Reviving Accountancy Education in Liberia
Nim’ne Elliott Mombo Sr. | October 9, 2018
After the end of a devastating 14-year civil war in 2003, the Liberian Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ membership dropped from a pre-war 500+ to less than 20 members living in Liberia as many remained scattered overseas after fleeing the war. Like much of the country, the LICPA sought to reconstruct and revitalize itself and its membership. To restart organizational functions—crucial to ensuring transparent, accountable recovery efforts and serving the public interest—the LICPA faced considerable challenges to revive its membership and build a cadre of trained, competent professionals.
Without a strong academic foundation in accountancy and related subjects, increasing the number of qualified accountants in Liberia was constantly stymied. Strengthening or re-building both academic and professional accountancy education was, therefore, fundamental to building a supply of qualified accountants for both the private and public sectors. Instead of immediately pursuing its own full-fledged CPA qualification, which is often an extremely resource-intensive initiative, LICPA joined with the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Ghana (ICAG) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) to promote the implementation of a region-wide Accounting Technician credentialing exam known as the Accounting Technicians Scheme, West Africa. In addition, LICPA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with ICAG so that aspiring professionals could take ICAG’s professional exams through LICPA and, once successful in completing the examination, be admitted to both ICAG and LICPA.
These initiatives allowed the institute to immediately begin rebuilding efforts and develop a foundation. However, there remained significant gaps rooted historically deep in Liberia’s founding as a country that needed to be overcome. Generally speaking, Liberia’s law and education practices are more aligned with the US’s while those of neighboring countries are modeled after those in the UK. In the US, career specialization begins at the university whereas in the UK, students can begin to specialize in high school. Therefore, Liberian students would only be able to take their first accountancy exams after their university graduation—and it could then take up to a minimum of 18 months or significantly longer to complete the Accounting Technician examinations followed a minimum of another 12 months to successfully pass the full CPA examination. Naturally, this limited aspiring professionals’ mobility, competitiveness, and ability to seek out jobs in the marketplace upon graduation.
Enter the Syllabi Integration Program (SIP), intended and designed to bridge this gap and put LICPA candidates in line with their counterparts elsewhere within the sub‑region.
The concept is fairly simple and straightforward: integrate the Accounting Technicians Scheme’s syllabus into the accounting curricula of Liberian colleges and universities for the first two years of a standard four‑year accounting program. This would allow successful students at a participating school to qualify as a Certified Accounting Technician (CAT) after their sophomore year and also earn an Associate of Arts (AA) degree in Accounting. We took this one step further by also integrating the professional exam’s syllabus into the curriculum for the next two years of study so that a successful student additionally qualifies as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) by the time s/he completes academic requirements for a first degree (BA, BBA, BSc, etc.) in accounting. The expectation is that successful students will either qualify as CPAs by the time they complete requirements for academic graduation and join LICPA’s membership or be close to doing so.
To date, three universities participate in the SIP, however further progress has been limited due to a lack of technical and financial resources and the tragic Ebola crisis in 2014-2015. Implementation of professional examinations requires qualified and knowledgeable teachers and exam markers. As a country, Liberia had no experience with administering accountancy examinations until 2008 with the first Accounting Technicians Scheme exam. Therefore, there is a limited number of professional accountants on school faculties familiar with the subject material. Those that are qualified are generally expatriates who must be hired and travel to Liberia. This makes the cost of hiring instructors substantially high. Prior to the Ebola outbreak, in 2013 LICPA received funding from the US Agency for International Development to hire foreign instructors to teach in the three SIP universities (in addition to classes offered by LICPA for “walk-in” students, graduates, and undergraduates alike). As a result of these efforts, the LICPA produced a seminal, “home-grown” class of accountants who are now CATs. Others are also CPAs (Liberia) and also Chartered Accountants (Ghana).
However, with the Ebola outbreak, funding for the SIP was paused and has yet to resume although LICPA is actively seeking and advocating for financial and technical support. Through the efforts of the original graduating class, the SIP continues onward as these former students stepped in to fill the instruction gap as much as possible and teach in their spare time.
In order to safeguard the quality of the profession, LICPA has stipulated that students must take two exams in each subject—one that is administered by the school and then an external exam administered by the LICPA. Eventually we hope that the number of qualified and competent professional accountants grows so that all SIP-participating schools have faculty and accountancy programming that meet the requirements of the International Education Standards and the dual examinations can be eliminated.
Despite these obstacles, LICPA remains committed to the SIP and increasing the number of highly-quality professional accountants in Liberia to meet market demand while lowering barriers to entry to the profession.
For example, prior to 2011, to qualify as a professional accountant, aspirants had to travel abroad or dedicate to self-study with limited resources at home. Or consider that, initially all of the Accounting Technicians Scheme examinations were sent to ICAG for marking. But now, all papers are marked locally by LICPA professionals—many of them graduates of the SIP. This lowers the Accounting Technicians Scheme’s administrative costs and consequently, admission fees. Already, LICPA has seen the number of Accounting Technician and CPA registrants and graduates increase substantially. The LICPA has also provisionally open its training programs to walk‑in undergraduates at substantially reduced cost in response to
The LICPA is actively engaging with the Government of Liberia, development partners, and other private sector actors to continue moving the SIP forward, and welcomes any organization or entity interested in partnering in this endeavor. Pursuing this initiative positions the LICPA to eventually create its own professional qualification, improves the overall professional membership of LICPA, and ultimately will serve Liberian citizens and businesses the most.