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ICSA's new qualifying programme will open doors for governance professionals

07 March 2018 by Charis Evans

ICSA's qualifying programme will open doors for governance professionals - Read more

Why we are updating and refocusing its qualifying programme for the next generation

If you are a CSQS student, tutor or employer sponsoring a colleague through their studies, you may have heard that ICSA is updating its qualifying programme syllabus for autumn 2019.

It is important to explain what these changes are, the thinking behind them and the benefits that the new syllabus offers the next generation of chartered secretaries and governance professionals.

The value of any professional qualification lies in the standard that it represents and the currency that it holds for employers. In recent years, we have seen the role of company secretary evolve significantly and the rise of a broader governance profession that spans the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.

The ICSA qualifying programme must reflect these market movements in order to maintain its relevance.

Review the old

The professional development team at ICSA keep all qualifications under regular review to stay up-to-date with changes in the legal and regulatory environments.

In 2015, five years on from the introduction of the current CSQS syllabus, it was time for a deeper and more systematic investigation of what the increased expectations of governance and governance professionals meant for the future of our benchmark qualification.

“Influencing and relationship-building skills key to being a successful company secretary are now reflected in the syllabus”

An independent review was commissioned into the value and relevance of CSQS. The researchers sought the views of over 800 current students, recent graduates and employers in their study. While this validated the strengths and rigour of the qualification, it identified room for improvement too.

We learned that there was too much emphasis on the technical aspects of law and finance – especially as most company secretaries have access to specialists in their workplaces – and not enough coverage of areas of higher-order decision making, such as the development of strategy and risk management.

It also highlighted that influencing and relationship-building skills key to being a successful company secretary were not reflected in the syllabus, despite being an essential skill for every practitioner. Additionally, students wanted improved study materials and greater support while they learnt.

Create anew

These recommendations arrived at the moment that a substantial new initiative was launched by ICSA’s International Council: a review of the International Qualifying Standard – the framework that underpins our qualification in the UK, Republic of Ireland and Associated Territories – and a process to create a new professional designation of chartered governance professional alongside that of chartered secretary.

The former has been strengthened and updated, while the latter was accepted by the worldwide membership in October last year in a vote to change the Royal Charter.

The UK development team has harnessed both the research findings and the international innovations to produce a robust new syllabus.

The new qualifying programme trains students in more relevant subject areas, offers greater support by design and will create graduates eligible to use both chartered designations on achieving the requisite work experience.

We believe that these changes will open more doors for more people into the growing world of governance. We are proud to have reached this point and that we can introduce the revised programme to our students, members and supporters.

Strong foundations

The current qualifying programme is open entry. Although we want to remain inclusive, postgraduate study can be challenging for students without the relevant qualifications and experience.

In order to give those students a more secure start to their professional study, and prepare them for success, we are introducing a new Foundation Programme.

The Foundation Programme contains four subject areas, totalling around 200 hours of learning. These introduce many fundamental concepts that students need to understand – an introduction to the business environment, finance, law, compliance and administration.

Success in the single examination will lead to the award of a Foundation Programme Certificate at Level 4 and the right to continue to study for the core qualifying programme. Registrations open for the new programme on 3 April 2018 and the first examination will be held in November 2018.

Support by design

The current and the new syllabuses both combine modules at Level 6 and Level 7. In the current qualifying programme, students can tackle these modules in any order with the exception of the
final module case study.

In contrast, the new syllabus has been divided into two parts. Part One contains four Level 6 modules covering the more technical subject areas of Company Compliance and Administration, Corporate Governance, Company Law, and Interpreting Financial and Accounting Information.

Part Two contains three higher-order modules at Level 7 in Risk Management, Development of Strategy and Boardroom Dynamics.

Just as the Foundation Programme underpins successful Part One study, the completion of Part One provides a platform for success in the Part Two modules. In the new syllabus, students can only move on to Part Two subjects on passing (or being exempted from) all four modules at Part One.

New subject profile

A good grasp of law and finance remains fundamental for company secretaries and governance professionals. But the content of each on the new syllabus has been re-evaluated and streamlined from two modules for each into one.

Applied Business Law and the Chartered Secretaries’ Case Study are not part of the new syllabus, and the two new modules in Risk Management and Boardroom Dynamics bring new skills into the qualification that align clearly with the skills and practice that employers need.

“We hope that all eligible students will take e-learning up, benefit from the additional input and give us feedback”

Exploring e-learning

The main research project inspired further investigation into students’ experience of ICSA study support and materials. This has led not just to a rethink of textbook and webinar provision, but to the creation of an e-learning pilot module in Corporate Secretarial Practice.

This will combine video lectures, exam practice questions, the core text and additional reading, and is due to go live mid-March. It will be offered at no charge to all who have bought the book.

We hope that all eligible students will take it up, benefit from the additional input and give us feedback that will help us to shape the future delivery of our learning resources.

Managing change

The new syllabus was announced to students in early February, three examination sessions ahead of its introduction. It becomes available for study in July 2019, with the first examination session taking place in November 2019.

Some students will complete before this point, for others there is time to plan a smooth move from one syllabus to the other, without slowing their rate of study or repeating learning. Our membership team is on hand to help with this.

It is our aim to make the move from one to the other as seamless as possible, which is why we have provided 18 months’ notice. There is a dedicated page on our website which contains a webinar, our transition policy, and FAQs, which will shortly also link to the e-learning pilot.

If our information does not answer all of your questions, you can contact our membership team at studentsupport@icsa.org.uk or by calling +44 (0)7580 4741.

Charis Evans is business development director at ICSA: The Governance Institute

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