Concern about the declining pass rate of African candidates. Picture: Supplied
Concern about the declining pass rate of African candidates. Picture: Supplied

SAICA orders probe into why African students are failing competency tests

By Thandile Konco Time of article published May 1, 2021

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The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica) has commissioned a comprehensive, independent study to understand why African students are failing competency tests.

This follows their release of the latest Assessment of Professional Competency report.

Every year, Saica releases the results of the Assessment of Professional Competence following a robust marking process of all who sat the assessments the previous year. The assessment, which is competency-based, assesses aspiring chartered accountants’ ability to demonstrate their application of skills to real-world scenarios using their technical skills.

The data released by Saica in regard to results is categorised in terms of race and gender in an effort to evaluate and illustrate the impact of the profession’s effort to transform the demographics of the profession to reflect those of the country in terms of race and gender.

Saica chief executive Freeman Nomvalo expressed concern on the declining pass rate of African candidates despite the numerous initiatives in this regard.

“Saica is commissioning a comprehensive, independent study to understand the root cause of the problems and, if necessary, review the full value chain of the qualification process. Together with our stakeholders, including the Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants of Southern Africa and African Women Chartered Accountants, we continue to implement initiatives to support candidates in order to close the inequality gap and ensure that no prospective CA(SA) is left behind.”

Managing director at Ntlantsana Accountants and Advisory Services, Simphiwe Ntlantsana said that he believes that the poor performance of African students stems from a lack of confidence that is fed by stereotypes and biases in the industry.

“The report isn’t surprising. Black students fear accounting or see it as a subject that is challenging and they have no confidence that they can excel. It has always been deemed as an elite subject only fit for certain races or people of a certain social status.”

“Particularly in the Western Cape, black candidates are denied opportunities and treated poorly in the work space and you are intentionally made to feel unwelcome, this is very discouraging. You have to work for a white company to secure good projects.”

Lindsay Kearns, who is also a practising accountant, said that black and coloured candidates do not have the same advantages afforded to white ones, this speaks to resources, academic support and the absence of student debt and black tax.

“From my own experience I know that African candidates are treated poorly by Caucasian colleagues in firms. Besides the obvious disadvantages of being non-white in the industry there are biases. When I was doing articles at a firm, white trainees always got good positions and coloured or black trainees were almost seen as a last resort.”

Kearns explained that although black people have better opportunities now, the fields have not yet been levelled, especially at prestigious firms and that despite accountancy being a scarce skill in South Africa, black accountants struggle to get good clientele without working under a well-established white firm.

Head of media at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) Michael Morris said that IRR research has shown repeatedly in recent years that South African education is in a crisis of chronic deficiency, which is punishing the majority who are striving to gain a step on the ladder that can lead them out of poverty.

Morris said that he does not believe that students have inherited fear of accountancy because it made them look difficult or fit for only certain races but in turn blames the South African schooling system.

“The biggest problems are in state schools serving the poorest, most of whom are black. White pupils are almost four times more likely than black pupils to pass maths in matric with a rate of 50% and above. In 2020, 74.5% of black pupils passed matric compared to 97.8% of white candidates, a difference the CRA report ascribes to ‘the poor quality of teaching and poor facilities, mainly in public schools’.”

Morris emphasised the importance of companies, economic sectors, and professions speaking out and agitating for education reform as failing to do so will lead to the decline of their skills base.

“Capability and potential have no skin colour. What does matter is the quality of candidates’ education, and their access to opportunities to demonstrate their talents and ambitions.”

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