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December 14, 2008

EU institutes move closer to standardising qualifications

Nine European accounting institutes have taken a step closer to standardising professional qualifications across the continent.

The harmonisation is part of the Common Content project, which is designed to make it easier for institute members to conduct cross-border work and become members of participating institutes in other countries.

In the most recent step, accounting institutes from France, England and Wales, Scotland, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands have undergone a self-assessment process and detailed review by teams from the other institutes to confirm their qualifications have reached a high level of consistency.

The project focuses on select areas of the qualification process for professional accountants, including assurance and related services, performance measurement and reporting, strategic and business management, financial management, taxation and legal services.

David Cairns, the UK-based project director, told The Accountant the Common Content project was set up in 2001 in a consolidative process between the institutes and was led by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. It aimed to establish mutually recognisable qualifications that satisfied national, EU and international requirements.

“We realised pretty early on that for lots of different reasons we all have our own qualifications and creating a feasible single global qualification would not be attainable. Therefore it was decided to find mutual groundings and make it easier from a view of providing education and training that can be provided anywhere,” Cairns said.

“When we say ‘common’, we are talking about a level of around 80 to 90 percent. When we say ‘content’, we are talking about what professional accountants are able to do, what knowledge they need to do it and what skills they might have.

“The important thing about the requirements is that we have set a high bar. So although we work by the fact that we conform to international and EU requirements, we’ve quite deliberately set the level of qualifications much higher so we can maintain the level of quality in the people coming out of it,” he added.

Plans to extend the project to other national institutes are being discussed, especially those in the EU whose qualifications already meet Common Content requirements.

Preliminary discussions have taken place with institutes in Spain, Belgium, Switzerland and the Nordic countries.

Cairns said major institutes outside the EU, including ones in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US are also being considered in terms of expansion efforts.

“What we would like to achieve down the line is involvement in the project by all the premier institutes from all the major countries,” Cairns said.

“Another thing that we would like to achieve, and have already begun doing, is working with developing institutes – using the work that we have done to help bring up the standards of the profession in countries that aren’t yet at that standard.”

The nine institutes have agreed on a shared work programme for the next three years, which will encourage the continued evolution of the project.

Melanie White

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