Innovative collaboration drives transformation in accounting

Walter Sisulu University and the University of Zululand have been awarded accreditation by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants following a six-year collaboration with UCT’s College of Accounting, SAICA and BANKSETA.

For thousands of students in KZN and the Eastern Cape, the dream of attaining a top-quality degree in accounting has become easier, thanks to an innovative partnership to build sustainable capacity in two leading institutions in these regions.

Walter Sisulu University (WSU) and the University of Zululand (UniZulu) have received accreditation for their undergraduate accounting degrees from the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) following a six-year collaboration involving the University of Cape Town and SAICA with funding from BANKSETA.

Previously, students with three-year accounting degrees from these universities would have had to complete a bridging course at another university before qualifying for postgraduate studies in accounting. Over the past three years, as part of the accreditation project, Unizulu graduates have been completing their postgraduate studies, gaining a Postgraduate Diploma in Accounting (PGDA), at UCT and WSU students have done so at Fort Hare or Nelson Mandela University.

“Having the same quality education as the rest of the country means that students don’t have to leave their homes to get an accredited accounting degree,” says Unizulu accounting graduate Sanele Ntuli, who believes the SAICA accreditation has massively impacted the university, and the province. “Particularly as this is a previously disadvantaged university. It has made it accessible and my dreams of becoming a CA achievable.”

Ntuli, who was born and raised in Inanda Township in KZN, went on to complete his PGDA at UCT and is now doing his training at Deloitte in KZN. After the two-year training period and writing the SAICA board exams he plans to travel and work abroad, gaining exposure to global business.

“I see myself as a global citizen, and I would like to gain experience internationally. But then I would like to come back to South Africa and put my skills to good use here.”

Associate Professor in UCT’s College of Accounting, Jacqui Kew, who worked on the Walter Sisulu accreditation project, says that the project is a good example of how collaboration can achieve transformation. “UCT and WSU worked together towards a common goal of accreditation. UCT was in a position to provide access to its resources. WSU contributed the passion, planning and all the hard work required to ensure that their students also receive an excellent education,” she says.

WSU received SAICA accreditation for its BCom (Accountancy) degree in 2016. UniZulu followed suit with accreditation of its BCom (Accounting Science) degree in August 2018.

“The process followed a multi-pronged approach, which is why it was so successful. It looked at physical infrastructure such as facilities and computer labs; staffing; academic content and internal processes such as admin, HR, and setting and marking exams,” says Associate Professor Kew. “The universities engaged with and adapted the material to best suit the needs of their students.”

Associate Professor Goolam Modack, head of UCT’s College of Accounting adds that the partnership was a two way street benefitting academics at all institutions involved. “Academics at UCT have learnt an enormous amount in the process, particularly through the opportunity of being able to work with academics at other institutions, about issues related to language and context and the importance of recognising varied lived experiences.”

Financial and accounting skills are widely recognised to be key drivers of any healthy economy and SAICA, through its Thuthuka Education Upliftment Fund, partners with universities to build additional capacity to offer accredited qualifications leading to a career in chartered accountancy. Building sustainable capacity in rural communities to provide the same quality of education available in the rest of the country has been a key priority.

Gugu Makhanya, SAICA Senior Executive: Transformation and Growth, credits both universities with the changes they have made and the resulting quality of their degrees that will enable people to receive top rate undergraduate degrees without having to travel to distant universities. She comments, “what is most pleasing about the accreditation is that we have seen students pursue postgraduate study in other provinces and then return home to do their articles – they are committed to uplifting the communities where they came from, in the spirit of Ubuntu – which is what Thuthuka encourages.”

UniZulu graduate Celumusa Mkhabela, is a case in point. He is currently completing his training at Deloitte, KZN following postgraduate studies at UCT, and hopes to go on to start an accounting firm in KZN. He says, “at university I received excellent technical training, now I am preparing for the practicalities of work. It’s a steep learning curve. It’s not about what I know, but what I am willing to learn - and how I focus on my goal.”

Ilse Lubbe, Associate Professor at UCT, who was involved with the UniZulu accreditation process, agrees that accreditation uplifts not only the university, but the community. “Transformation has a broader narrative – it’s about what you do. In working closely with Unizulu management at all levels to achieve their aims we helped to further transformation in the accounting profession, but more than that to build the capacity of accounting in South Africa.”

And reaching this accreditation milestone does not signal the end of the partnership, says Associate Professor Modack. “We will continue to support each other at an individual and course level,” he says.