The African Women Chartered Accountants (AWCA) Forum celebrates 21 years in 2023, a significant milestone for an organisation that continues to support women within the Chartered Accountancy profession.
AWCA has played a significant role in propelling the growth in the number of successful African (Black, Indian, and Coloured) female CAs(SA) from 407 in 2002 to 9650 as at June 2023. To date, 135 students have been supported through the AWCA Bursary Fund. Through its partnership with Milpark Education, AWCA expects to grow this number over the next few years.
One of the key barriers to growth amongst aspiring African female Chartered Accountants is access to funding. In 2021, NSFAS confirmed that it was experiencing a funding crisis. This was due to the Covid-19 pandemic disrupting the 2020 academic year. Higher education institutions were forced to extend the academic year, which in turn required NSFAS to cater to additional costs such as student accommodation and other expenses.
Two years later, the funding woes still have not subsided — the demand for financial aid exceeds the available resources. Furthermore, inadequate infrastructure, limited resources and socio-economic factors continue to hinder African females from completing their studies.
In light of the above-mentioned challenges, AWCA has partnered with Milpark Education, an online private higher education institution that offers the full online path to becoming a CA (from undergrad (BCom) in Accounting to the SAICA accredited PGDA. Milpark Education has awarded bursaries to the total value of R400 000 to five AWCA members. As it is a partnership, the weight is carried by both parties and AWCA will provide a stipend to the bursary recipients to cover other expenses including textbooks, connectivity, and accommodation.
To pursue a career as a Chartered Accountant, one needs to complete a BCom undergraduate and postgraduate degree from a SAICA (South African Institute of Chartered Accountants) accredited institution. After which, a CTA (Certificate in the Theory of Accounting) or equivalent thereof needs to be completed. Thereafter, one enters a three-year training programme with an accredited firm for practical training in various competencies. This process is commonly known as “articles”. Lastly, one must write and pass the two SAICA qualifying exams, ITC (Initial Test of Competency) and APC (Assessment of Professional Competence).
The industry has evolved, creating more diverse and exciting opportunities for African women wanting to enter the Chartered Accountancy profession. Though rigorous, the Chartered Accountancy journey bears and multiplies fruit for the women who choose to pursue this path. According to AWCA President Buhle Hanise, the profession has evolved into a space where many more opportunities are available for CAs(SA). “CAs(SA) can now enter the world of private equity, private banking, investment, entrepreneurship as well as other industries where this exceptional skill set is required.” Hanise believes that Chartered Accountants want more out of their careers because they are strategic thinkers, and have a unique skill set that can be used in various industries.
Much as the profession has evolved, the education landscape has unfortunately not progressed in line with the developments of the profession and socio-economic landscape. There has been a rise in online and distance learning, which refers to the use of digital platforms and technologies to deliver educational programmes and courses remotely. This trend has been accelerated by advancements in technology, increased internet accessibility, and the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced many educational institutions to shift to online learning. This shift highlighted the importance of digital infrastructure, technology, and digital literacy in education.
“The partnership with Milpark Education will contribute to the transformation of the profession and significantly advance the number of African female CAs(SA). Becoming a CA is an enormous undertaking, one that takes time, grit, tenacity, and dedication. The lecturers and support staff at Milpark Education understand this and have created a solid foundation that can provide more women with educational and career growth opportunities,” says Hanise.
The Milpark Education programmes are all fully online, accommodating working students — many of whom are single mothers — and provide the support that they need to complete their degree. As an online education provider, Milpark Education ensures that wherever a student resides they have access to world-class accredited degrees. They are currently the largest producer in the country of students writing qualifying exams.
Milpark Education spokesperson and Head of the School of Professional Accounting Gareth Olivier, says: “We provide support to our students because we want them to be successful. Our programme realistically fits in with the busy lives of our students. Becoming a CA is monstrous and cannot be underestimated. The school is run by CAs(SA), and the lecturers too are CAs(SA), so they understand the demands. Our goal is to change the education landscape in South Africa, and in so doing produce students who are both employable and entrepreneurial. Our online offering makes the dream of becoming a CA(SA) more attainable.”