Roland Kaye: A perfect balance of business sense and rewarding career options

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The Independent Online

Sri Lanka is a very rich source of students for the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA). Access to Higher Education in Sri Lankan universities is limited and so many students seek other ways to advance their careers. CIMA offers a rapid way for students not only to compete with the university graduates, but gain an advantage by having a qualification valued by businesses across the globe.

The relevance of this scenario to the UK may not be immediately apparent, but consider the introduction of fees in UK universities. Places are available at a price which has to be met by repayments of loans on graduation. Estimates of the size of the debt suggest that it takes many years before graduates can pay off these loans. Evidence already exists of students electing to earn and learn, whether by formally taking part-time studies near their home or workplace or of students having to take part-time work (estimates are put at 21-60 hours a week) in order to fund their costs of living while studying supposedly full-time.

The evidence from a recent independent study shows that middle managers in the UK can typically expect an extra £2,500 a year if they are CIMA qualified and that senior managers who are members or passed finalists of CIMA earn as much as £3,000 more than their non-CIMA colleagues (Cromer Reward Finance Rewards Survey 2004). The major advantage of CIMA now comes to the fore as many employers welcome trainee CIMA students, not only employing them but also supporting them while they study. The student thus earns and learns without the uncertainty of debt repayment or shortage of funds while a student. Do they miss out on the student life? Many would suggest not as they can afford to indulge their interests.

Earning and learning is proving increasingly popular, particularly for the professional areas which pay a premium for graduates. However, the need to succeed is important and demand for quality tuition is rising. Students are avid users of technology and are keen to use education and training which is accessible when they want. Their ability to take every Tuesday night to attend evening class is not only restricted by demands of the modern workplace but also, as customers, they demand flexibility. Modern blended learning mixes not only the technology of delivery but also the forums of interaction.

Traditionally we could characterise education as being either face-to-face or distance learning. Today both types of institution are utilising elements of the other. Face-to-face is used to stimulate and tutor the students rather than lecture, and video and multimedia can be used to broadcast these elements. Face-to-face provides opportunity for dialogue and feedback for counselling and providing personalised support. But even this need not be limited to once a week as e-mail and telephone allow "on-demand" advice at a price.

Students are feeling more confident in their studies and, as paying customers, are demanding a wider range of support services. Not only will they draw on a study system to take them through the course but they probably will draw on more than one testing and feedback system to help them progress. The use of residential revision classes helps them prepare for the examination, checking on styles of questions and expectations of examiners.

Earn and learn students succeed in CIMA as it demands both practical and theoretical knowledge. CIMA represents a serious alternative to undergraduate study and student debt. Employers value CIMA and, as the premier business qualification, it is a fast track to the top.

At the top, CIMA is taking the lead with employers with a concept called Enterprise Governance. While there has rightly been much in the press recently about the need for strong corporate governance, corporate governance on its own cannot create wealth or guarantee corporate success. Companies mustn't lose sight of the need to create long-term value against this background of increasing conformance. CIMA has therefore been working with companies to try to balance conformance with performance and this is at the heart of enterprise governance. Increasingly, the skills that chartered management accountants have are being deployed to balance this conundrum.

So while management accounting makes good business sense to an employer trying to create value, for those personally seeking a rewarding career, the numbers also stack up in its favour.

Roland Kaye is President of CIMA