For Irish trainee accountants, it's all about location
Q&A: I am a trainee chartered accountant based in the Republic working my way through qualification at my own cost. I recently received notification from Chartered Accounts Ireland that student fees are to rise 4 per cent for the coming year. That is bad enough but, because I live in the Republic, my fees are automatically levied in euro.
According to the fees schedule, were I to live in Northern Ireland – and pay in sterling – I would save a significant amount of money.
When retailers north of the Border charged Irish customers way more than the exchange rate, there was an outcry. Here, we have an Irish professional body charging a premium to its students south of the Border and, as we need to pass our exams, we dare not complain openly. How fair is that?
Mr AN, email
I’ve no doubt Chartered Accountants Ireland would be horrified at the thought they would mark students up or down based on a dispute or otherwise between them.
I can see why you might be disgruntled. The fee for Chartered Accountancy Proficiency Level 1 is €2,100 or £1,450. As you point out, at an exchange rate of about 80 cent to the pound, you would expect the course in the Republic to be priced at just over €1,800, which means you are paying a “premium” of 13 per cent for the privilege of pursuing your course in the Republic.
For their part, Chartered Accountants Ireland makes several points. First, they have not raised fees in three years. They point to Central Statistics Office data showing a 9.4 per cent rise in education costs in the year to February last.
It’s true costs may be rising now, but they surely fell at some point in recent years, and yet fees did not come down. The fact the majority of students are sponsored through their training by accountancy firms may have some part to play in the recent decision.
Second, Chartered Accountants Ireland points to currency fluctuations. This is true, of course. However, to justify the difference between the rates, you would be looking at an exchange rate closer to 69 cent in the pound, which seems more than a little far fetched.
Finally, CAI notes the costs involved in running courses in the Republic is higher than in the North. I haven’t got any figures to hand but I am sure this is the case. Ultimately, however, it is not a matter of Northern students being given a dig out to study alongside their southern counterparts. Which fee one pays is determined by the location of the practice sponsoring you or, in the case of privately funded students, where they intend to practice.
With differences between accountancy rules and practice here and in the UK, the CAI says, the location of the tutelage determines the fee. Thus, if you were looking to practice in the UK – and were therefore studying up North, you could avail of the lower fee. Any Northern students sitting alongside you in the Republic will be paying the higher fee, it appears.