ICMA has taken the lead by forming an overseas chapter in UK, others should work to attract foreign students
Exclusive interview with Mr Aamir Ijaz Khan — Executive Director, ICMA-Pakistan
PAGE: Kindly tell me something about yourself:
Aamir Ijaz Khan: By profession, I am a Fellow Cost and Management Accountant and have on my credit around 18 years of diversified experience in the areas of Client Servicing, Project Implementation, Business Repositioning, Financial Management and Compliance. I am also a SAP, FICO Certified Consultant. Prior to joining ICMA Pakistan as Executive Director, I was serving as Head of Quality Assurance at M/s. Innovative (Pvt) Ltd. I had also worked as Audit MIS Expert (Punjab) in a World Bank funded project named “Project to Improve Financial Reporting & Auditing” (PIFRA) and as Executive Financial Accountant at Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL).
At ICMA-Pakistan, I held a number of positions including Chairman of Lahore Branch Council (LBC) during the period from 2011 to 2013. Being pioneer member of Quality Assurance Board of ICMA-Pakistan, I remained a vocal participant for first four years of its inception. I also served ICMA-Lahore Toastmasters Club as its Founder President. Currently, I am a member of Management Committee of MENSA International – Pakistan Chapter.
As a professional trainer and motivational speaker, I have conducted a number of training sessions and workshops. I have contributed various papers on national and international forums on themes of Growth Dynamics of Pakistani services sector, Pakistan economy, economic sectors’ strategic dynamics, budgetary measures etc.
PAGE: What are your views on the quality of professional education in Pakistan?
Aamir Ijaz Khan: Albeit lagging behind international standards, I think that professional education in Pakistan is still far better than many countries. I do not support the thinking of those who talk against the quality of professional education which shows their negative mindset towards national issues. It is admitted that inherent weaknesses exist in many professional institutes (irrespective of any profession) but there are admiring examples of several institutes in our country, which have proved their excellence in imparting quality professional education and training and are internationally recognized as well. We must give due recognition to such professional institutes which are small in number as compared to other jurisdictions, yet their presence and contribution is worth appreciating. We need to take concrete measures to seriously revamp and expand the quality of professional education in Pakistan. At the same time, the professional academia should also take initiatives to adapt themselves to emerging trends so as to better cope with future challenges and not only impart education but also ensure social integration.
PAGE: There is common perception that fee for getting professional education in Pakistan is beyond the affordability of the masses. Your views:
Aamir Ijaz Khan: In general terms I agree with your question as most of the private universities in Pakistan are charging exorbitant fee from students. However, there are few exceptions as well such as ICMA-Pakistan, which is catering to those students who represent the lower and middle class strata of society. The fee structure of ICMA-Pakistan is comparatively very competitive as compared to other professional accounting bodies and in addition, it also provides scholarships and financial assistance opportunities to poor and needy students so that they can acquire professional education on management accountancy and serve the country and the society.
PAGE: How would you comment on the government support for the professional education in Pakistan?
Aamir Ijaz Khan: Quite unfortunately, the government support for professional and higher education in Pakistan is not very encouraging which can be gauged from the fact that budgetary allocation is still less than many South Asian countries. The allocations of development funds given to Higher Education Commission (HEC) for the year 2018-19 is only Rs35,630 million, which is quite insufficient to meet the existing developmental expenditures of projects in higher education sector. The government must provide adequate funding for the capacity building of professional and higher education institutions in Pakistan so as to bring them at par with their contemporary international academic bodies in terms of adopting new approaches and technologies related to curriculum and faculty development; conducting research and trainings; delivering education and coaching on modern lines and improving the examination and assessment systems.
The exam delivery system in particular needs synchronization with advancements made internationally such as on-demand computer based exams where the students can enjoy the flexibility of choosing a time convenient to take exam papers and get immediate results at conclusion of exam. For instance, if any student wants that he/she do not feel comfort to sit in any exam that is scheduled during the holy month of Ramazan, he can book his exam after this month and take paper after intimation to exam authority. To adopt such modern technology, the professional bodies need government’s support for capacity building and digitalizing their exam procedures and processes.
PAGE: Kindly tell us about the job prospects for the professionals:
Aamir Ijaz Khan: The professionals, especially the accountants’ community, have always remained in demand in business and industry in view of technical nature of tasks performed by them that requires high quality of practice and experience.
With the advancement in technology and emergence of robotic accounting and block chain technology, there is a growing apprehension among the professional accountants that technology would impact their employability with a minimal and restricted role in organizations. Though the concern is valid time is the best judge as we have observed when few decades back when the computers emerged, followed by ERP system and cloud computing technology, similar concerns were raised but the significance of professional accountants and auditors in organizations globally remained high, though their role have evolved with the passage of time. I think that as time will pass, the professional accountants would adapt themselves to these technological advancements, with a more contributory role to be played by the professional accounting bodies in creating awareness and imparting required skills in their members.
There is also a growing global demand for freelance professional accountants who offer their technical expertise in different operational matters as well as tax and investment consultancy to organizations. Furthermore, with increasing importance on public financial management (PFM) the role of role of professional accountants in public sector organizations is also being expanded. I think that accounting professionals should now move to public sector for employment instead of relying on private jobs.
As far as Pakistan is concerned, there is good prospect for employment of professionals as the country is gradually moving towards economic stability and prosperity. I would confine myself to the profession of management accountancy. Being a management accountant, I foresee a bright future in Pakistan for the dynamic role of management accountants. They, by virtue of their professional expertise and acumen are well poised to serve the society at large. In government, the management accountants can make dynamic contribution and assist in policy making; cost analysis and planning of PSDP projects; financial and managerial reengineering of operationally sick units; rationalizing tariff and tax structure regime and as consultants in CPEC-related projects.
In corporate sector, a management accountant is like a brain in the human body, which diagnoses the real problems of businesses that hamper their growth and development, and then suggest remedies by putting in place an effective control mechanism.
PAGE: How could Pakistan attract foreign students to get professional education from a Pakistani Institute?
Aamir Ijaz Khan: Many countries have adopted policies to attract international students in their recognized and reputable academic institutions. For instance, India under its ‘Study in India’ policy provides discounts in fee as well as visa facilitation to those students who aspire to study in any higher education or professional institute. I think that the Pakistan government may also think on same pattern in consultation with the HEC and professional institutes in the country, including medical, engineering, fine arts, accounting and other disciplines. At the same time, another idea to attract foreign students is to establish overseas chapters where the foreign students would have the convenience and comfort to take coaching and examination for the Pakistani professional degree programs.
ICMA-Pakistan has taken the lead by forming an overseas chapter in UK and other countries which is catering to those students who intend to make career in the profession of management accountancy. Apart from the above, there is also growing and widely recognized concept of internationalization in education, which is often terms as TNE or Transnational Education. TNE is defined as an activity, which involves any higher education or professional institution to deliver its education services in another country rather than the students travelling to the foreign universities to study. It can take many shapes and modes such as establishing branch campuses; distant learning programs; online provision; joint and dual degree programs, mutual recognition agreements with other universities etc. TNE is fast growing global platform that is providing internationally recognized education at the doorsteps of the students. This is also an emerging source of income for higher education and professional institutes around the world.
In Pakistan, HEC needs to persuade the governments and foreign education providers given NoC for operating in Pakistan to also provide equal opportunity in their countries for Pakistani professional and academic institutions to establish branch campuses.