An announcement was made this week that could shake up higher education and recruitment models in the UK.

Big Four firm KPMG revealed it will work with Durham University and the ICAEW on a groundbreaking scheme to sponsor school leavers to achieve university degrees and full accountancy qualifications. Students will receive a salary throughout the six-year period, as well as part time work experience at KPMG.

Higher education has been in the headlines repeatedly in the past months. We watched waves of student protesters march past our offices in defiance of the coalition government’s plan to raise the cap on university fees to £9,000-a-year from 2012. The legislation (which was passed) has encouraged students, businesses and learning institutions – indeed society as a whole – to think differently about how the future workforce will be skilled.

School leaver sponsorship schemes, similar to KPMG’s, will make accounting qualifications available to a broader socioeconomic group and will provide fairer access to the profession.

It’s quite an innovative programme and I expect to see other top tier banking and commerce organisations ‘follow suit’ over the next few years in order to remain competitive. In addition to improving their reputations as socially responsible corporate citizens, nurturing students will give these businesses access to top talent.

The newly qualified accountant jobs market has always been highly competitive but schemes such as these will ‘tighten’ the space even further. Graduates of sponsored programmes will be able to promote their qualifications, work experience and corporate training and development, giving them an unmistakable edge over their peers. Competition will also increase as many beneficiaries of these programmes will feel incredibly loyal to their benefactors, and will be less likely to move jobs.

KPMG has ‘raised the bar’ with this announcement and shown that there are organisations out there that are taking a longer term view to recruitment than ever before. Watch this space.