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The Routes to Accountancy Qualifications

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Details of how to qualify are set out below. Just to remind you, the different accountancy bodies are given, with their qualifications:

  • Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), MAAT
  • Associate of Corporate Treasurers (ACT), MCT
  • Chartered Association of Certified Accountants (ACCA)
  • Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), ACMA
  • Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), IPFA
  • Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), ACA
  • Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland (ICAE), ACA
  • Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS), CA
  • Institute of Company Accountants (IComA), ASCA
  • Institute of Cost and Executive Accountants (ICEA), ACEA
  • Institute of Financial Accountants (IFA), AFA
First there is a brief description of the different options. Then there is an account of the training schemes of the major organizations in more detail. This is intended to be a guide only: it is not a definitive statement of their regulations. Before you embark on any course it is very important to check fully with the appropriate body to make sure that you can fulfill its requirements.

  1. Join a firm straight from school that offers you approved accountancy experience and study for accountancy exams part time.
  2. Take a full-time foundation course and then join a suitable firm and study for accountancy exams part time.
  3. Study full time for professional qualifications and then gain required practical experience.
  4. Take an NCVQ/SCOTVEC qualification, then join a firm and study for the remaining accountancy exams part time.
  5. Take a non-relevant degree, then a conversion course, and join a firm and study part time for the remaining accountancy exams.
  6. Take a relevant degree, join a firm and study part time for the remaining accountancy exams.
More and more accountants are undertaking a degree or similar course before professional training, even where the alternatives of joining straight from school or a short foundation course are available. The chartered accountancy bodies claim, for example, that only 11 percent of new entrants to the profession do not now have a degree, while CIPFA find that about two-thirds of their students are graduates. Your own personal qualifications, circumstances and preferences will determine your choice, but it is a good idea to talk over the position with your school careers adviser or the Education Authority Careers Officer, as they will be able to give you more information about local opportunities.

The Professional Organizations

Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT)

To become a member of the AAT you must demonstrate competence in all three stages of the Association's Education and Training Programme and must also have one year's approved practical experience in accounting work. Students may be able to obtain accreditation of prior learning and go straight into the final stage of the scheme. Qualifications from the AATs sponsoring bodies can be accepted as evidence of competence.

The three levels of the AAT scheme, Foundation, Intermediate and Technician, correspond to Levels 2, 3 and 4 of the National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs) in Accounting. Whether students complete the whole scheme or only a part they will receive detailed certification of what they can do.

Students are advised that they need good numeracy and literacy skills in order to complete the course. The AATs Approved Assessment Centres (workplaces, colleges or other training providers) may impose their own entry requirements. The skill-check offered in the AAT course guide helps students to estimate at what level to begin the scheme. Advice can then be sought from the Approved Assessment Centre.

Association of Corporate Treasurers

Associate members must pass or be exempted from the six subject examination. Full members must pass the ACT membership exam and would be expected to have senior experience in treasury management.

Chartered Association of Certified Accountants (ACCA)

To become a member of the ACCA you must have passed the examinations of the Association and be registered graduates of the Association. You must have obtained three years' relevant accountancy experience, before, during or after studying for the Association's exams.

There are three stages, Foundation, Certificate and Professional, consisting altogether of six modules which must be taken consecutively. Students may gain exemption from all or part of the Foundation and Certificate stages if they have comparable accountancy qualifications. There are no exemptions from the Professional stage.

The Association allows students to prepare for examinations by full-time, part-time, day-release and block-release courses or by correspondence courses. Arrangements can be made to study privately through the open learning material prepared by the Association and the Open College. Before beginning any course students should check with ACCA on their eligibility for registration and any exemptions.

All students are required to record their practical experience in Practical Experience Records, which are sent out upon registration.

ACCA issues detailed guidelines about the planning of students' practical experience and the areas which it should cover. It should usually include taking a personal part in the preparation of annual accounts, corporate or financial planning, and budgetary controls.

Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)

To qualify for membership of the Institute you must pass or gain exemption from the Stage 1, 2 and 3 exams, pass Stage 4, and have at least three years' practical experience of management accountancy. Students must submit a completed record of training, verified by their employer, at the end of their training period. CIMA offers a package for a computerized record of practical experience as an alternative to a manual log-book Employers devise their own programmes of training, and many arrange for tuition for the exams on a block or day release basis. The syllabus structure is illustrated in the above diagram.
Graduates with relevant degrees and students with other professional or vocational qualifications may be able to apply for exemption from papers in the first three stages of the CIMA exams.

Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy

To obtain the CIPFA qualification, you must obtain a trainee post in a public sector organisation that has arranged to take CIPFA trainees. Trainees undergo a carefully planned professional programme which includes at least three years' practical experience and study for the CIPFA's professional exams at Foundation, Professional One, Professional Two and Professional Three levels.

