INTERVIEW OF ARIF MASUD MIRZA, HEAD OF ACCA PAKISTAN
Sep 10 - 16, 2007
QUES: People often say that the institutes in our country do not provide quality education. But what exactly is 'quality education' in your opinion?
I will reserve my comments on the professional accounting educational institutions only, which form a strange hybrid of higher education and postgraduate education, by this I mean that one finds school leavers as well as postgraduates actively pursuing professional accounting qualifications side by side. The aim of good quality education in my opinion is to convert young people into citizens having modern skills and knowledge that will ensure that they become active members of our society contributing to their personal and national well being. In the case of professional education the specific aim is to convert young men and women who have chosen professional accounting as a career into professionally qualified ACCA as quickly as possible.
The current community of professional tuition providers known as ACCA learning partners have made significant efforts improving the quality of professional accounting education but as in all walks of life there is room for improvement through strategic development and investment.
CURRICULUM & STUDY MATERIAL OF INTERNATIONAL STANDARD
Accounting is very scientific in its application, there are international standard for accounting and reporting as well as auditing. Greater harmonization of accounting and auditing globally has reinforced accounting as a science, meaning that the skills and knowledge of accountants produced in Pakistan is applicable to businesses all over the world. ACCA has implemented the same curriculum across 175 countries across the globe. It invests a significant amount of resources to review its curriculum and revises it altogether every 5-7 years. This ensures that the students get to study the most updated and current syllabus and those new ACCAs are in sync with the demand of the business community internationally.
EFFECTIVE DELIVERY MECHANISM
No matter how current and updated the curriculum being taught at an institution is, if it is not delivered effectively it doesn't serve its purpose. Modern teaching aids including teachers' guides, internet, libraries and various visual aids if efficiently used are invaluable to effective delivery of curriculum. ACCA's Learning Partners are kept up-to-date with resources such as Teach Accounting a journal that targets teachers and current topics of interest.
There is an acute shortage of qualified and well trained faculty in our country. The reason why I mentioned "well trained" is that a person may be very well qualified but imparting education is a separate skill altogether. How to motivate students, engage with them, put their energies to positive and constructive use, and is what a well trained faculty member can achieve.
ACCA Pakistan has organised several teachers' conference to develop skills and improve teaching methods. The outcomes of these initiatives will result in better pass rates in Pakistan, fewer drop outs as well as overall improvement in the quality of the young accountants entering the job market both in Pakistan and internationally. Today young ACCA's from Pakistan work in the city of London, the middle east and gulf as well as in the US and Canada.
Similar initiatives need to be taken by other organizations working in the education sector. ACCA Pakistan welcomes the local accountancy bodies to partner with this initiative.
TRANSPARENT & HIGH STANDARD OF EXAMINATION SYSTEM
Setting high standard of examination and putting in place a transparent, fair and impartial exam grading system puts apart hard working students from the ones who need to improve.
ACCA is one organization which has deployed its resources to regularly monitor these factors to make certain their efficacy. ACCA has put in a lot of effort to ascertain that all the above mentioned factors are in place in the countries where its qualification is being taught.
QUES: How do you see the situation of higher education in the country? What steps do you think are needed to improve it? How do you see HEC's role in improving the situation of higher studies in Pakistan?
The current government regime has started paying more attention to the standard of higher education and because of this the situation has considerably improved. HEC has also taken a number of steps to improve the standard of higher education. However we still have to cover a lot of ground to reach a stage where we can compare our standard of education with what has been achieved by the British and American institutions and universities.
One of the areas of concern is the communication skills of young people entering the job market. The average length of time a student spends at an ACCA learning provider is 3 years having completed his/her degree studies, which suggests 16 years of full time education. It would be highly unfair to lay the entire responsibility of converting student communications skills in 3 years. You cannot reverse 16 years of poor investment overnight. So clearly primary and secondary education will have to be compensated and by that I mean to take account of the socio and economic background of the student population and develop a highly innovative plan to convert young men and women into bright, agile and conversant talent.
QUES: Recently, the government announced a budget cut for HEC. How do you think it is going to affect higher education?
A lot of resources are required for the development of education. The interest of foreign universities in recruiting students from Pakistan is on the rise. In fact Pakistan is being looked at as a lucrative market by the foreign universities and institutions. What the government needs to do at this stage is to encourage public private partnership in a bid to establish institutions which could set the bar high for others. Government should also encourage and support collaborations of local institutes with their foreign counterparts. It should invite foreign institutes to invest in the country rather than take our students away. ACCA took the same decision 10 years ago and today ACCAs produced in Pakistan are demanded all over the world.
