The firm eventually hopes to fund up to 400 school leavers a year from all social backgrounds in an attempt to widen access to the accountancy profession. It will pay recruits as they study for their degrees and accountancy qualifications over a six-year period.
David Willetts, minister for universities and science, welcomed the “new route into a prestigious profession” for people from all backgrounds.
“I hope other employers and universities will study the concept carefully. It’s the kind of initiative that we hope will flourish as we reform higher education,” he said.
When the scheme is launched later this year, KMPG will recruit a group of 75 sixth-form students who have achieved a minimum of an A and two Bs at A level. They will go on to work for the company for six years, starting on a salary of £20,000 if they are based in London.
In the first three years, participants in the scheme will work primarily for the company, with some study time spent at Durham.
In the fourth year, successful candidates will spend nine months studying full-time at the university after which they will obtain a BSc in accountancy. During the fifth and sixth years – at which point their salaries will have risen to £45,000 a year – the employees will complete an additional qualification through the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.
All costs, including tuition, accommodation and travel, will be met by the employer.
KPMG has worked with students from the poorest schools in the UK to develop the widening-access programme, which was devised in the wake of a review into access to the professions led by the former Labour MP Alan Milburn.
Its launch comes at a time of heightened concern that students from poorer families may be put off university study when the tuition-fee cap is raised to £9,000 a year in 2012.
Oliver Tant, UK head of audit at KMPG, said the average student debt could rise to up to £80,000 when the fees hike comes into force.
“For many students who are from relatively less well-off backgrounds, that might be quite intimidating,” he said. “Part of what we’re doing is providing a route that enables them not to face that challenge. We’re going to offer a real alternative to the full-time university model.
“We can’t afford to miss out on the best talent we have available to us in the UK.”
Mr Tant said the programme would soon make up an “increasingly substantial proportion” of the company’s early career intake, taking on up to 400 recruits a year.
KPMG is already in talks with other “high-end” universities to expand the scheme.