CIMA one year on

PQ magazine editor Graham Hambly sat down for a chat with CIMA’s top dog, Andrew Harding, FCMA, CGMA.

It is just over a year since CIMA had the big ‘ reveal’ for its new syllabus at the Future of Finance Festival in London.

At the time CIMA’s top man, Andrew Harding, said that the new syllabus was “not only future-proofing the qualification, it was future-proofing the profession”.

Sitting down with Harding recently, he told us that students had handled the transition extremely well. The blueprints have really helped, as has the transition tool (which was up for a PQ magazine award) and the study planner.

It all meant there were lots of PQs taking the new exams in November and December last year. This February the new case studies came online.

Harding stressed that CIMA had learnt some lessons from the past ‘mistakes’ when it comes to introducing a new syllabus: “We didn’t leave any learnt lessons on the shelf but talked to students and tuition providers constantly.”

That openness and transparency was the big cultural shift. Previous syllabus changes had, he admitted, taken place behind sealed doors and there was perhaps too much secrecy around how we went about changing test items. This time around discussing with employers, tuition providers and students have been key.

Exam chief Steve Flatman was also at the meeting, and he told us that students are performing really well in the new OT tests.

He revealed that CIMA was now on track to release exam scores in March, well ahead of the promised July date.

Students are currently being given just a pass or fail notification. Interestingly, we discovered that marginal fails are also given hyperlinks to study guidance, as the stats show if they take another test within two weeks they are highly likely to pass. All CIMA students take note here!

Never-ending cycle

Harding said that because of digital acceleration there was an ew sense of urgency around the changes being made to the syllabus last year. It is happening everywhere, and even universities are struggling to keep degrees relevant because of the seismic transformations in business.

So, the syllabus review and launch all took a year shorter than normal. We are talking two years rather than the standard three. The cycle is never-ending too, and the education team are now looking at 2023, trying to second-guess what the market might look like.

That doesn’t mean that the current syllabuses just stand still, and Harding said it would be the workplace that will drive any amendments. “Our syllabus has to be all about employability,” he stressed.

When we asked where ‘green accounting’ came in the syllabus, he said CIMA has it there under the integrated reporting banner, but wanted to stress that the value of natural capital was something CIMA PQs understood.

Student numbers up

Harding revealed that CIMA PQ numbers in the UK grew by 25% in 2019, the best result since 2014. However, he said signing people up tot the CIMA professional qualification shouldn’t just be a numbers game. “We are looking at doing things different, recruiting students that are likely to pass. We never want to be accused of mis-selling the great opportunity becoming a CIMA qualified accountant brings,” he said.

We also asked Harding about the whole exam process. Does CIMA need to make students sit exams if they have been tested during their learning? With online learning tools becoming much more interactive, with more simulations, why are CIMA then re-testing something that has been tested already? He said he wasn’t totally against the idea, although members might have a different perspective.

The relationship with ‘the AICPA’ also seems to be going well.

The Association, the combined power of the AICPA and CIMA, plans some big investments in the third quarter of 2020, so watch this space for more on this.

We are talking about a better interactive experience here – it’s that lifelong learning stuff Harding often talks about. We are, as he says, “all perpetual students now”.