Over the last decade, professional development of auditors in Albania has undergone significant changes, bringing it closer to the international best practices in accountancy education outlined in the International Education Standards (IES). Aspiring auditors are required by law to have a formal professional education, obtain practical experience, pass examinations, and maintain continuous professional development.
Nonetheless, there was an acknowledged need to update the accountancy curriculum to ensure the appropriate competencies of professional accountants in Albania. The Institute of Statutory Auditors (IEKA) has championed reforms over the years because we know that reliable, credible and high-quality financial information is crucial for our country to achieve its strategic development goals: improving business climate, increasing access to finance, strengthening the financial sector, and promoting the private sector.
We discovered that properly aligning curricula, both at the university and professional level, with international best practices is a continual implementation journey. After three years, an upgraded curriculum aligned with the IES, and developed as part of the World Bank Corporate Financial Reporting Enhancement Project, was launched for statutory auditors in Albania.
Phase One: Introducing a New Education Model
In 2017, IEKA initiated a project to significantly improve its initial education program for auditors. The project would establish a completely new integrated education curriculum delivered both by higher education institutions (HEIs) and IEKA. To achieve our objectives, IEKA needed to:
- align the curricula with international benchmarks, especially in the advanced modules;
- assist HEIs to align their programs with the IEKA professional program at the basic and intermediate level; and
- develop a proper system for recognition or accreditation of local HEIs and other international programs.
By the end of 2017, education programming was substantially aligned with the IES and other international benchmarks, leading to a new auditors’ curriculum covering three separate levels: basic, intermediate, and professional. The first two levels are delivered by HEIs while the third level, the advanced or professional, will be delivered by IEKA. This results in an integrated and highly collaborative approach to professional education.
The new approach enables a far more holistic educational system by extending university education to professional settings. Within the new system, in addition to HEIs classes, candidates attend professional courses delivered by IEKA organized into five modules: corporate reporting, audit and assurance, performance management, taxation and law. In addition, a separate module on professional and business ethics covering the fundamental concepts and requirements of the International Code of Ethics for Professional Accountants, including International Independence Standards, is offered.
IEKA will leverage existing international textbooks for these modules and translate them into Albanian in addition to developing two more modules geared toward local laws and tax regulations. This strengthens IEKA’s relevancy and value-add to accountancy education and is recognized as crucial by key stakeholders in the jurisdiction.
Implementation of the new education model started in late 2019 and we are determined to continue implementation even in the current COVID-19 situation. We have switched to online teaching and learning, which is a beneficial experience that will be useful once the pandemic is over. Moreover, it is a practical example of the information technology components that are included within each of the professional modules. As we are witnessing now, this area of the modules will need continuous attention and frequent updates as the operating environment changes rapidly.
Phase Two: An Accreditation Model
Considering the role of HEIs, and other professional bodies, we have now turned to the next step: developing a system of recognition / accreditation of the programs delivered by HEIs. However, this is not an easy task as the accreditation model needs to emphasize principles rather than rules in order to assess the learning outcomes of candidates, which is the most important output of the accountancy academic programs and will best demonstrate the academic quality as opposed to previous input measures. Moreover, properly developing the assessment and accreditation model will also support the mutual recognition of the Albanian audit profession in the region and beyond as learning outcomes from HEI programs that meet international best practices are evidenced. Such a system cannot be developed without close cooperation with HEIs.
IEKA plans to further build its capacity and its ability to serve members and stakeholders. If we expand our mindsets, there are great possibilities for applying this integrated approach in educating other professional accountants, such as public sector accountants and tax advisors. Recently, IEKA held consultations with the Ministry of Finance and National Accounting Council regarding the possibility of offering training modules for public sector accountants as well as integrated financial reporting.
The time to think out of the box has come. The future demands a dynamic role for professionals. IEKA is embracing these opportunities.