Liberalising financial accounting education: insights from an intermediate financial accounting course

Tags: accounting, financial accounting, Critical Perspectives on Accounting, Aotearoa New Zealand, related studies, integration, tertiary level, academic component, accounting educators, ICANZ, Accounting Education, University of Waikato, Journal of Business Finance and Accounting, pp, discussion, Admissions Policy, Accounting and Business Research, Accountability Journal, accounting practice, Journal of Accounting Education, Public Interest Accounting, J. Haslam, Social Accounting, Public Sector Accounting, Maori culture, Chartered Accountant, New Zealand Society of Accountants, academic literature, environmental accounting, financial accounting courses, Accounting Social Accounting, Issues in Accounting, accounting courses, international students, intermediate accounting, accounting degree, New Zealand, liberal studies, Sonja Gallhofer Mereana Barrett Jim Haslam, Mature students
Content: LIBERALIZING FINANCIAL ACCOUNTING EDUCATION: INSIGHTS FROM AN INTERMEDIATE FINANCIAL ACCOUNTING COURSE Sonja Gallhofer Mereana Barrett Jim Haslam Soon Nam Kim Patty McNicholas Sharon Mariu Department of Accounting School of Management Studies University of Waikato/ Te Whare Wananga o Waikato Private Bag 3105 Hamilton New Zealand ABSTRACT With the introduction of the new Admissions Policy of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of New Zealand (ICANZ), in March 1994, accredited accountancy degrees in New Zealand are required to include a `liberal' component (Admissions Policy, 1994). One possible option, pursued by the University of Waikato, Te Whare Wananga o Waikato, is to integrate the liberal component within the curriculum of accounting and related studies. How can such integration be effected? In this paper we build upon Gallhofer and Haslam (1997a) by elaborating how we sought to put the principle of integration into practice and our experiences of this. We focus upon an intermediate financial accounting course which is compulsory for those following the ICANZ accredited programme. We suggest that a case study of an attempt to integrate liberal studies within accounting is of relevance to accounting educators worldwide. 1
LIBERALISING FINANCIAL ACCOUNTING EDUCATION: INSIGHTS FROM AN INTERMEDIATE FINANCIAL ACCOUNTING COURSE INTRODUCTION In 1994 the then New Zealand Society of Accountants (now the Institute of Chartered Accountants of New Zealand, ICANZ) changed its Admissions policy. An element of the ostensible rationale was to engender the education and training of accountants who would be better suited to the environment of accountants in practice. Of particular interest to accounting educators are the changes in the `academic component' of the admissions requirements. In contrast to the old Admissions Policy which required prospective members to finish a three year accounting degree, the new policy required four years (or the equivalent of four years, full-time) of academic study at tertiary level.1 The new Admissions Policy also stipulated that this tertiary level study should be constituted by `35-40% accounting studies', `35-40% business-related studies' and `20-30% liberal studies'. Further, the underlying pedagogic philosophy of the new stipulations for the academic component signaled a relative shift in accounting education away from a traditional rulecentred approach to learning to a learning to learn and process oriented approach (Maltby, 1996, p. 22; Gallhofer and Haslam, 1997b).2 Such changes provided some interesting challenges for accounting educators3 at the tertiary level in Aotearoa New Zealand!4 One possible option in response to the challenges, pursued by the University of Waikato, Te Whare Wananga o Waikato - which already had a four year programme accredited under the old policy was to integrate the liberal as well as the business-related, component within the curriculum of accounting and related studies. How, in this context, can such an integration of the `liberal' be effected? In this paper we elaborate how we attempted to put this principle of integration into effect at Waikato and our experiences of this. We focus upon an intermediate financial accounting course 1 It was implicit in the policy that an academic degree was to be attained. 2 In addition to changes in the academic component there were changes to the other aspects of the Admissions Policy. The previous policy required prospective members to acquire three years practical experience and to pass a two-paper Final Qualifying Exam (FQE) which had a largely technical, rule-oriented focus. Under the new Admissions Policy, someone seeking to become an ACA needs now to pass two examinations: Professional Competence Examinations I and II (PCE I and II). The focus of PCE I was envisaged in 1994 to equate closely to the former FQE. It is of note that a feature of the new Admissions Policy (retained from the old) was that prospective accountants were required to experience some academic accounting. The changes in the academic component had no immediate impact on secondary level accounting education. The latter is significant in Aotearoa New Zealand with many of those studying accounting in the first year at tertiary level having previously studied it at bursary level ­ i.e. the highest secondary school level. 