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Developing and enhancing the syllabus

Feb 11, 2019
As the evolution of the Institute’s syllabus continues, the FAE syllabus will soon undergo a range of significant enhancements.
The December 2018 issue of Accountancy Ireland outlined the marking developments at FAE level. In this issue, we will continue that discussion with an overview of the evolutionary plans for the FAE and assessments in particular. In rolling out the new ACA syllabus at all levels (including two new FAE electives) in 2018/9, we are mindful that the syllabus will need continuous enhancement and development. The periodical review of syllabus content is no longer appropriate. The only constant for accountants today is the constancy of change and indeed, the increasing pace of change.

Future skills and syllabus trends

The key areas requiring further enhancement at FAE level encompass the skillsets of accountants and the impact of technology on the work of accountants. In framing our thinking, we are mindful that the profession globally is facing a tsunami of change. Our thinking is being informed by:

  • Current work being undertaken by the Global Accounting Alliance Directors of Education, which seeks to redefine the future skills and areas of competence for accountants;
  • Enhancements to IFAC Education Standards, which reflect ICT developments and the need for enhanced skills in areas such as professional scepticism and soft skills;
  • The changing nature of trainee and firm work profiles and how this is likely to continue to evolve over the coming years. We continue to consult with firms on anticipated changes and will reflect this in the syllabus. Our three practice-focused electives (audit, tax and advisory) seek to better align with how practice is evolving, while exam cases seek to ensure that we better reflect the operational realities of today’s trainees;
  • Rapid change in a wide range of technologies, which require syllabus updates to cover such items as data analytics, artificial intelligence and emerging technologies (including blockchain and cryptocurrencies). We expect these topics to feature in the evolving FAE Core case exam, for example;
  • The challenge of sustainability (including the opportunities presented by millennial development goals and integrated reporting) and how these and related topics are creating opportunities for firms and members; and
  • Risk topics also require enhancement to reflect best practice in areas such as internal audit.
Naturally, we cannot simply add additional topics to the syllabus without seeking opportunities to de-emphasise some technical topics that have already been assessed at CAP2 level and will continue to be assessed in elective modules.

Assessment trends

Internationally, professional bodies are moving away from paper-based assessment in favour of digital platforms. Such a change will allow us to take advantage of significant technological enhancements while maintaining the examination’s integrity. The work of today’s student is completed virtually exclusively on computers and digital assessment therefore better reflects the skills and day-to-day experience of trainees. Technology also offers the potential for increased flexibility and innovative assessment methodologies.

In framing our thinking in this area, we consulted with leading technological providers, other professional bodies and regulators to learn from their experiences and challenges.


We are entering a very exciting time for the Institute’s education and examinations operations. The new topics and processes available will allow us to ensure that the future Chartered Accountant is fully equipped to take advantage of the significant change underway. We will approach this opportunity and change with a view to minimising risk as far as possible.

We anticipate a future update to reflect our evolving thinking.

Ronan O'Loughlin is Director of Education at Chartered Accountants Ireland. Ian Browne is Head of Assessment & Syllabus at Chartered Accountants Ireland.