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September 29, 2009

Universities criticise new CPA Australia programme

CPA Australia’s move to widen the entry requirements for its professional qualification has come under fire from an organisation representing the heads of accounting schools from more than 25 universities around Australia and New Zealand.

The minimum qualification to join CPA Australia as an associate member and begin studying for the CPA designation has traditionally been an undergraduate accounting degree accredited by CPA Australia or an accredited postgraduate conversion course for graduates with non-accounting degrees.

But CPA Australia has now developed an entry-level programme consisting of eight foundation units. Once these units have been completed, a candidate gains associate membership and can attempt the CPA programme even if they do not have a degree.

Market demand

CPA Australia says the new programme responds to market demands and simply widens the pathway into the profession.

CPA Australia executive general manager of international development Paul Wappett explained the requirements to achieve the CPA designation remain the same.

“We have given flexibility back to the students as to how they learn,” he said. “We had previously been quite proscriptive about the types of education we would accept before someone was eligible to start on our professional level programme.

“What we are saying now is ‘we are going to test your competency and knowledge and if it is sufficient, no matter how you obtained it, whether it be through education at an institution or on the job, we would like you to have the opportunity to become a professionally qualified CPA’.”

The Accounting and Finance Association of Australia and New Zealand (Afaanz) has said the changes are “regrettable and ill-advised”.

The Australia president of Afaanz, Keryn Chalmers, said the changes would result in the watering down of entry requirements.

“Hypothetically, what can happen in their programme is you can take someone directly from school, they can go and do the eight foundation units, and then they can enter the CPA programme,” Chalmers said.

She is also concerned about devaluing accounting degrees.

“We are concerned we are losing the educational value of an accounting degree and what it means as a profession. We hope we are not going down the path too much of simply training,” she added.

Chalmers said CPA Australia has every right to change its entry pathways, but that some things that were unacceptable in the past are now acceptable.

For example, while the new entry pathway will recognise knowledge obtained on the job, Chalmers said CPA Australia has never allowed universities to recognise prior learning as part of accredited accountancy degrees.

While CPA Australia is quick to point out that before candidates gain the CPA designation they still need to achieve a degree, Chalmers questions whether that makes sense to candidates.

“You have got someone who has potentially done the foundation unit, then they have gone and done what [CPA Australia is] calling the professional unit… then at the end they have to go back and get a degree.

“To me it seems the wrong way around,” she said.

Chalmers said the accounting school heads are also concerned about the “seemingly untenable position faced by CPA Australia as a result of these changes”.

As an accrediting body, CPA Australia passes judgment on the structure and quality of accounting degrees offered by higher education providers. Yet now it will also be the examiner of a competing product, she explained.

“They will now be judging higher education entry requirements into the profession while offering their own educational entry pathway that is an alternative to undergraduate degrees offered at our universities,” she said.

Wappett said CPA Australia is currently looking at its accreditation model and hopes to be able to address the concerns Afaanz has in that regard.

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