FDs of the future

THE SECRET FD’s clever but as yet useless 19-year-old son and heir has recently begun his second term at university, to continue spending three years of unearned money on three years of unearned reading, rest and recreation.

Of the thousands of new undergraduates, some have embarked upon undoubtedly useful vocational courses, others upon deliciously mind-enhancing degrees that will enrich the rest of their and others’ lives. Many have little idea of what they are doing or why they are at university, accumulating debt, having arrived haplessly on a wave of youthful inertia. At the start of their second term, some are already expressing doubts.

For many, the UK university fee increases which come into effect in 2012 will cause shockwaves and a rethinking of the established norms. The next cohort of new undergraduates will see themselves, increasingly, as fee-paying clients and will demand value for money in terms of contact time, quality of teaching and employment prospects. Some universities are likely to be a disappointment to these clients, causing them to question why they are doing a degree at such a great cost. Some of them should examine the remunerated alternative of pursuing a professional qualification such as accountancy.

Indeed, the major UK accountancy bodies accept non-graduate intake to their qualification routes, and there appears to be an improving trend in the recruitment market whereby professional organisations are offering positions to non-graduates where training and studying for an accountancy qualification is encouraged. Many employers recognise this as a value-for-money proposition, and some are offering commercial apprenticeship schemes. I do this myself and the success stories have been compelling, including one individual who is now an affluent international CFO based in Dubai.

Having employed many accountants and FDs both with and without degrees, I have seen that the best people will shine thorough regardless. A significant number of excellent FDs are professionally qualified but do not have university degrees. Some FDs gained their degrees after qualifying rather than beforehand, and I know several qualified accountants without first degrees who have subsequently gained masters degrees. I think about some famous and successful qualified accountants who chose their accountancy qualification instead of university and I cannot help but to admire their careers; Sir Roy Gardner, Sir Nigel Rudd and Mark Clare to name just a few.

Finance directors could become more open-minded to employing non-graduate trainee accountants and we should lobby our colleagues in the profession to do the same. We should encourage staff to pursue accountancy qualifications and enable our non-graduate qualified accountants to follow post-qualification courses including university degrees. Above all, we should mentor some of the young people we know, and suggest they consider the wider variety of possible career steps directly from school, especially accountancy.

Do not get me wrong. I am an enthusiastic advocate of university education at all levels for all age groups and in most subject areas. Also, I am hugely impressed by the successes of the Children’s University whose chancellor is Michael Morpurgo of War Horse fame, and I certainly recognise the value of a good degree from a respected university. Indeed, the US university model continues to thrive despite the high costs to its students, and I hope the revised fee model in the UK will succeed.

I enjoyed my own university experience so much that I would readily change places with my son, and return as a mature student to enjoy studying any number of subjects. However, nostalgia aside, I have a business to run – but I can still dream. ?

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