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Social mobility and Fair Access to the accountancy profession in the UK: Evidence from Big Four and mid-tier firms

Angus Duff (University of the West of Scotland, Ayr, UK)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 19 June 2017




The purpose of this paper is to consider how Big Four and mid-tier accountancy firms in the UK are responding to political concerns about social mobility and Fair Access to the accountancy profession.


Interviews were undertaken with 18 public accountancy firms, ranked in the Top 30 by fee income, operating in the UK to identify how they are recruiting staff in the light of the Fair Access to the Professions’ agenda. Bourdieusian sociology is used to inform the findings.


The Big Four firms employ a discourse of hiring “the brightest and the best” to satisfy perceived client demand, where symbolic capital is instantiated by reputational capital, reflecting prestige and specialisation, supported by a workforce with elite credentials. For mid-tier firms, reputational capital is interpreted as the need for individuals to service a diverse client portfolio. In general, most interviewees demonstrated relatively limited awareness of the issues surrounding the Fair Access agenda.

Research limitations/implications

The interviews with accountancy firms are both exploratory and cross-sectional. Furthermore, the study was undertaken at an embryonic point (2010) in the emerging Fair Access discourse. Future work considering the accountancy profession could usefully examine if, and how, matters have progressed.

Social implications

The investigation finds that accountancy firms remain relatively socially exclusive, largely due to the requirement for high educational entry standards, and interviewees’ responses generally indicate only limited attempts at engagement with political agendas of promoting Fair Access to the profession.


This paper is the first to empirically evaluate how the accountancy profession is responding to the Fair Access agenda; documents changing patterns of recruitment in accountancy employment, including the hiring of non-graduates to undertake professional work; and augments the literature considering social class and accounting.



Duff, A. (2017), "Social mobility and Fair Access to the accountancy profession in the UK: Evidence from Big Four and mid-tier firms", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 30 No. 5, pp. 1082-1110.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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