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In the decade last gone by, the profession of Accountancy has witnessed a tumultuous period in sync with the developments in the field of Accounts, Tax and other concerned areas globally. A similar tumultuous period has been also been observed in the Academic area concerning the future chartered accountants or CA aspirants. In the past one decade the ICAI has changed the pattern of exams a flabbergasting 4 times for Intermediate examinations which means an average 2.5 years for each new Examination policy. The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, each time making a change in the pattern of examination would go on record that the new examination pattern would enhance the knowledge of students and attract more students to the profession. However the constant changes can be best summarized by a French proverb, “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.The more it changes, the more it remains the same.  The flippant behaviour of the institute only added to the confusion and misery of the students who were unable to take decisions with respect to which examinations should one write. The moves by the ICAI also affected its members as this also saw a marked number of students leaving the professional course midway. Many Accountancy firms were unable to assign specific roles to CA.

However to dismiss the various initiatives undertaken by ICAI as a failed entity altogether would be foolish cause each proposed course had its positives. For e.g. PE-2 would lay a standard benchmark to students before entering the professional realm of work. PCC, the shortest lived course was an enthusiastic approach which attracted the aspirant right after school to appreciate the practical areas of the profession. The lack of faith towards these initiatives has hurt the confidence of the students towards ICAI.

Importance of Article-ship

The Institute of Chartered Accountants has always stressed on the importance of article-ship and how it is instrumental in garnering professional ethos. The ICAI has regulated a mandatory 3 years article-ship period for aspirants. The article-ship is an extensive training period which allows the article assistant to learn the fundamental and practical aspects of accounting and taxation. In the Technology dependent world, the article assistant gets a good exposure of knowledge based technologies to aid financial services. Traditionally the Institute of Chartered Accountants has always acknowledged that this period of training is more beneficial to the aspirants of this profession rather than just clearing his or her 3 pronged examinations.

 

Mr. A.K. Sambasivan a well respected Chartered Accountant of his time,  in his speech The Principal and the Articled Clerk on the occasion of the 1st regional conference in Madras in the year 1956, noted “If the Accountancy profession is to be raised to its rightful status in the commercial and economic sphere it is vital that there should be a closer association and understanding between the Principal and Articled Clerk, as in the quality and competency of the latter lies the future of the profession of the Institute.  He also further adds that “it is common knowledge that the aspirant’s primary concern is to pass the Final examination and only after passing does he begin to understand the realities of the profession.”  It would be interesting to find that little has changed towards the attitude of the aspirant in the period of 54 years. The advice of the distinguished CA with respect to this attitude is that one should thus ‘aim at something higher’ than securing the passport from his principal for entry into the examination.

 

In contemporary times where the means are purported to be the end, the profession of Accountancy is a lucrative career option to the young. Thanks to the rich tradition and history of the profession, the image of a CA is enhanced in the eyes of the society. A CA is purview-ed to be Knowledgeable and professional in Endeavour. However, the “Means as Ends” approach has diluted the distinctive quality of the profession in recent times.

 

With the advances made by our country in the Commercial and Economic areas resulting in one of the rapidly developing economies of the world, the demand of Chartered Accountant has increased manifold. This demand and supply of Chartered Accountants has put the ICAI in a position of quandary. The ICAI has always seen its role restricted to producing quality professionals and not necessarily generating Chartered Accountants to fill the demand and supply chain of industry requirements. So the question arises, How to tackle the problem of producing quality students and also meeting the demand and supply requirements of the industry?

 

Does the answer lie in the Glorious History of Article-ship which the puritans of the profession consider a pure symbiotic relation like the Guru- Shishya tradition of yore? If one goes through the many online forums for CAs and CA aspirants, one can come across that the aspirants across the country celebrate the end of their article-ship tenure like the end of a prison term. They exude joy at the proximity of near freedom from the clutches of their principal. Are these articles to be blamed? Yes and No. Yes, they do not understand the importance of the formative training they receive. They accuse their principal to make them work beyond the set ambit of ICAI, grant limited holiday and the list can go on. No, not all principal are empathic of the aspirations and trials of an aspirant. They follow the bare minimum of the set covenants by the institute and also pay a meager stipend for the services of the article. They assign tasks to articles which the article believes does not help in development of his knowledge and qualities.

 

Thirdly, the ICAI only acknowledges the marks secured by a student in the examination and not the knowledge and experience acquired during the article-ship period. And in the third point lie all the major problems and few solutions which the institute should address.

 

Coaching Industry

 

In the Decade gone by with the rapid advancements the CA was spoilt for choices as his profession allowed him acumen to adapt to the variety of financial services which was coming up. In the middle of the last decade newly qualified CAs and also CAs with experience were being paid astronomical sums as remuneration. It was believed by the end of the decade the remuneration would double. And like a bolt from the blue, struck the global recession which put a brake on the hasty speed adopted by the various financial organizations. The remuneration became stagnant and a little conservative. Newly qualified CAs or professionals in any field do not command as much as they could do about a few years back.

