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student insights

What’s it like to… be an independent student

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 01 Aug 2023

Yajna Christna ACA accountant independent student ICAEW

Yajna Christna began studying independently before securing an ACA training agreement with her employer. She looks back over her journey so far – and ahead to qualification.

Yajna Christna knew from a young age that she wanted to work in accounting and finance – and that the ACA would take her where she wanted to go. “I first heard about the qualification at an educational roadshow at school, and I knew it was the pathway that would get me the career I wanted,” she explains. “The idea of studying and earning some money at the same time was really exciting.” The breadth of the ACA appealed to her, as did its reputation in Mauritius: “It’s a qualification that’s recognised worldwide. We have many people here who are doing it, and there are big opportunities in the workplace.”

After finishing school, Yajna started an internship at Mauritius Commercial Bank (MCB), the country’s leading banking institution. “The company was already an authorised training employer, so I thought it would be a great opportunity for me,” she says. With the possibility of securing a training agreement in a different part of the business in the future, she looked around for ACA courses and started her studies as an independent student.

Working her way through the Certificate Level exams, she admits there were challenges to studying independently. “As an independent student, you have to figure everything out on your own – finding and booking your tuition courses, as well as paying for them yourself,” she explains. “It was difficult, because I didn’t have the same opportunities or allowances as students in training agreements. Rather than being given study leave, I had to take my own time off, and then try to manage my work, overtime and studying at my own pace.”

Having a head start on the qualification was a definite advantage when it came to finding an ACA training position, however. Partway through her Professional Level studies, Yajna applied for and secured a training agreement within her firm’s investment cluster, MCB Capital Markets. “It was quite a lengthy process, going through the firm’s internal procedures, meeting the Qualified Person Responsible for Training and keeping ICAEW’s local business development manager and ATE training manager involved throughout.” It was all worth it, though. “Once you enter the training agreement, it all goes smoothly, because you have the support from your employer,” she says. “My employer knows what I’m doing, so they have more trust in me and in my work – and of course they have already been through the same qualification themselves.”

Learning curve

While students can sit exams independently, they can’t fulfil some of the other requirements of the ACA, such as practical work experience and professional development, until they are in training agreements. However, having already worked at an authorised training employer, Yajna was able to apply for credit for prior work experience, and gained the full allowance of 12 months. Now about to embark on her Advanced Level exams, she has already accrued the required 450 days, as well as completing the Ethics Learning Programme.

While Yajna has found studying easier in a training agreement, it has still been challenging. “As far as I’m aware, I’m currently the only employee studying for the ACA qualification in my firm at the moment, so it’s been a learning curve for myself and my employer,” she says. “Though I do get some study leave now, I still have to take some of my own annual leave, and try to manage the balance between work, study and life. As you progress through the qualification, obviously the exams get more difficult, and at the same time you’re becoming more senior in your role and being given more challenging work.”

At such times, Yajna has found the support of fellow students invaluable. In 2020, she was part of a team that set up the country’s first ACA student society, the Mauritius Student Community. “I wanted to get involved because during Covid, we were all stuck at home and didn’t have much contact with other ACA students. All our tuition was online, and we felt out of touch with one another,” she explains. “As a community, we connected our students through social media, and we now have more than 100 members in Mauritius across Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. We started hosting virtual events such as webinars and quiz nights and, after the lockdown period, we’ve been able to do more in-person events. One of the most memorable was a nature reserve clean-up and tree-planting campaign that we organised last year, which supports the ICAEW commitment to the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.

“It’s so good to be able to meet other students, share our stories and get help and advice when we need it. Especially for me, being the only student at my workplace, it’s really useful to find out how things are done at other firms. I can talk to other ACA students about their training agreements and how they do their six-monthly reviews, and then implement it in my firm.”

After moving around gaining experience in various departments within the MCB Group, Yajna is now in the Fund Accounting Team within the investment management division, where she can specialise in the accounting of investment funds. There are now just the three Advanced Level exams standing between her and ACA qualification. “I’m planning to take the exams this year, so hopefully next year I’ll be qualified and move into membership with ICAEW,” she says.

It’s been a long journey to reach this point, but Yajna is looking forward to completing the ACA – and seeing career doors open for her. “You have to put a lot of effort in and work hard, but it’s worth it in the end. When you see other people who have already qualified and the prestigious roles they hold, it’s really motivating – you can see where you could be in the future.”

Learn more about securing a training agreement as an independent student.

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