Driving from Changi Airport to my hotel in Singapore, the radio in the taxi was tuned to a classical music channel. Just as we arrived at the hotel, I heard the first bars of Trever Pinnock’s recording of Bach’s Brandenburgs – the very recording that I used to listen to repeatedly to focus my concentration during the long hours of study for my ACA. It proved to be the perfect overture to the next few days, meeting students in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
In Singapore, I spent an evening with our student ambassadors, who share their enthusiasm for our qualifications with their contemporaries. Their dedication and energy shone through. You may have seen the photograph of us that evening on Twitter, but if you haven’t, trust me: these students are the best ambassadors we could ask for.
In Kuala Lumpur I met more students and their lecturers during visits to universities and colleges, including Sunway College (24 of our world prize winners since 2004 have been from Malaysia, all of them studied at Sunway), IPAC and Multimedia University. I presented scholarship awards and signed a new MOU at Sunway, signed a further MOU at Multimedia University and attended a 90-minute question and answer session with students at IPAC. Questions ranged from, 'the exams are really hard – what words of encouragement can you give us?', through 'what are the biggest challenges facing the profession?', to 'when you look to the future of our profession, are you an optimist or a pessimist?'
As I was speaking on the anniversary of John F Kennedy’s assassination, I answered the first question by saying that a premium qualification requires the toughest exams, but that it is worth it – and quoted JFK’s words when he set the goal of putting a man on the moon: 'we choose to do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard'. I have heard those words a hundred times and they still inspire me. The nods around the room suggested that they had just inspired others.
On challenges, I spoke about the things I reflected on in another recent blog. The trust-related issue in Malaysia is 1MDB and I will return to that in a future blog.
Before I share my answer to the third question I was asked, I need to tell you about the graduation ceremony in KL. I congratulated 116 new ACAs (and we now have over 1,800 students in Malaysia). Again, their dedication, energy and enthusiasm was clear, but there was something more. When I presented awards to some of their lecturers, the mutual respect and very real affection between students and tutors was clear from the applause.
At the ICAEW Members Society, Malaysian Chapter, Annual Dinner the following evening, I reflected on those three questions again in my speech. I finished with the last question: optimist or pessimist? I said that having met so many of our students in Singapore and Malaysia, how could I be anything but an optimist?
I doubt that any of those students listen obsessively to Bach as I did when I studied, but of one thing I am certain: our profession will be in very safe hands if they represent our future.