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A Worthy Qualification

During the opening of the 1999 Law Year, the Chief Justice expressed concern on the quality of the large number of intake of young lawyers. He suggested that the entry requirements for professional qualification courses be raised and the courses be lengthened and improved to better prepare students to enter the legal profession.

More recently, medical profession was also reported to be concerned with the growing numbers of young doctors entering the profession and the lack of job opportunities now available to them.

On 24 November 1998, I led an HKSA delegation in front of the Legislative Council to present the accountancy profession's case for changing the Accountants (Amendment) Bylaw 1998. Our presentation was very successful. Gaining the Council's unanimous support.

This was followed by the successful launch on 1 January 1999 of the HKSA Qualification Programme and its independent accreditation system. The new programme will ensure that professional accountants have the required competencies to meet future challenges and as well as enabling the HKSA to assume full responsibility for its professional qualification being on a par with leading worldwide accountancy bodies. As a profession in Hong Kong, we have taken the lead to forged ahead boldly with this inevitable change.

And, indeed, we have to change because Hong Kong and the world around us is changing. In the past few years, the number of HKSA-registered students has swelled to 26,000 with a growing number of universities offering accountancy courses. At the same time, the financial markets in Hong Kong have grown in complexity and many accountants have complained that the outdated mode of self-study and written examinations does not prepare young accountants for the challenges ahead of them.

While the consultation paper on the new professional qualification was aired for public comment, numerous accountants expressed their views, with tow issues coming across loud and clear. Firstly, that the qualification needs to meet the demands of the local market, and secondly, that the new HKSA qualification deserves to be recognised overseas. Until now, our hands have been completely tied when it has come to negotiating international reciprocal membership recognition as the HKSA examinations have been organised under contractual arrangement with the ACCA. We are now, however, free to negotiate with leading professional bodies based on the merits of our qualification programme.

The value of the new programme is obvious. Not only will it enhance the status of Hong Kong accountants both locally and overseas, the modern method of teaching used will also improve the overall competence of Hong Kong's accounting profession, reinforcing the competitive position of the HKSAR as a leading international financial centre. Accountants may also find that their new professional qualifications give them improved bargaining power when looking for a new career overseas.

However, it is perhaps an over-simplification to assume that more stringent entry requirement and an improved examination system would automatically gain Hong Kong better international recognition. We have therefore ensured that the system is well planned in that:

We have maintained a high degree of transparency by setting out clear and objective criteria in every aspect of the professional examinations. Overseas professional bodies were fully consulted at all key stages of the proposed change. These efforts have earned us some encouraging remarks and helped us to avoid negative comments;

We have engaged a number of well known overseas consultants to work with us to ensure that the design of the new Qualification Programme is in keeping with the most up-to-date training philosophies on education & training and in accordance with the IFAC's Education Guideline on assessment of professional competence.
We have also ensured that the key benchmarks of our Programme are easily comparable to those of other leading professional qualification.

We have amended the Professional Accountant Ordinance in 1995 to ensure that we retain full discretion in our recognition of overseas accounting professionals.

We set up an Accountancy Accreditation Board which has began to review literature and to document the requirements of overseas professional qualifications i.e. the 14 accounting bodies recognised by the current regime.

As such, the profession is positioned to take its place alongside other leading professional bodies through reciprocal membership recognition. The HKSA has done its part and I find it a very gratifying to be involved with the whole process of conceptualising, designing and seeing through the various stages of its implementation. I am particularly proud that the various Legislative amendments had sailed smoothly through the highly politicised Legislative Council, gaining support from all political factions. It is now up to you to give it your staunch backing.

As we progress, please remember that overseas professional bodies will be watching us. They will be looking to see whether or not the new HKSA Qualification Programme has the support of its own members. Hong Kong is a free economy and the HKSA examinations will still have to compete in terms of quality, status and price, with many other modes of study and overseas examinations qualifications.

However, quality accountants specially groomed to face tough challenges in Hong Kong cannot possibly be manufactured hastily through an 'assembly line' and a few sitdown examinations. If quality and status at a competitive price is indeed what we all want, please stand by your own profession and strongly support your trainees to choose the HKSA Qualification Programme.

Eric Li
Accountancy Functional Constituency Representative, LegCo
Web site: http://www.ericli.org

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