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Academia & Education Community

Leading the way in lifelong learning

Author: Dr Susan Smith, Associate Dean (Education and Students), University of Sussex Business School

Published: 06 Jan 2021

The profound disruption experienced by the global pandemic and the relentless pace of technological change has led to a renewed focus on lifelong learning by governments, professions and the higher education sector alike.

‘the concept of lifelong learning emphasizes that learning is lifelong and life-wide, from birth to death (any time) and exists in and out of the education system (anywhere). Learning is undertaken by people of all ages (anyone), takes place through a range of modalities, including face to face, at distance and, increasingly, online, and concerns all domains of knowledge (anything)’ (UNESCO, 2020)

Lifelong learning puts the learner at the centre as they build their own learning journey related to their own career trajectory and areas of interest (UNESCO, 2020).

The global accountancy profession has long embedded continuing professional development throughout its membership following IFAC’s publication of International Education Standard 7 in 2004. ICAEW Chartered Accountants reflect annually on their training needs, act on any training requirements, evaluate the impact of their training and other learning experiences and declare that they are compliant on an annual basis. As the approach is an output based approach there is no quantification of how much CPD must be undertaken. This is in contrast to some other professional accountancy bodies who use a credit based system with members collecting points for each activity towards an annual total. 

The current landscape for formal accountancy learning provision is diverse and includes the higher education sector, private training providers, the ICAEW and firms who have the capacity to train in-house. It is likely we will see continued blurring of the boundaries as innovative new structures and partnerships are developed. These are likely to broaden the routes to entry to the profession but also offer increased flexibility to address skills gaps through self-paced study. Reputation and trust are likely to feature highly in learners’ decision making processes as learning is less reliant on location.

The accountancy profession learning landscape already includes the following:

  • Micro credentials – strategic partnerships with professional bodies are likely to be used as a means of identifying quality in a crowded training market e.g. ICAEW Data Analytics Certificate with Kaplan.
  • Stackable credentials – these credentials build into more formal qualifications e.g. professional Business and Finance Professional (BFP) is a standalone qualification or a step on the way to the ACA. In other instances, the professional qualification could be used as the basis for recognition for prior learning by higher education providers or other professional bodies.
  • Recognition of prior learning – the ICAEW recognises prior learning towards the ACA following a mapping of syllabus coverage with Partners in Learning.
  • Open online training – e-learning in critical areas for skills development is provided to all members e.g. Finance in a Digital World. Other examples of free learning include MOOCs and LinkedIn learning. Some MOOCs enable recognition of credits from higher education providers to be used against specific degree courses.
  • In person training – professional bodies, private providers and the higher education sector all offer in person training courses e.g. ICAEW Essentials CPD.
  • Tailored qualifications – partnerships with large employers and higher education providers enable tailoring of the syllabus to the requirements e.g. Hult/EY virtual MBA, PWC Flying Start programmes. 

In the higher education sector, England’s Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) is currently consulting on revisions to its credit framework to facilitate a more flexible and innovative use of credit bearing activities by Higher Education providers (QAA, 2020). The consistency that this framework is likely to bring to the higher education sector is likely to enable it to benefit more broadly from innovation. However, it is also likely to face intense competition from the private sector training providers and emerging forms of credentialing e.g. Google Career Certificates hosted via Coursera and which take around 6 months to complete.

This is an exciting time to work with learners at all stages in their careers and is likely to offer many new and innovative opportunities for more formal aspects of learning, while recognising that we are all continually learning every day.

*The views expressed are the author’s and not ICAEW’s.