[SINGAPORE] The Singapore accountancy sector will kick off the Singapore Qualification Programme (Singapore QP) - a part- time post-university accountancy qualification course - next June, finally catching up with the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Australia, which have for a long time offered similar programmes.

The two-to-three year Singapore QP will be open to not only accountancy graduates, but also non-accountancy degree holders and mid-career professionals, teaching them accounting knowledge and offering mandatory practical experience.

Minister of State for Finance Josephine Teo, who gave details about the Singapore QP's start date at the Public Accountants Conference yesterday, said that the goal is to grow Singapore QP "into a globally recognised mark of excellence of Singapore's accountancy profession".

"For the Singapore QP to gain recognition as a mark of excellence for Singapore accountants is a journey that will take time," Ms Teo told the media, on the sidelines of the event. "One of the first things you need to do is to get local employers on board. In other words, within the business local community, there must be acceptance of the SQP's quality."

Already, 14 firms have pledged to be training ground for Singapore QP holders to gain the needed industry experience. They include the Big Four accounting firms, other accounting practices such as Foo Kon Tan Grant Thornton and RSM Chio Lim, and non-accounting firms such as Singapore Press Holdings and Prudential Assurance Company Singapore.

That Singapore QP-holders find their accounting sea-legs at these Asia-based firms also makes the fledgling programme stand out from similar programmes developed in the West, said Ernest Kan, president of Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Singapore (Icpas). Icpas will design and implement the Singapore QP.

"Asia is unique in many ways. Many corporates in China and Indonesia, for example, are either state-owned or family-owned . . . When people complete the Singapore QP and work in Asia, they will be highly valued, compared to another programme in either Europe, America or for that matter Australia," said Dr Kan.

The benefits of the Singapore QP will also broaden and diversify recruitment options of accounting firms, which face an ongoing problem of talent retention.

A recent survey of 1,158 Singapore external auditors conducted by the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority and ACCA showed that 65 per cent of respondents intend to leave their current firm within three years.

"Certainly, by attracting non-accounting graduates, the Singapore QP will alleviate a lot of our talent crunch woes. Adding engineers, for example, (into the accountancy sector) will be great because they know numbers," said Uantchern Loh, chief executive officer of the Pro-Tem Singapore Accountancy Council, which oversees the Singapore QP.

The council will be legislated as a statutory body later this year and renamed the Singapore Accountancy Commission.

When asked about how many are likely to join the Singapore QP's very first intake, Mr Loh said that the hope was to get at least one-quarter of the outgoing 1,000 accountancy graduates at Singapore's four universities.

But that number may well be larger if other graduates and working professionals decide to take the plunge into accountancy, he said.