In recent years many professional accounting associations have become interested in establishing competency-based professional requirements and assessment methods for certifying accounting professionals. A competency-based approach to qualification specifies expectations in terms of outcomes, or what an individual can accomplish, rather than in terms of an individual's knowledge or capabilities. This idea has an obvious appeal to many practitioners and administrators of professional qualification programs. However, there is limited knowledge about competency-based approaches in the accounting profession and among accounting academics, which is constraining discussion about the value of these approaches and about the strengths and weaknesses of the different competency models that have sprung up in various jurisdictions.
In this paper we review and synthesize the literature on competency-based approaches. We identify a number of theoretical benefits of competency-based approaches. However, we also find many alternative definitions and philosophies underlying competency-based approaches, and a variety of visions of how competencies should be determined and assessed. We note that there is limited evidence supporting many competency-based approaches and we identify 14 research questions that could be used to help policy makers to more effectively address policy matters related to competency-based education and assessment.