#FITForLife: UP Accounting develops innovative student support programme to help future chartered accountants

Posted on April 15, 2021

As the country continues to grapple with funding issues in higher education, the University of Pretoria (UP)’s Accounting programme has developed an innovative student support programme called the FIT programme. The programme aims to help students studying towards becoming a chartered accountant and a few other financial professions.

The programme involves the synergy of three funding and bursary programmes – FASSET Bursary Scheme, Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme (ISFAP) and the Thuthuka Bursary Fund (hence FIT).

The structure of the financial support provided by the three funders differs slightly between these programmes, but they all include tuition fees, textbooks, accommodation, food, pocket money and wrap-around support.

Aneesa Carrim, Senior Lecturer and FIT Programme Coordinator, said the acronym FIT was created for ease of reference within UP, but also because they have broadened it into their philosophy.

“The vision of the FIT team is to establish and maintain a reliable, approachable and exemplary support system for FIT students; thereby being a positive catalyst towards these students achieving academic success and being ‘FIT-for-life’,” Carrim said. “This effectively also means that we want to produce UP alumni who are well-rounded individuals, and employees who can function independently and effectively in the workplace.”

She added that these programmes have chosen to work together and pool resources in order to optimise their reach. “We use the strengths of each team member to have a maximum support impact on our students. The FIT team is managed by four programme managers and is supported by an administrator and academic trainees.”

Leana du Plessis, Senior Lecturer and UP Thuthuka Programme Manager, said that there is an expectation from the FIT team for their students to have and develop certain values in line with the FIT vision. Students are continuously reminded of these values and encouraged to be:

  1. Independent
  2. Responsible
  3. Hard working
  4. Courageous
  5. Kind and respectful
  6. Thankful
  7. Growing continuously
  8. Ethical
  9. Balanced 

Carrim explained that while previous UP support programmes provided students with several additional academic interventions, 2017 marked a change in approach, sparked by the above vision and values, together with an acknowledgement that UP’s core offerings were more than sufficient to ensure students’ academic success. Instead, students required wrap-around (psycho-social) support.

As part of this wrap-around support, the FIT team now offers essential life skills sessions, which students on the programme are expected to attend regularly. These include:

  • The “7 Habits of Highly Effective Students” training

Presenting the 7 habits course to the FIT students is one of the foundational pillars of support at UP. “It has been a game-changer for our students,” Carrim said. “Students receive their own 7 Habits textbook/workbook, and there is also an app with many handy features. All the FIT team managers have been formally trained to present the course. Teaching the 7 Habits has enabled the team to establish a common skills language that can be used throughout the students’ time on the FIT programme. We believe the 7 Habits course helps students prioritise, plan and manage themselves better and gives them overall good life skills which will assist them even after their studies.”

  • Exam technique, planning and time management

“We usually schedule these sessions a few weeks before an exam or test series. These sessions are sometimes presented by the FIT team and at other times we get assistance from other people at the University.”

  • Work readiness, CV and interview skills, and personal finance

“We often make use of an internal UP provider called Enterprises UP to present these courses to students. The courses are presented at a third-year level and kept basic. It is intended to give students a good start rather than being a fully comprehensive course.”

  • Personal management

“These sessions are presented by FIT managers and trainees and cover things like sleeping habits, physical activity and eating healthily. We sometimes also have gender-specific sessions.”

  • General motivational sessions

“For our motivational sessions we mostly make use of chartered accountants who branched out into different career paths. We always ask our speakers to share their journey to inspire our students to create their own inspirational path.”

Du Plessis added that their priority is students’ academic responsibilities, such as tests and assignments, and that they plan their support initiatives around this: “We monitor all their class and test timetables and will never schedule an intervention which we don’t believe is essential for the development of the students,” she said.

“As a team we believe our support to students is a constant work-in-progress,” Carrim said. “Every year we re-think our core support offering and try to be innovative and move with the times and student needs. We strive to always make our students our first priority and we know that there is always room for improvement and learning. We believe that, like our students, we are also on our journey to become ‘FIT-for-life’.”

To learn more about the FIT programme, read more here: https://www.saica.co.za/ThoughtLeadershipInitiatives/SAICAEducationJournal/tabid/4464/language/en-US/Default.aspx

- Author Aneesa Carrim and Leana du Plessis

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