Forging the future of technical and further education in Accounting


Here’s a short blogpost I prepared for the Universities Evidence to Policy blog:

I have always described myself as an ‘accidental accountant’.  Having avoided modules in accounting throughout my Undergraduate studies, when looking for a graduate job I realised there were far more jobs in accounting than in my chosen subject of economics.

I joined KPMG’s Southampton Office in a relatively small cohort, but one still made up of graduates with degrees in everything from Ancient History to Zoology.  Amongst them were those with degrees in Accounting, Finance and Economics (in my case), and School Leavers; entering directly from their college. I remember, distinctly, how impressed I was by my peers and how un‘accountant like’ I found them to be.  I suppose, in part, that was because none of us were accountants! Nor were we at all prepared, including those with degrees in Accounting and Finance, for the roles we had been recruited for.

Much has changed in the intervening years, the employability of graduates has become an issue of huge importance to Universities and alternative routes in to the profession have been established, including the most recent Trailblazer apprenticeships. However, one thing that has remained the same, is the provision of 16-19 education in the field.  This comprised and continues to comprise of A-Levels in Accounting (offered by a few colleges), A-Levels in Business Studies / Economics (offered more widely) and baffling array of vocational business qualifications (offered inconsistently across colleges).

The strength of my cohort at KPMG came from its diversity of opinion, experience, age and education.  However, though all of us had eventually ended up as accountants, none of us had the opportunity to study accounting as a vocational subject from the age of 16, even if we had wanted to.

As Chairman of the ICAEW’s (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) Assessment Committee, I became privy to forthcoming proposals from the Department for Education – that have been presented by the former Education Secretary, Justine Greening as ‘the biggest ever overhaul of technical education to deliver a skills revolution for Brexit Britain’ – a policy which has received cross party support. In my capacity as an academic and member of the ICAEW, I applied to and was invited to join the Accounting T-Level Panel advising the Department for Education.  These panels, made up of employers, representatives of professional bodies and education experts are charged with co-creating the content requirements for technical education programmes, thereby ensuring that T level programmes have real status and credibility.

The proposed T level programmes will be substantial qualifications, equivalent to 3 A-Levels, focussed on developing practical knowledge, skills and behaviours and will also include a substantial, high quality work placement‎ so that students can apply their learning in a real workplace environment.

The experience of working with the Department for Education and the panel members has been enlightening, stimulating and challenging. The Government’s commitment to higher apprenticeships, funded by the Apprenticeship Levy and the new T-Levels will prove a compelling alternative to traditional academic study; laying down a gauntlet to Business Schools and other faculties affected by the new landscape in education.  Substantial time and effort will need be invested by Universities to redefine and reinstate a graduate premium that can compete in the market for the best and brightest students.  Being part of the discussion from the outset will help the University of Southampton be at the forefront of that change.