Cameron Modisane has become the first black person under the age of 35 to obtain an accounting PhD

Accounting Professor, Dr. Cameron Modisane, Ph.D., CISA, ISAP (SA), M.Inst.D

I came across this inspiring story on LinkedIn via my connection Dr Cameron Modisane. He is the first black person under 35 to obtain an Accounting PhD. This is a transcript of the interview that he had with NCA. It is so inspiring to have young people achieving such amazing things.

eNCA 

Johannesburg born Cameron Modisane has become the first black person to obtain an accounting PhD under the age of 35. Modisane, who hails from KwaTema, in the East Rand completed his Doctor of Philosophy at the Northwest University and is now an Associate Professor at Unisa. The 35-year-old is also a board of director for the Information Systems Audit and Control Association. To talk about this achievement and more, he joins us now in the studio. That’s such an incredible list of accomplishments for someone as young as you are. I’m not going to say as old as you are as young as you are. So tell us, when did you start studying? And how long have you been studying for?

Accounting Professor, Dr Cameron Modisane

Dr Cameron Modisane 

I think my passion for accounting started in high school at Springs Boys High School. And then after that, I went to university at the University of Pretoria. I’ve been studying for the past 10 years after matric and spend you know, studying, you know, yeah, till I got to this level.

eNCA 

So a lot of people who attempt their doctorate and have to, at some stage stop studying full time to try and fund their degrees, which is why it often takes so long. You’ve managed to do it in just 10 years, which is truly phenomenal. How have you done that?

Dr Cameron Modisane 

I was working and studying. You know, I come from the audit profession. Working for an accounting firm, so it was more of studying late at night and I got bursaries throughout my life, even for my PhD I got a bursary as well. I think what happened was that I was quite dedicated and it helped me to actually get funding for my studies.

eNCA 

So that must have taken a lot of sacrifice. If you’re working during the day you’re studying at night, don’t you feel you missed out on some of the things that other people in their 30s would have been doing while you were hitting the books.

Dr Cameron Modisane 

Yeah, I think I missed that. But I think I’ve always been a bookworm. You know, I’m alone. I live alone. I don’t party much I don’t drink. So I think it helped me too. Because I think I’ve always been focused into I’ve always had a passion for education. And that’s what actually helped me to get to this level, you know.

eNCA 

Some people are students for life. Do you think you’re going to be pursuing other qualifications?

Dr Cameron Modisane 

After this? Most definitely, I’m actually taking up and running for a Masters in at Oxford probably next year or so. I think probably, I’m gonna be studying for all my life, you know.  I’m also a researcher as well. So I think it’s within me, you know, it’s like an adrenaline rush, you know, the moment you finish something, you know you wanna something else. So I think it’s always been with me like that.

eNCA 

There’s a strong focus in South Africa at the moment for young black professionals like yourselves to mentor young people following in their footsteps to have that exchange of knowledge, and not just knowledge, but tips. Every industry has pitfalls. And you know, being passionate about education. And as a student, are you also passionate about passing on your knowledge?

Dr Cameron Modisane 

Of course, I am passionate, I’ve mentored quite a number of young people as well. Even currently, I’m mentoring a couple of young people, especially I’ve got a passion for young people in the townships, I normally help them in terms of registration, sort of them getting funding, etc. With a Nexus application. So I’ve always had a passion because I come from a township as well. And I feel that education is the ultimate equaliser for everyone. So if you get a chance to because I come from poverty, and now I’m part of the middle class, so and that’s only happened through education. So yes!

eNCA 

A lot of young people work incredibly hard to pursue a degree despite very challenging circumstances. You talk about pursuing a degree while coming from the township. What’s your message to them to keep at it, because I’m just coming from a year where a lot of people have had very difficult access to continue the studies amid the pandemic. What would you say to them, to motivate them to just keep at it?

