So they have a sense of identity from
the get go, which allows them, in a sense, to fit in immediately
and start understanding they are part of this group concerned with
studying and making sure they do well.”
The bursary programme currently has 43 of its original 123 students
in honours degrees. There are also another 29 from that group who
have fallen behind a little but are still in the system. Those 29
are part of 182 students in the third year. The present honours
students will be the programme’s first students to sit and write
for the qualifying examination, which is expected to take place in
However, the success of the programme is linked to the quality of
students completing school. This year, only 271 of its target of
300 places were filled as there were not enough students meeting
the required standard. Selebi points out that the engineering and
medical faculties are fishing from the same pool of talent.
“For us, if we have anywhere in the region of 200 and above of
these students, then we are doing very well, but the pond is still
way too small. Hence we continue to try and have interventions at
school level on the Thuthuka side to try and identify those
students early and nurture them,” he says.
One new programme Thuthuka is introducing, alongside the South
African Department of Science and Technology, is a series of maths
and science development camps.
“We identify students in grade 11 that are performing at or a
little bit below the target we are looking for at matric level and
then give then extra academic support,” Selebi notes. “They go away
for a week at a camp and there they do extra maths, extra science
and extra accounting classes, to try and identify problem areas
There are about ten camps across the country and between 200 and
300 students per camp. Promising students are monitored through
senior years and strong performers are invited to a second camp in
the final year of school.
The accountancy profession is determined to play a proactive role
to develop bright students. Profession leaders realise that
offering these students hope, where hope previously didn’t exist,
could be the only realistic long-term solution to ensuring South
Africa produces enough chartered accountants to sustain a vibrant