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Hand raised in a classroom | AccountingWEB | Boag sheds light on ICAS’ major syllabus revamp
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ICAS looks to the future with major syllabus revamp

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Launching the greatest syllabus revamp in its history has been a massive challenge for the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland, but one they hope will be a game changer.

28th Mar 2024
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It was a “massive challenge” for the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) to launch its new syllabus, executive director of learning Gail Boag has told AccountingWEB, but one that was necessary in the face of a changing profession.

The CA syllabus came to fruition on 22 March, with the organisation calling the move the greatest such revamp in its history.

It has been designed to “keep pace with advances in technology, data and sustainability”, all of which have been embedded throughout the qualification, alongside ethical leadership.

Future of ICAS

Boag said the process started when they were thinking about the future of ICAS.

“We had the impact of Covid-19 – we knew how that had changed the world and really started to change what businesses were thinking about. So it was us taking stock of what we want to do moving forward.”

Last year, the organisation developed the ICAS 2030 strategy, which, Boag said, “defined who we are, where and what we wanted to be in the future”.

“It was all about focusing on resilience, continuing to add value to members and students, and recognising that the profession was changing. We were driven by that new vision and it was recognised that there was a need to really evolve and redefine learning at ICAS.

“I think what was also clear to me when I came in is that for too long institutes – including our own – have probably been focusing historically on what works for them when it comes to learning.

“Actually, what we really need to do is focus much more and turn it around so it’s focused on what works for employers and what works for students. So that was a big driver.”

Profession-led consultation

Everything ICAS has done to get to this point, noted Boag, has been in response to consultations and demand led by the profession.

“I think that’s key. When we kicked off the project, it wasn’t just about the syllabus – there were three main aspects to what we were doing.”

Boag explained that putting students at the “very heart” was naturally part of the plans, including the launch of a student experience project that successfully launched last summer.

“Then we also focused on the delivery model and again, that involved listening to firms and making sure that we had much more flexibility – we wanted to enable much better learning outcomes for students.”

The third and final prong was the launch of the new syllabus, which Boag said the organisation had made sure is “refreshed and future fit going forward”.

A massive challenge

Boag noted that to get to this point was a “massive challenge” but added that it has “absolutely gone smoothly because we did our research”.

“We asked students, firms, employers, academics, other institutes, the GA bodies – we put a lot of work into the consultation piece. I have to say though, it’s probably been a much bigger project than I initially anticipated.

“I don’t think I realised, or even anybody realised, how much we were doing because what we need to do is make sure that the CA does a number of things.”

Boag said ICAS is “very proud” of its offering “and rightly so – it’s a really tough qualification”.

“It’s known for that really high standard and we want to make sure we continue to maintain that professional excellence, that rigour. So we couldn’t dilute that and we had to make sure it was still tough. We’re really pleased with where we’ve got it.

A game changer

The industry reaction has been positive, revealed Boag, who confirmed that a “couple of our big firms have described it as a game changer”.

“I think the syllabus has landed extremely well but it’s been long overdue because everybody is grappling with the same things. We’ve invested a significant amount of money to get where we are and I think, because we’ve done so much consultation and made sure that it’s going to address the gaps that the firms need, it has landed well.

“It’s not just about the content itself – when we spoke to firms, they talked about the skills gap and we’ve tried to address that.”

Difficulty in recruiting

Boag said it’s important to recognise firms are “grappling with a decline in people wanting to come into the profession – the attractiveness of it is not what it used to be”.

“Firms are always telling us about how difficult it is to recruit, attract and retain people, particularly in the audit profession.

“So we’ve been thinking and working with them about how we can address that and by adding in new areas that we know our young professionals are very passionate about – such as sustainability, data and tech – we would hope that helps to make it more attractive.

“Ultimately, it’s a win-win for all.”

Changing profession

She added that the profession is evolving rapidly with automation and AI.

“So that means a different way of thinking and firms have been saying: ‘Are the graduates coming in really adept enough in those particular skills?’

“Nobody really knows how AI’s going to impact the profession but we do know it is going to change, so while we focus traditionally on technical skills – your financial reporting, tax, assurance – we know that with the role of accountants and auditors a lot of those basic data entry and analysis tasks are going to be taken away.”

Boag said firms are telling ICAS that they’re going to use AI for many of those tasks, so what are our accountants of the future going to do?

“What we’ve tried to do is make sure that we make them more proficient in reporting on key findings, offering advice, interpreting the financial report and bringing that expertise in,” she said.

Replies (4)

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By FactChecker
31st Mar 2024 21:00

Sounds fascinating (truly) ... except that no useful detail is provided.

If it's an outcome that has flowed from the “ICAS 2030 strategy which defined who we are, where and what we wanted to be in the future” ... then surely it would make sense to explain *how* the new syllabus addresses *which* parts of that strategy, wouldn't it?

Similarly, it's hard to argue (and I've no desire to do so) with the stirring words:
“It was all about focusing on resilience, continuing to add value to members and students, and recognising that the profession was changing. We were driven by that new vision and it was recognised that there was a need to really evolve and redefine learning at ICAS.”
But into what has that actually been translated (new topics or methods or channels or refresher standards or ...)?

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Replying to FactChecker:
Cherry
By cherrytelevision
02nd Apr 2024 09:25

I suppose it requires a bit of knowledge of ICAS and other qualifications to read between the lines.

The key aspect is the word "flexibility" hidden half way down the page. Until now ICAS has had a rigid exam structure whereas other qualifications allow students to sit at their own pace. My understanding is that ICAS is changing this.

It'll certainly be different than when I qualified with ICAS!

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Replying to cherrytelevision:
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By FactChecker
02nd Apr 2024 12:11

Isn't everything different ('change is the only constant' as they say in Physics) ... but thanks for the insight - your 'key word' being well hidden indeed amongst the quoted waffle.

My suggestion/gripe was because it seemed a wasted opportunity by the ICAS executive director of learning, Gail Boag, to start by saying it was a “massive challenge” to launch its new syllabus - but then not go on to set out (or at least explain) what is actually changing. That's lesson 1 at a launch.

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By carnmores
04th Apr 2024 13:50

we are neither wiser nor considerably better informed.

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