Dr Cameron Modisane 

I think the key thing is about focus. You need to be focused; you need to be driven, You need to be driven by the ultimate goal on to the fortune to achieve in life. Because once you actually, you know, there’s nothing as beautiful as, as your mom coming to you and saying, I’m proud of you, my son, after you have achieved and you and you’re ultimately a doctor a CA or whatever it is, you know.  So it’s a good thing to make a parent proud even though it might be a challenge, but it is possible. And also, I know a lot of young people struggle with funding, but there are companies, there are some big corporates out there who are willing to fund young people, but it’s all about getting the good marks and showing that you actually willing to work hard and put in effort. That’s what I did throughout my career.

eNCA 

How do young people who’ve got the marks, who’ve been dedicated, have put in the hard work gain access to those companies? Because that’s often where a lot of the challenge lies.  You’ve got your marks certificate, you’ve even put together a brief CV, if you’ve had any work experience, but getting access to those companies who are looking to fund young people studies, that’s a major challenge for many.

Dr Cameron Modisane 

And the second point is to make sure that you actually get good marks, and you also apply at university. Thereafter, find young people like myself, you know, who can mentor you, and you can give you can show, share that company information around bursaries, you know. There’s actually a number of companies out there, who are actually looking to fund young people, just that people I know, some of them are not necessarily willing or are willing to actually put in the hard work and actually achieve.

eNCA 

Let’s talk about your field, accounting. And what does someone with a doctorate in accounting essentially do, You have gone past CA,  past auditor. How do you want to try and influence that sector?

Dr Cameron Modisane 

I think, for me, it’s about my passion right now is around ethics. You know, there’s been a lot of talks around ethics for accountants. So I feel once people get to a certain level, it’s quite important that they actually start to further and you know, acquire more degrees because it helps you in terms of both broadening your knowledge because things change, standards change. So it’s quite important to keep abreast. With me how I got to this level, I think I’ve always been a bookworm. It’s all about reading, and writing. I’ve got a passion for writing as well. So that’s why it was quite easy for me to to get this level and in my area of research is around the impact of IT around the accounting and audit profession. And how does that actually impact ultimately, the work that we do as accountants because we live in a digital world? So that’s what my area of research is mainly about.

eNCA 

So I’m going to ask you a difficult question here. And please feel free to tell me if you haven’t been watching state capture this weekend. But I hope you have been because the issue you bring up around ethics and accounting has been in the spotlight this weekend with Vice-Chair of SAA, and auditor and SA Yakhe Kwinana testifying at the state capture. What do you think needs to happen to achieve that exceptionally high level of ethics in accounting that we want to see, especially at state-owned enterprises?

Dr Cameron Modisane 

I think the key thing I think, as I said to you is the fact that we need to go back as professionals, we need to go back to the code of ethics, we know we’re all part of a number of professionals such as the Institute of internal auditors, SAICA et cetera. So it’s quite important that we always go back to those code of ethics that we actually should abide by, from a professional point of view, and to maintain high level of ethics as professionals as academics. So it’s quite important that you know what, we show that we know the work that we do is always above reproach. So it’s quite important for us and to maintain the stature of the profession as well.

eNCA 

Do you feel that the ethics component of the course material for accountants, chartered accountants, and auditors is highlighted enough to students? Or is that sort of our ethics 101, let’s rush through that part of the course because we’re seeing a huge lack of ethical behaviour.

Dr Cameron Modisane 

I think the problem is that with one of the courses that in most cases, probably we do one module and throughout our studies, around business, ethics, etc. And I know, currently, I’m actually busy with the development of a new Masters programme, that will also focus on professional accounting, so to say, around corporate governance around ethics, so it’s quite important that you know, even after you’ve got your CA, you’ve got your CIA, you’ve got your CISA, or whatever, it is quite important that you study further. And you learn you learn all these case studies to learn the pitfalls, and around business ethics as well. So it’s quite important that people actually apply themselves and actually walk the talk. It’s quite important for us as professionals.

eNCA 

Well, thank you very much for taking the time to speak to us. I’m sure you are an inspiration to thousands of young South Africans out there looking to make their way in the profession. That was Doctor And Professor, Cameron Modesane, the first black person to obtain an accounting PhD under the age of 35 at that.

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