Public sector accountancy education at South African universities

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James, Sitembele
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University of the Free State
This study has been undertaken against the perceived insufficiency of public sector accountancy education and research at universities, locally and internationally, while the need for public sector accountancy exists. The purpose of this study was to test the perception whether universities in South Africa are responding adequately to the accountancy-related educational needs of the public sector. This study aims to contribute towards the limited literature that exists on public sector accountancy education in South Africa. The study may contribute towards discussions at universities about the inadequacy of public sector accountancy education and research. The literature review in this study focused on public sector accountancy education internationally, covering first world (Australia, the USA, New Zealand) and third-world countries (Ghana and Nigeria). The literature also included discussions about the public sector financial management reforms in South Africa through the relevant enacted laws. In addition, further discussions about accounting education, distinguishing between private sector accountancy education and public sector accountancy education, the current state of public sector accountancy education and the related unique skills were provided. The literature review was followed by a detailed analysis and comparison of the technical competencies on the SAICA and SAIGA competency frameworks. As a result, similarities and differences were identified between the technical competencies in the two frameworks. Based on the results from the analysis and comparison of the two competency frameworks, an interview schedule was developed and used to guide the discussion with the key role-players in the private sector audit firms, public sector institutions, the AGSA and two universities in the Eastern Cape to gather their opinions about the research problem. The role-players included the Audit Partners, Senior Managers and HoDs at the institutions mentioned above. The results of the empirical study, which included the document analysis and the semi-structured interviews, were aligned. The key findings from the study indicate:• the SAICA competency framework is business orientated, while the SAIGA competency framework is public sector orientated; •the public sector environment is highly regulated, and therefore its financial management processes and financial reporting frameworks are governed by the Constitution, MFMA, PFMA, Treasury regulations and GRAP, Modified-Cash Standards and IPSAS; • the highly regulated public sector environment contributes to accountancy professionals such as CA(SA)s being less attracted to the public sector for fear of reputational damage and a loss of jobs because of non-compliance with the related laws and regulations; • the transition from the private sector to the public sector accountancy environment is difficult for accountancy graduates when assigned to public sector assignments, owing to their lack of understanding of the public sector environment. Additionally, the university accountancy programmes are more private sector aligned than public sector aligned; • the public sector accountancy is perceived as specialised owing to its uniqueness; • a call was made by the participants for an increased focus on development of public sector accountancy education, through SLPs, public sector accountancy courses within existing accountancy programmes and undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications by universities, focused on public sector accountancy; • the proposed inclusion of the public sector content by SAICA on its new CA2025 competency framework is viewed as insufficient to address the inadequacy of public sector accountancy education; and • public sector accountancy is not the same as public administration. This study makes the following recommendations as a means to address the above-mentioned findings: • universities should increase the level of awareness of the public sector environment in their accountancy programmes. Additionally, the SAICA-accredited programmes should do more than is required in terms of the inclusion of the public sector content per the new CA2025 competency framework; • courses focused on public sector accountancy should be designed and included in the existing accountancy programmes. These courses could be compulsory or elective; and • owing to the perception that public sector accountancy is a specialist area, universities should expand their programme qualification mix, to include public sector-focused accountancy programmes at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, for example a Bachelor of Accounting (public sector specialisation) and a Postgraduate Diploma in Public Sector Accountancy. These qualifications would increase the number of competent public sector accountants. Finally, a conclusion is provided for the study. This study activates the debate and discussion around the research question in South Africa when the SAICA competency framework was amended to consider the importance of the public sector.
Dissertation (M.Com. (Accounting))--University of the Free State, 2021, Accounting education, Competencies, Competency framework, Public sector, Public sector accountancy, SAICA, SAIGA, Universities