Singapore's new home-grown qualification programme for accountants has attracted an unexpectedly high number of candidates.

The first run of the Singapore Qualification Programme (Singapore QP) has drawn about 240 candidates with accounting degrees.

Another 100 students with non-accounting degrees have enrolled in a foundation programme needed before they start the Singapore QP course.

These figures were unveiled yesterday by the Singapore Accountancy Commission (SAC), a statutory body set up in April this year to drive the development of the accountancy sector.

"It's very gratifying that the numbers have exceeded our expectations," SAC chief executive Uantchern Loh told The Straits Times. "We didn't expect so many."

Other than undertaking study modules, candidates must work for three years at certain organisations designated as accredited training organisations (ATOs). About 190 organisations have signed up to offer practical experience to the candidates.

They include the "Big Four" accounting firms of Deloitte, PwC, Ernst & Young and KPMG, government bodies such as the Ministry of Home Affairs and Land Transport Authority, and companies such as Singapore Press Holdings, Singapore Airlines and Standard Chartered Bank.

Another sign of the programme's popularity is that 47 per cent of tertiary students say they wish to pursue the qualification after they graduate, according to the preliminary results of a study released yesterday.

This choice ranks second, behind the qualification of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) at 63 per cent, and ahead of other qualifications such as CPA Australia.

The Singapore QP was developed from scratch in Singapore and is seen as a key step towards making the country an accountancy hub.

The other accounting qualifications were developed overseas. For instance, the ACCA qualification was originally developed in Britain and the CPA Australia in Australia.

The survey polled about 1,800 polytechnic and university students in both accounting and non-accounting courses, and they could pick more than one answer.

Another 2,200 accounting professionals were surveyed in the poll, which ran from July to August.

They cited problems in the sector, including the fact that salaries are not high enough given their responsibilities and that employees in the sector do not have enough work-life balance or career progression.

The full results of the study, designed by SAC but administered by ACCA and the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants, will be out later.

The SAC aims to sign agreements with countries such as Britain, Australia and New Zealand so that the Singapore QP will be recognised overseas, said Mr Loh.

He was speaking on the sidelines of the inaugural ATO Human Capital Forum, held yesterday at Raffles City Convention Centre.

"Following our first intake of Singapore QP candidates, we are now focused on our second cohort in January 2014," he told about 180 senior finance and human resources personnel from ATOs.

"The Singapore QP is a journey and right now we have taken only our first steps."