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Customising our Qualification Programme
The Society's QP is the result of years of planning, consultation and corroboration. It has always been considered a project of vital importance and a Steering Committee was set up in 1993 to ensure our students make a sensible and relatively painless transition from the Joint Examination Scheme (JES) to the Society's QP.

As the Society's Vice-President in 1993, I chaired the Steering Committee which was tasked to create a qualification programme that would be in line with the Society's future objectives, as well as establishing a timeframe for implementing it - and all starting from a blank piece of paper. We owed much to the foresight and pragmatism of the many accountants who worked with us on this project, daring to venture into the unknown and helping us turn our vision into reality.

That was eight years ago. But is the finished product, the QP, delivering on its promises and does it meet the needs of Hong Kong's business environment today?

As we all know, China is about to join the WTO. This has already had a profound impact on nearly all Hong Kong companies. Our focus is no longer on how to sell to overseas markets, we also need to be aware of the impact of the PRC's economy on Hong Kong's continued prosperity.

In complying with the spirit of the WTO, there is no doubt now that the Society must break its previously 'exclusive' link with the ACCA. Hong Kong needs its own independent professional qualification for the accountancy profession. The split from the ACCA is the only way to regain our autonomy in regard to future mutual recognition agreements with other leading international accountancy bodies, as well as with the Chinese Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

A second feature of our current environment is that the Hong Kong Government has opened the way for businesses to import expert labour with special financial expertise. This identifies real business demands which had to be considered when formulating the QP - if the QP does not meet these demands, our accounting graduates will have to fight hard for jobs within a competitive market.

Our businesses now demand good linguistic and leadership skills from employees, and the ability to apply their knowledge to work. Unfortunately, complaints relating to the lack of such skills are frequently heard within the business community.

Technology too is something we need to consider. Does the QP ensure that graduates are aware of the importance of IT and are they able to achieve the high productivity that IT allows?

Finally, and although not entirely representative of Hong Kong's business environment, the Society's decision to rebrand itself is something that must be considered when assessing the effectiveness of the QP. The rebranding exercise aims to raise the profile of Hong Kong's accountancy profession and as such, a quality QP and graduates of a higher calibre are seen to be one of the main foundations.

These influences may not have been foreseen by many other professions in the mid 1990s, but I am proud to say that this is the exact environment we envisaged our QP graduates would have to face.

When formulating the QP, we also took into account that we would need to open our arms to more non-accounting degree holders. The conversion programmes in place have made it possible to accept many able and talented young people who have been attracted by the accountancy profession. We would not have been able to benefit from their services if we had not implemented this change.

In line with this, a number of other tertiary institutions are interested in offering self-financing postgraduate degree courses, which will further help raise the academic standards of the profession in the long run.

One environmental influence we could not have been aware of way back in 1993 was the drastic economic downturn that has occurred during the past few years. This has forced us to look at the costs involved in the QP, and much more so than would have been necessary if economic times were good.

I know the Society is still looking into the financial aspect and is trying hard to remain flexible and pragmatic, but without sacrificing quality. As such, I hope members will support our 'flexible' approach, which will help us ride through this short-term downward cycle.

The impact of the recession and the looming split with the ACCA has pushed the QP into the most critical stage of its life cycle - our marketing efforts need to be more aggressive.

It is now or never as we launch the QP as the Society's sole qualification programme. I know that as accountants we are mostly modest and not used to blowing our own trumpets, but at this stage of the game, we must work against our natural instincts and employ good public relations professionals to help us win this battle.

In our current environment, where graduates, employers and accountants are all overloaded with information, there is little time to digest anything new. It is difficult enough to gain support for our QP, let alone ask people to recognise its attributes. But unless we try hard to do so, our qualification programme will not get the real chance it deserves.

Eric Li is the LegCo Accountancy Functional Constituency Representative. His website can be found at http://www.ericli.org.

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