 

There is however one growing industry promoted by ICAI courtesy its flippant methods, the Coaching Centers continue to flourish despite financial hardships [due to recession earlier and inflation later] faced by most of the industry.  The profession of education has become as lucrative as the profession itself. Any individual with the professional degree in his hand and a book of quotation is capable of starting a coaching institute and guide students without worrying about the patronage. The Coaching Industry has become an essential part in today’s scenario due to the examination benchmark of the ICAI and the fall of standards of graduation courses across the country.

 

Currently the prominent coaching centers have become corporate entities and are believed to conduct their activities professionally. One strongly feels that over a period the approach of these corporate entities are becoming increasingly selfish and in a materialistic world the relation of a student and teacher is becoming like a customer and seller respectively. There are coaching Centers which have also become Tourist Operators offering package deals. The coaching institutes believe that they have all the liberty to hike their fees (every 6 months) and almost everyone fails to understand the nuisance of registration fees.

The ICAI has no direct regulation over these centers and hence cannot address student grievances in this regard. In a period of 3 years of constant reshuffling of courses, the fees have hiked to an unprecedented 2 to 4 times. This has allowed mushrooming of smaller coaching centers which are cost effective but might also be defective in the process. With the introduction of the CPT course which is the gateway to professional courses for graduates and school pass-outs alike the dependence on coaching for CA examinations has intensified over a couple of years. The attitude of ICAI is surprisingly non-committal in this regard.

 

Then the recent incident of the lack of study materials for amendments in Auditing added to the dilemma of students who had to purchase expensive books from insatiable authors from above mentioned coaching institutes.

 

 

Holistic Approach

 

With respect to the academic and training sphere for Students interested in Accounting, Taxation, Costing, Auditing and Company Law, the ICAI has to take some introspective measures. Does the ICAI want to keep itself bound to the regulation of the profession of Chartered Accountants in India or extend its role to promotion of the above subjects to a wider domain and reach of the people? Finance has always been an important aspect in any organization, however with the rise of the economy and the increase in complexities with adherence to various statutes, standards and covenants brought into Accounts, Tax and Company Law, we find that we do not have adequate manpower to tackle these arising complexities. The ICAI being the second largest professional body in the world should see to it that it makes no sense regulating its academic activities to a select number of people opting for the course and eventually clearing the exams. One of the most drastic steps taken by the ICAI was to restrict the entry of Graduates at the inter-mediate level and recognize proficiency through a common test for school pass-outs and graduates. It spoke volumes of the fall in standard of education being provided in our colleges and universities. Dogged by various compulsions the colleges are not able to deviate from the antiquated syllabus which is being studied by generations together. In-spite of developments in various subjects, the colleges preferred to turn a blind eye and one of the ICAI presidents seeing such apathy decided to focus on school pass outs and catch their enthusiasm.

 

While isolating the university scheme of education from its perspective the problems of ICAI or its members and their articles has not reduced. It has not greatly enhanced the quality of students who have become more and more dependent on Coaching Centers and guidance books. Self- study has been totally culled at its roots. The move to have students solely dedicated to CA studies has backfired as there has been no substantial rise in the pass percentage. Rather the pass percentage of these dedicated breed of students plummeted last year evoking further criticism of ICAI’s methods and transparency.

 

‘Parasparam Bhavayantah sreyah paramavapsyatha’ 3.11 Bhagavad Gita

 

In the third chapter of Bhagavad-Gita, ‘Yoga of Action’, we come across a wonderful expression which means that ‘cherishing one another we shall gain the highest good’. One opines that the ICAI should follow the ideals of these words. The ICAI should know that through co-operative measures with various universities across the country, the knowledge of Accountancy and related subjects can be brought into and enhance the university syllabus. One wonders how many colleges in the country necessitate the study of Accounting Standards at the undergraduate level. There is also a greater need of basic practical knowledge of tax rules and tax procedures at the undergraduate level. The ICAI and the various universities should cooperate and willingly share and accept at least the basic requirements of Accounting Standards and also primary Tax procedures. These two areas should be focused in the coming years as it will help the Institute to unburden a bulk of these works and at the same time concentrate on specific and specialised areas. This will also enhance the utility level of undergraduates as basic knowledge of Accounts and tax is quintessential in contemporary times.  

In recent times aspirants are showing a greater interest towards Industrial training, and the ICAI has taken some measures to this effect. However the choice of Industrial Training should be enhanced. Key importance should be given to industries who have adopted IFRS, XBRL and other such developments. 

To conclude with a quote of former U.S. President, “United, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided, there is little we can do—for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.

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