Exemptions are awarded to students where appropriate from subjects in the Foundation PI, and P2 Stages. There are no exemptions from P3 examinations. Those with an AAT qualification, a relevant degree or senior entrant status will automatically be exempt from the Foundation Stage. Non-relevant graduates are exempt from at least two foundation subjects.

Further exemptions may be granted on a subject-for-subject basis.

Trainees can study through an open learning package and will have a Link Tutor. The Link Tutor keeps in close touch with you and your employer, so that you have access to advice and support and receive constant feedback on your progress. CIPFA recommend college courses that can be block release, day or evening, and residential weekends.

The contract must be registered with the Institute, and should be carefully planned to ensure that students get the right kind of training and experience. Trainees are entitled to at least 20 weeks' study leave which is usually used to take full-time courses in preparation for the Institute's exams.

All students must satisfy the Institute's Foundation Stage requirements. This is done by:
  • an approved relevant UK or Irish degree; or
  • an approved Foundation Course in Accounting; or
  • an approved graduate conversion course; or
  • membership qualification for ACCA, CIMA or CIPFA
Exemptions may be given for some subjects in the conversion course.

Candidates for membership must also have completed a training contract and passed the Institute's Intermediate and Final Examinations.

Graduates with a relevant degree have a three-year training contract during which they take the two professional examinations. Graduates with a non-relevant degree take the Foundation stage and the two professional exams within the three-year training contract. Non-graduates take the Foundation stage (if necessary) and the two professional exams within a four-year training contract. It is now possible for students to take both the Foundation stage and the Intermediate exam before taking up a training contract but they still have to serve the same length of contract.

Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland

The Institute recommends that its students have a substantial period of full-time post-school study before beginning their practical experience. In order to qualify for membership students must pass or be exempted from the first two professional stages. A variety of exemptions is available and students should check carefully which apply to them. No exemptions are offered for Professional Three and the Final Admitting Examination, which all candidates must pass, as well as the special course on computers. The 'Commencement' route through which school leavers could proceed to qualified status without a degree is declining in popularity and may be phased out. In 1996 the options were as follows:
  1. School-leavers entering directly into the profession can take a one-year full-time commencement course leading to the Professional One exam, taken at the end of the course but during the term of the training contract, followed by a four-year training contract during which they must pass Professional Two.
  2. Another option for school-leavers is to take a two-year fulltime commencement course leading to Professional One and Professional Two, followed by a four-year training contract leading to Professional Three and the Final Admitting Examination.
  3. Graduates with a relevant degree can take a one-year postgraduate diploma in accountancy, followed by a training contract for three years to include prescribed courses leading to a final membership exam.
  4. Graduates with a non-relevant degree can take a special postgraduate diploma programme, followed by a three year training contract, to include courses leading to Professional Three and the Final Admitting Examination. (Graduates who have completed these programmes are not required to take Professional Two.)
  5. Graduates with relevant or non-relevant degrees can take a three-and-a-half-year training contract with courses leading to Professional Two, Professional Three and the Final Admitting Examination.
  6. Mature students and holders of relevant qualifications other than degrees, such as recognised certificates and diplomas in business studies, can take a four-year training contract and may be exempted from part of Professional One.
Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland

To be eligible for chartered accountancy training you must be a graduate. All graduates enter a three-year training contract during which they attend prescribed block-release courses at one of the Institute's own education centers in preparation for the examinations they must take in order to qualify.

The Institute distinguishes two categories of degree: fully 'accredited' degrees, which have been approved by the Institute and contain prescribed core elements; and 'qualifying' degrees, which are any other degree from a UK university or college. The number of examinations to be taken during training depends on the type of degree. Students who have fully accredited degrees do not have to sit the Professional Exam; others may have to sit all or parts of this exam during their first year of training. All trainees must take the Tests of Professional Competence Parts I and II. Mature students or others with recognized qualifications such as AAT may obtain special exemption from the degree requirement if they have sufficient relevant experience of working in accountancy. Such students would have to make special application to the Institute and each case would be decided on merit.

Institute of Company Accountants

Admission to membership is by examination only. There are four levels of examination; some exemptions may be available through passes at comparable professional examinations or work experience.

Institute of Cost and Executive Accountants

Associate members must have passed or gained exemption from the Institute's exams, have at least three years' experience and can show appropriate competences. There is no exemption from the Fellowship examination.

Institute of Financial Accountants

Membership is by examination, exemption or experience. All students must pass or gain exemption from the Foundation Level before entering the professional examinations. They must pass or gain exemption from the next three levels to be eligible for Associate membership. All candidates for Associate membership must have three years' relevant practical experience in an accountancy role.
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