CAS adds to rich portfolio
The Centre for Accounting Studies (CAS) on Friday last week launched an historic Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) programme aimed at equipping graduates with skills to compete in international job markets. The programme would see students graduate with a CIMA Business Accounting certificate and CIMA Diploma in Management Accounting, after starting the course at Operational Level. CIMA is a London-based professional body offering training and qualification in management accountancy and related subjects. CAS Registrar, Motlatsi Ntšala, speaks with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, about the institution’s latest development and related issues in this wide-ranging interview.
LT: CAS is opening yet another new chapter by launching this new programme today. Please could you tell us more about this development?
Ntšala: This is a new programme under CIMA, which is short for Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. In fact, it comes to CAS as an additional programme which is responsive to the needs of Basotho, especially with regard to finances. It is adding more to programmes in the financial sector in this country and also comes as part of our strategic plan. The programme was initially introduced last year but we met challenges. This year, we launch it formerly in that it has now been accredited by the Council on Higher Education (CHE) and allocated sponsorship by the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS). It is also recognised by the Lesotho Institute of Accountants (LIA). We have been given a quota of 100 students this academic year for sponsorship under NMDS scholarships and already admitted students so the intention is that by 11 July (2016), the programme takes off.
It is taking off at two levels, the first one being Certificate in Business Accounting and the next stage being Operational level. The first level is mainly students admitted through Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COSC) qualifications or the recently introduced Lesotho General Certificate of Secondary Education (LGCSE). Operational Level is mainly for the students we lost last year due to challenges of sponsorship and accreditation as I have indicated earlier. These students had enrolled with CIMA on their own, through distance-learning and attained certificates. For now, the programme is very famous in South Africa. We are happy they are not totally lost because we are now advancing to the next stage with them.
LT: What are the specific professional areas that this programme addresses?
Ntšala: The programme, like I said, is responsive and adding professional qualifications to this country. It is intended to give students skills in relation to business, leadership, procurement and Information Technology, generally. You will realise it is different from other accounting programmes. It also goes in line with the National Vision 2020. The intention is to provide education which empowers Basotho with skills to compete internationally.
We are using almost the same admission requirements that we have always used in our usual ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) programmes. We are looking at grades from A up to C in Mathematics and English subjects. Then we take any four subjects whose grades are C or better. Students take three-and-a-half years to complete the programme.
LT: What is the difference between the two qualifications you are launching today?
Ntšala: The first level is a CIMA certificate. Those who have the CIMA certificate qualify for the CIMA Operational stage. However, the challenge with equating professional programmes with academic programmes remains. Even very recently we had a workshop by CHE on the Lesotho qualification framework. The authority intends to align different programmes’ levels. For example, you might find that historically, institution A is offering a diploma qualification in one year, and within the same country, institution B is offering the same diploma in two or three years. That has been a problem. When the graduates are now being put on a scale for employment, there is no clear demarcation. So with the CIMA programme, we are trying to avoid that by simply referring to the qualifications as stages one and two. Chances are that it is going to be easy to equate academic programmes on their own but not with professional programmes. South Africa is very fortunate to have an institution like the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) which evaluates these qualifications. We don’t have that in Lesotho as yet.
LT: As the CAS management, what does it mean to you to have this new programme?
Ntšala: It means the institution is diversifying, adding more programmes which are responsive to the needs of this country and in particular to the line of the accounting profession. It means that now the institution is contributing towards the profession in as far as the private and public sectors are concerned. We are responding to the National Vision 2020. This was the rationale behind introducing this programme.
LT: When was this programme approved by CHE?
Ntšala: Last year, and then upon accreditation, we were able to submit a request for sponsorship to the NMDS. This was approved for this academic year, 2016/2017.
LT: Does the NMDS quota of 100 students cover both CIMA stages?
Ntšala: When we are given that quota by the NMDS, it is up to us to divide it into the two stages. We have already submitted 33 students for the first certificate level, and 18 students for the operational stage. That adds to a total of 51 students we have admitted for the first intake. The remaining 49 students will come in the next intake in January next year. As long as the quota is used within one academic year and the NMDS budget allocation period all is fine. This means we have two intakes in July and January, respectively.
LT: In terms of infrastructure, people always wonder if CAS has enough space to offer these programmes…
Ntšala: We definitely have a huge challenge of capacity in terms of infrastructure. Right now, you will find that even at ACCA level, we have quite a number of students that we cannot accommodate, although we are working towards addressing that challenge. When CAS was established in 1979 as an Irish project, the intention was to respond to the needs of government ministries. That is why it was initially housed as a department of the Ministry of Finance. So these buildings were meant for those few people at that time, who were even attending classes in the evening. However, we have looked into the space used here. We are in the process of designing new facilities like lecture theatres, offices, computer lab and a library. We have also secured a site in Maseru South West (Masowe) for the construction of additional facilities. We are now at masterplan stage for that site. The plan has been submitted to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport for guidance. I have also submitted a financial proposal to the Ministry of Finance for that project. It has been verbally approved as a good idea and is pending technical evaluation from the Ministry of Public Works.
LT: What is the relationship between CAS and the government? Is the institution autonomous?
Ntšala: Like I said, CAS was established as a department to respond to the needs of accounts sections, starting with the Ministry of Finance, but finally for all other ministries. However, since it is an institute of higher learning, it is a bit autonomous though it has not been granted autonomy by any Act (law) but it is run like any other institution of higher learning. It has its own council, which is responsible for overseeing the running of the organisation. It is receiving government subvention like other institutions. However, there has been a cabinet decision that all institutions of higher learning should belong to the Ministry of Education. We are left with the handover to the Ministry of Education.
LT: Other than CIMA, what are other programmes offered by CAS?
Ntšala: The core of CAS is ACCA. But other than that, we also have Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) programmes. This one also came as an Irish project intended to capacitate accounts personnel in the Ministry of Finance and finally, the rest of the government ministries. But that programme is over in terms of funding. It has now been taken by the government of Lesotho. Students now enroll with the government but are still taught by CAS on block-release. This means in a month, they go out for a week to our centers in Mohale’s Hoek, Mahobong and this one in Maseru, to serve people from the southern, northern and central parts of the country, respectively. But the central one is not operating on a block release but through evening classes. We opened another centre in Qacha’s Nek for convenience this year. All in all we have three programmes, ACCA, CIPFA and now CIMA.
LT: What is the total enrolment of students at CAS?
Ntšala: We are normally moving between 900 and 1003 per year. So the quota for ACCA alone is 360 every year. Equally, we divide it into two intakes.