Racial pass rate gap in 2023 APC exams: black candidates fall behind

This pass rate highlighted the deep racial gap between black and white CAs in the accounting industry, including other racial groups.

This pass rate highlighted the deep racial gap between black and white CAs in the accounting industry, including other racial groups.

Published Mar 11, 2024


Various social media platforms are flooded with posts from users who can now officially call themselves chartered accountants, after passing the final stage of their academic journey.

Chartered accountants spend a minimum of seven years to qualify: they complete an undergraduate and postgraduate qualification, serve a minimum of three years of articles and, complete two board exams - the final exam being, the Assessment of Professional Competency (APC).

The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica) published its APC 2023 pass rate - the results marked a racial disparity between black and white CAs, including other racial groups; black people have the least pass rate and a further decline from 2022.

For the December 2023 APC exams 2266, 52%, candidates passed out of 4 348; white candidates carried the highest pass rate: 76%, followed by Indians, 60%; coloureds, 49% and black candidates, 39%- a 6% decline from 2022, they obtained 45%.

This pass rate highlighted the deep racial gap between black and white CAs in the accounting industry, including other racial groups. Out of 51 152 registered CAs in the country, 17% are black considering nearly 81% of the country’s population is black, and 67% are white.

Dr Sedzani Musundwa, senior lecturer in Financial Accounting at the University of South Africa (UNISA) cited, in her PhD, major challenges delay black students to reach accountancy final stages: unequal basic education in black communities, an unfamiliarised setting in universities, funding and getting access to Saica accredited universities.

Musundwa noted a number of black people hardly have access to quality basic education, hence, black people are victims of an unequal education system- the schooling system teaches one to memorise, instead of applying knowledge.

Therefore, CA candidates experience an overwhelmingly unfamiliar university setting. Musundwa explained, students feel displaced in class: they lament culture shock and language familiarity between white students and lecturers, this does not encourage active participation, despite a class having more black students.

Musundwa’s PhD said gaining access to Saica-accredited universities for black students was a nightmare, from meeting high entry requirements, to funding. After this, when one received funding via a bursary, students felt under added pressure to avoid failure, which raised concerns about their mental health. Saica formed the Thuthuka Education Upliftment Fund to fund black and coloured accountancy students, who cannot fund their education; however, the bursary de-funds student when they fail.

One of her interviewees, a qualified CA, said: “In my third year, I lost my dad and was also not feeling well. So, I actually failed my third year. I was on Thuthuka, but obviously if you do fail, they stop your tuition.”

Contrary to Musundwa’s points, Saica pointed other issues about racial pass rate disparity, being the training offices and professional programme providers, amongst others.

“Saica engaged with its team of senior markers, who have also identified several factors that require attention from all stakeholders, these include: the inadequate incorporation of information provided to candidates on the day of the assessment in responding to the tasks; exam time management, since several candidate focused more on the earlier tasks, which may have caused time constraints towards the end, and leading to candidates not addressing all tasks towards the end,” said Patria Stock, Saica CEO.

“Due to varying sectors of training offices and areas of exposure, some candidates may not be practically exposed to certain key technical matters; and may not have sufficiently researched such matters during the pre-release period,” she said.

Moreover, asked whether were solutions to the predicament, Stock explained Saica would develop governance structures to address the racial pass rate problem.

“Saica continues to engage actively with key stakeholders to address the differential in pass rates. A review to understand the root causes of the gaps in pass rates of different race groups is under way,” she said.

Despite stakeholder intervention, Saica has formed working groups to support candidates who failed their APC exams. “In an endeavour to address some of these issues, Saica established a working group focusing on the APC. The group is close to the completion of its work. Once completed, the working group will present its recommendations to the relevant Saica learning and development governance structures for consideration and implementation,” she said.

Stock added that Saica would engage with training offices and employers to support candidates going through the board’s planned support programmes, and would engage with stakeholders to implement solutions and fund candidates who were unsuccessful in the APC.

The Star

Hope Mafu

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