3 We do not deny that tertiary level institutions had an input into the debate out of which the new Admissions Policy was shaped. Indeed the lCANZ adopted a consultative approach (Gallhofer and Haslam, 1997b, p 10). Nevertheless the Admissions Policy finally advocated by ICANZ did constitute quite a challenge to accounting educators. 4 Aotearoa, or `Land of the Long White Cloud' is Maori for the country. Aotearoa New Zealand is in usage as a name for the country cognisant of' its indigenous people. 2
(0341.202) which is compulsory for those following the ICANZ accredited programme and typically is taken in the second year of study. We elaborate upon course design including specification of the objectives and the content of the course. We put an emphasis upon our experiences teaching on the course including our experiences of feedback from students and colleagues. This is consistent with our view that self-reflection and self-observation can yield valuable insights (Reinharz, 1992), a view that has been somewhat overlooked in previous literature in accounting education. We also point in our paper to the broad relevance of our study for accounting education more generally (cf. Walker and McClelland, 1994). The structure of the paper is as follows: background to the changes to the Admissions Policy and Waikato's interpretation thereof (drawing much from Gallhofer and Haslam, 1997b); a report on an attempt to apply the principle of integration focused upon an intermediate financial accounting course; concluding comments. THE NEW ADMISSIONS POLICY AND WAIKATO'S INTERPRETATION OFTHE ACADEMIC COMPONENT Worldwide, there have been concerns about accounting education, most evident from the 1970s onwards. Ostensibly, various parties have recognised a need to re-assess education in the light of a dynamic environment and changes in the qualities and skills expected from accountants in society and the market place. Prior to the then NZSA's publication of its new Admissions Policy, various committees had been set up worldwide to assess accounting education in a number of countries and had reported recommendations for improvement covering the content and form of accounting education (see for example Smith and Usry, 1989; Sundem and Williams, 1992; Lynch, 1994; Mathews. 1994; Lloyd-Jones, 1996: Gallhofer and Haslam, 1997 b). Specific factors contributed to enhancing the impact of such concerns in Aotearoa New Zealand. Canadian and Australian professional accountancy institutes had expressed concerns about maintaining reciprocal membership arrangements with Aotearoa New Zealand (Anonymous, 1992, p. 14; Lothian and Marian,1992), concerns influencing the decision of the then NZSA to initiate an international review of the educational and practical training requirements of its Admissions Policy (Anonymous, 1992, p. 14). And the unsatisfactory trajectory of a major scandal left the then NZSA without its previous sole statutory recognition rights, leading to a review which also focused in part upon the Admissions Policy and accountancy education (Velayuthan and Perera 1996, pp. 452-3). The former international review was conducted by two Scottish professors, Niall Lothian and Ian Marian. It recommended a `very light tiller' on the part of the tertiary sector respecting the `practical dimension' of accounting and related studies and called for the liberalisation of academic programmes: the tertiary sector was there to broaden the mind and train it how to analyse problems (Anonymous, 1992, p. 14). The review was welcomed by the then NZSA (Gallhofer and Haslam, 1997b). 3
A new Admissions Policy was published in 1994. In introducing the accounting, business-related and liberal components of the desired accounting curriculum the policy recognised the difficulties of applying such a classifying schema. It was suggested that the existing `Body of Knowledge' (BOK) - integral to the previous Admissions Policy - continue to specify the compulsory core accounting topics, the minimum study of specialised accounting topics and the range from which these specialised topics were to be chosen. At the same time it was held that some emphasis be given in the new policy to interpreting BOK as allowing flexibility and academic judgment consistent with the move from a more prescriptive rule-oriented approach to a learning to learn approach (see Maltby et al, 1994, p. 18). The new Admissions Policy interpretation of `liberal' topics was apparently that they be in addition to the accounting and business-related as illustrated in table 1, taken from Admissions Policy (1994).
