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CA Woes

A CA student describes the pitiful state of affairs the new ICAI system has caused him and his colleagues to suffer under.

Two years ago the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) introduced the Common Proficiency Test. This meant that students, after their HSC exams in any stream, could apply for the Common Proficiency Test (CPT).Earlier there used to be a minimum period of one year before one could take a similar entrance exam which was called the CA Foundation course. So far so good. The issue starts after one clears the CPT. One needs to undergo compulsory articleship/traineeship for a period of two and a half years before one can take the next exam (CA PCC which was earlier CA PE-II which was even earlier called CA Inter). Basically this means that a 17 year old starts his professional working life!

The CA articleship is a hard and laborious process. One gets to learn but that’s not the point. Typically a sincere student must attend a few lectures in college till about
9am and then he bunks the remaining lectures and leaves for the articleship at his/her firm. There are no fixed working hours for an articled clerk. They range from 9am to 6pm (often extending to 11pm at night). During quarter ends you will notice most CA students not attending regular college lectures and spending nights at their offices. Be it a small firm or a multinational it is the same story. You may be asked to leave for another town or village at any point of time. I believe girls have it easy in such situations. But the guys must obey. Also Sunday is not necessarily a holiday.
Now let me come to the stipend that these poor chaps get. The ICAI has a certain minimum stipulation which every firm has to pay their apprentices. The problem is most small firms stick to that minimum pay. In cities like Mumbai it is comparatively better. In most small towns of India, a student who works for 12-14 hours a day gets only about Rs 2,000 – 2,500 if he/she has just cleared the CPT exam! Even in Mumbai the highest that the multinational firms pay fresh articled clerks will never exceed Rs 7,000! Please look at the whole thing in perspective. A 17-18 year old student, who has to sacrifice every other enjoyment in life, has to slog for hours on end for years without any guarantee that he/she will become a CA gets amounts as low as Rs 3,000 in an expensive city like Mumbai. Typically, pass percentages of students taking CPT are significantly higher than that of students appearing later for CA PE-II or CA Final. So basically entry is easy. There actually may be no exit!

One must understand the enormity of the situation. Though people may say that these kids enter the course with their own will, I have serious reservations. First, in my opinion at the tender age (yes, ‘tender age’) of 16-17, very few students in India know what they want to do in life. It is this age where one can experiment, dabble in other things to know exactly what they want to do. Deciding what to do at 15 after SSC/ICSE/CBSE in itself is a huge task. We have a most rigid system where one is slotted into a field very early, most of the times by accident or chance. How can one expect students to make the right choice at that age? There is where parents, peers, trends, perceptions and myths come in. Something similar happens with CA aspirants. Half way into the drudgery, many students realize they never wanted to undergo this torture. Secondly, the profession in itself is very lucrative and respected in society. Hence, a lot of students aspire to become CAs. The issue is the manner in which students are treated. My problem is that the current system of the ICAI is completely killing creativity, hampering personality development and converting students into mechanical machines. Basically, the whole course has been designed to get cheap labour! These students do not get to participate in any activities in college. Commerce Colleges like NM are reeling because of this system with their best students not being able to participate in their college festival Umang, societies or any sports. I know at least three students who were champion cricketers who left it for this drudgery. Students’ involvement in college has become nil.
The owners of firms threaten not to give transfers. Appropriate leave is not granted before important exams. And poor students are scared about the owner giving a bad report to the ICAI. After all they do not want their CA chances to diminish after having undergone so much donkeywork. Also, I do not deny that there are some very good firms who look after their employees/trainees and are compassionate. But these are few and far between.

I think courses like these are not very good for the overall development of students in India. There is no scope for creativity. You are bound all the time. A programme like this after the age of 20 still makes sense. But give the kids freedom until then. Let them explore this beautiful world. Gain some experiences which will help them decide what they want to do in life. College years are meant to be spent in college classrooms, canteens, sports fields, coffee shops and cinema halls. College is a time when you can explore, do activities, take initiatives, participate in different events. It is a time for shaping dynamic personalities. There should be freedom. A 17 year old working in office from 9am to 11 pm totaling amount columns & checking receipts is a picture that depresses me.

Recently, form 112 has been introduced by the CA Institute wherein college principals have to state that students will leave college before 10am for articleship. Now, which college has lectures only up to 9.30am?! Which college principal will readily sign a document that officially allows students to bunk lectures?!

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