QUES: Do you think the quality of teachers in our educational institutes is satisfactory?
A lot of work needs to be done in this respect. As far as accountancy education is concerned ACCA Pakistan has taken upon itself the responsibility of capacity building of faculty in the country. Teachers' Conference is an international event organized by ACCA in UK, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Caribbean, Ghana, Zambia & Kenya since 2003. In December 2004, ACCA Pakistan initiated its faculty training program and held its first 2-day 'Teachers' Conference'. Our last conference held in Lahore was attended by over 80 Accountancy trainers from across Pakistan, while two master trainers were invited from UK to conduct the workshops.
QUES: In your opinion, what are the basic reasons that many young people in our country do not opt for higher studies and what do you think needs to be done to rectify this problem? Please also comment on the situation of girls as far as education is concerned.
This essentially happens because of family intervention where illiterate parents don't see much value in sending their children for higher studies but another major factor is financial limitations. The constraint that this sector faces in our country is fewer higher education institutions, which don't have the capacity to absorb or educate bigger number of students. Government should also encourage vocational training so that we may produce enough skilled manpower that our industry and businesses demand. Incentives given by government in the form of scholarships, financial aids, qarz-e-hasna, will have a positive bearing on the number of students.
QUES: Research is a very important aspect of higher studies. Unfortunately, this is one area that has been constantly neglected in Pakistan. Why is that and what do you think can be done to establish a research culture in the country? What steps are needed to make research a part of our educational infrastructure?
At ACCA we have a technical department which conducts innovative, relevant and robust research on accounting issues relating to corporate governance, SMEs, financial reporting standards, public sector accounting, taxation, ethics and sustainability reporting. We do feel that accounting research is important. In Pakistan for the last two years we have had Policy Development team that has been involved in research relating to corporate governance, sustainability, access to finance for female entrepreneurs and Sarbanes Oxley. A very important characteristic of all this research work has been that the data for the research has been obtained by talking to the business and accounting community. We at ACCA think that industry/profession ñ academia linkages need to be developed to strengthen the accounting profession in Pakistan and also accounting education.
QUES: It is a common observation that people pursue education only in few selected fields like IT, business administration, engineering or medicine etc despite the fact that there are so many other areas of study. What can be done to attract students towards them? Do you think that subjects belonging to commerce are also suffering from lack of attention?
The dilemma we face is the band wagon effect. Students rather than assessing their own strengths are easily influenced by family members, friends and relatives who have been successful in their profession. Career counselling services are non existent in our country. The field of accountancy was put in slumber for a long time. It was only after ACCA came in that students developed an interest in this discipline of studies. Now our student numbers, which are in excess of 20,000 indicate the awareness about accountancy.
QUES: In western countries, Bachelors is of 4 years whereas in Pakistan simple BA or B.Sc is of 2 years and BA or B.Sc honours is of 3 years. Do you think that Bachelors should be of 4 years here also? What would be its advantages and disadvantages?
Duration of Bachelors degree programmes has already been increased to 4 years.
Bachelors programmes offer preliminary information about diverse subjects whereas Masters programmes offer in-depth study into fewer subjects, hence the need to increase the duration of Bachelors programmes. Previously Masters degree from Pakistan was considered equivalent to a foreign Bachelors degree, but hopefully the situation will change soon.
QUES: Will you like to tell us something about ACCA 2007?
In January 2006, ACCA announced its new Professional qualification, which will be first examined in December 2007. Named the ACCA Qualification, it will build on the success of the current programme, which has become the world's fastest-growing international accounting qualification.
The new ACCA Qualification is designed to provide the accounting knowledge, skills and professional values which will deliver finance professionals who are capable of building successful careers across all sectors, whether they are working in the public or private sectors, practicing in accounting firms or pursuing a career in business.
The new ACCA Qualification has been designed following an extensive and detailed consultation process which started back in November 2004. In excess of 17,000 students and members took part in the member competences and student aspirations surveys which formed the basis of the new qualification proposals. Following this research, ACCA consulted internationally with students, members, employers, tuition providers, joint scheme partners and regulators and received over 30,000 responses to its various research initiatives.
In addition to responding to the needs of its stakeholders, ACCA has designed a qualification which embeds the global accounting education standards set by the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC). There is a strong focus on professional values, ethics and governance. These skills are essential as the profession moves towards strengthened codes of conduct, regulation and legislation with an increasing focus on professionalism and ethics in accounting. They will be examined at the highest level in the new ACCA Qualification, and will be a core element of students' practical experience requirements.