25 March 2022 11:22:22 IST

Indian Institutes of Accounting (IIA), an idea whose time has come

In announcing its desire to set up the Indian Institutes of Accounting (IIA), in line with the IITs and IIMs, the government has set the cat among the pigeons at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI). The 3.4 lakh-strong community of CAs is justifiably upset at the idea of a competing body.

The institution that wears its CA-honour on its sleeves may be fighting a losing cause. And sadly, it does not have many supporters outside its fraternity in this. For, it is an idea whose time has come. 

Let me state how IIA should play out, and readers must hear me before passing judgment. For many years I have felt that while internship is the jewel in the CA course, the distance learning nature of the programme, and the unequal practical training, produces students of differing overall calibre.

Many may dislike what I say, but a CA’s value in the early years of his career is linked to where he did his internship and how many attempts he took to qualify. I had also batted for an Academy of Accounting where select CAs go through a one-year intense residential learning. 

Holistic approach

The IIA should take this idea to its logical conclusion. A four-year full-time programme after class 12, with entry based on an all-India Joint Entrance Examination, is necessary. Top-flight teachers teaching under the weight of top-order infrastructure to high-potential wannabe accounting professionals should excite anybody.

An academically- and corporate-rich experience of IIA that produces 1,000 outstanding professionals a year, spread across five such IIAs, would be a great value addition to society.  

If the ICAI can work it out with the government, the alumni of IIA will be restricted to the corporate sector and consulting. Those who want to do assurance work will, after two years of work experience, take a one paper MCQ-based qualifier exam from the ICAI. I am not saying this is what the government has in mind, but the ICAI should seek this. 

The idea in the IIA programme is that students will focus on knowledge updates. The practical training would come from a top-notch, online, cloud-based laboratory, which is where most engineering colleges are moving to.

A use and subscribe model will ensure that there is one national lab of accounting and audit. This will give the students practical insight, and summer placements can be contemplated in audit houses and companies.  

The IIA output would be comparable to the best brains in the IIT-IIM mode in this scheme. The entry can be super strict with a greater assurance of an exit. The subjects and course menu would significantly be what ICAI offers in addition to topics that 21st-century skills and employability require.

The speed with which changes to course selection can be made, and the independence that comes with these temples of learning, will act as a strong brand. 

Raising the bar

This is not replicating the college model. Mark it; presently, graduates are not geared to take up the profession. In the model that I believe the IIA would work, you are creating a brand of professionals for the industry who don’t have to work with audit firms full time for so many years.

Mark it; howsoever hurtful to our pride it might be, the value addition, except in firms with substantial work, is not so significant as to warrant a full-time presence. 

ICAI shot itself in its feet by projecting its lower pass percentage as a USP. It would have won public laurel had it been able to create a brand for the CA Inter qualified. Not having that brand, the Inter-passed compulsorily move to final. When they could not clear Final, they were mentally branded as failures. 

The IIA is a treasured path to working as an accounting professional in corporate India, who later, if they wish to practice, take on a qualifying exam at ICAI. This will agglomerate the current professional institutes to the extent that they produce professionals for corporate India. 

The ICAI could have created the full-time model on its own. Of course, I am not privy to its internal matters; maybe it tried but couldn’t push it through. It should now proactively work to make this happen. Otherwise, we will end up being on the wrong side of history.  

And as a parting thought, maybe, without fighting the change, the ICAI can take the initiative of setting up these five IIAs with an independent governing structure. 

(The author is a CA, an author, teacher, and public speaker.)