Wits accounting science graduates excel in the South African Institute of Chartered Accounts board exams.
Second year BCom students at the School of Accountancy are unhappy about course changes implemented at the beginning of this year. They have concerns about employment, the course work covered and transferring to other universities to study a postgraduate degree.
Students in the Wits School of Accountancy have expressed unhappiness about recent changes in the second year curriculum.
The new curriculum, introduced at the start of this semester, now includes International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) but students say a lack of communication has led to uncertainty and confusion.
“The change caused a major uproar in the school,” Sewela Makgolane, second year BComAcc and chair of the Accounting Student Council (ASC), said.
Phiwe Fongoqa, 2nd year BComAcc, said returning students were not notified of the syllabus change prior to registration.
To Makgolane, the introduction of the new course means that “when you leave Wits with a BCom degree, you can’t really aim to work in a company that is not classified as an SME”.
Implications of the course change
Bursary students are also adversely affected by the change. “Some students are on a bursary with a company which expects them to learn the full standards,” Makgolane said. “You go back to your bursary holder and tell them you’re learning IFRS for SMEs and they respond by saying that they are not an SME.”
“Another challenge is that a BComAcc honours is no longer offered,” Makgolane said. “You can’t even look at the option of doing your honours at UCT (University of Cape Town) or elsewhere because elsewhere they are covering the full IFRS for SMEs.”
Although students were not notified of the syllabus change, accounting course coordinator, Yaeesh Yasseen, said: “The new syllabus was carefully thought out.”
Reasons for the course change
“Professor Robert Garnett who sat on the International Accounting Board in London developed the new system,” Yasseen said. “He [Garnett] said from an education perspective it is better to teach from the IFRS for SMEs, even UCT teaches via IFRS for SMEs in 1st and 2nd year.”
“Our bottleneck courses, used to be Financial Accounting 2 and 3 and saw a large number of failures,” said Head of School Professor Nirupa Padia. “Students would repeat until they were stuck in the system and then drop out with no degree due to financial constraints.”
“Previously students were leaving Wits with a BCom degree with majors which didn’t make sense and found challenges being employed because the net of the BCom is so wide,” Yasseen said.
“We changed the system in order to give these students the opportunity to have a Wits degree” Padia said.
Several students noted a communication gap within the school’s student and management levels. “There is a gap because there is not enough exposure for BComAcc students as most things are focused on AccSci students,” Makgolane said.
“This year we are looking to do a project with SARS who offer a two-year internship to BComAcc students,” she said. “We are doing our best to network and secure jobs for them [BCom students] because companies need accountants, not just chartered accountants.”
“Whether you are doing IFRS for SMEs or the full IFRS, the conceptual framework and principles are the same and covered in the three years,” Yasseen said. He also said the IFRS syllabus is available free online, whereas the text books cost R1 200 and need to be changed yearly.
A “refresher course” is offered to help BCom graduates transition into attaining an AccSci degree. Padia said this is part of the new system implemented aimed at getting more students to graduate and avoid them “getting stuck in the pipeline.”
The newly elected Accounting Students Council (ASC) sat in on a meeting with their predecessors on Monday to learn the tools of the trade for when they take office on April, 1. The new members were announced last Thursday after recent elections.
This year the selection process for the members of the ASC was more rigorous than in previous years.
According to Mandisa Makubu, the outgoing secretary, candidates had to submit motivation letters and had the opportunity to present to fellow students. The Student Representative Council (SRC) counted votes, a process that was previously handled by the outgoing ASC. Additionally, in previous years, candidates were given little time to prepare for elections as they were only required to address students for less than a minute long.
Goals of the new ASC
New ASC members intend to prioritise the line of communication between management and the students. Thanda Mthethwa said they hope to “be a firm intermediary between students and the head of school … and build a relationship for students to experience accountability between management and the council.”
Tshepiso Pooe said their aim was to reintroduce student governance. “Students didn’t have a voice last year, we had a council but we couldn’t raise our voices”. He said they wanted to lay a foundation for the school council of 2015. “We have a lot of plans, but if we don’t have functional student governance, we can’t implement those plans … We can’t do everything, we only have one year.”
A word from the outgoing chairperson
Outgoing chairperson, Sikho Ntshengulana, had high expectations for the new ASC, stating they seemed more “committed” due to the “rigorous election process”. Last year, the ASC had to deal with a high turnover of members. Other challenges included not having a “defined space in the School of Accountancy,” said Ntshengulana. According to Ntshengulana they did not have guidance and did not know the role of the student council. “We were not sure where to fit in,” he said.
He said they were not taken as seriously as other student bodies and a lot had to do with the fact that it was a young school council that only started two years ago. However, they have overcome many of their problems. Having a permanently appointed head of school made a difference. “ Professor Nirupa Padia (Head of the School of Accountancy) is sympathetic to our cause,” he said.