Accounting Studies
Business Related Studies
Liberal Studies
Accounting
Finance
Arts
Taxation
Introduction to Economics
Humanities
Auditing
Marketing Management
Natural Science
Financial Accounting
Management
Applied Sciences
Management Accounting
Business Communication
Social Sciences
Liquidations, Receiverships, Insolvencies Commercial Law
Public Sector Accounting Systems
Management Information
Trust & Farm Accounting
Operations Management
Personnel Management
Industrial Relations
Strategic Management
Table 1: Subjects listed in the new Admissions Policy of the then NZSA (1994)
The Admissions Policy (1994, p.6) also stated that the purpose of the liberal topics was `tobroaden the base of education of accounting graduates by exposing them to non-businessdisciplines'. The new Admissions Policy did not rule out, however, the possibility of integrating the liberal portion of the academic component within accounting and business-related courses. This was the option approved for Waikato. At Waikato it was maintained that literatures and perspectives in accounting and related studies had now developed understandings of their subject focuses which drew from liberal studies, and had become more interdisciplinary, facilitating an integrative approach. It was further maintained that an integrative approach was a coherent option for the students as students could more readily link liberal studies to the accounting focus (see also the comments of Kent St.
4
Pierre, 1996).5 Further, it was felt that an integrationist approach best responded to the critics who had maintained that a central problem was the technicist orientation of the accounting courses in themselves (see Sundew 1994, p. 28). Clearly, it was an ambitious project. In the next section we shall explore how we sought to realise the project in practice and reflect on our experiences of so doing. THE INTERMEDIATE FINANCIAL ACCOUNTING COURSE: A CASE STUDYOF `LIBERALIZING' FINANCIAL ACCOUNTING EDUCATION IN PRACTICE The intermediate financial accounting course (0341 .202) is compulsory for those students pursuing the accredited accounting track of the BMS. Under the new Admissions Policy the course had to have a liberal component. Further, it also had to be offered consistent with a pedagogic move from a rule-centred to a learning to learn and process-oriented approach. We here elaborate upon the course and our experience of running it. Course objectives It was understood to be important for educators to attempt to be explicit in the specification of their objectives and in the context of any related policy formulation impinging thereon (see Paisey and Paisey, 1996). The course, consistent with the accreditation criteria was explicitly concerned to develop practical/technical, intellectual/questioning and communicative abilities (cf Hirsch and Collins, 1988; Neu, 1991; Kelly and Lowe, 1995; Allen 1996a, b). With regard to practical/technical skills, an objective of the course was that students become skilled in the various technical aspects of the recording, organizing and reporting of accounting information, both current and mainstream techniques and alternatives thereto. This included a concern that students enhance their technical computing skills. Students were also to gain theoretical, analytical, critical, independent thinking and learning to learn abilities, reflecting the objective of seeking to promote intellectual/questioning abilities. A concern here was to challenge the perception of accounting as a `merely technical' artefact which can be studied in isolation of its context, a view which remains prevalent in many mainstream accounting textbooks used at secondary and tertiary levels of study. Another concern was to bring critical questions to accounting in the name, for example, of its organisational and social relevance and efficacy. It was understood that the liberal component would be integrated in the pursuit of such concerns. The course also aimed to develop students' 5 Implementing alternatives to the integrative approach would be very difficult at Waikato. `Non-integrationist' approaches - given that as well as there being ICANZ BOK requirements there are also core compulsory courses on the BMS - would likely leave BMS students having to do more than four years full-time study (and meet the costs, e.g. extra fees involved) and/or reduce departmental income (which is linked to students taking courses), disrupting associated planning. It would also run counter to a nascent integrationist philosophy which has been coming to fruition over some years. The option of developing a new three years accounting degree and a diploma outside the BMS would be a major bureaucratic task and leave the accounting department with a more uncertain financial outlook. 5
communicative including interpersonal, participative and leadership skills (cf Adler and Milne, 1995, 1996). A framework for the study of financial accounting In order to integrate the liberal component a broad framework for the analysis of financial accounting which facilitated such integration was sought. The Critical Systems Model (CSM) is a diagrammatic representation of the basic features of the framework adopted, given as figure 1. The broad framework encompasses descriptive and prescriptive dimensions of appropriate complexity. The framework is immediately consistent with a critical, questioning stance (in a quite broad sense) in that it postulates that there may be differences between the dimension of the model treating `accounting as it is' and that treating `accounting as it should be'. Both these dimensions, the framework suggests, may be viewed in terms of a contextual, holistic and systems perspective. This would understand accounting, actually and potentially, as being shaped by the context - social, political, economic, cultural, technological, historical - within which it operates and as also impacting upon or shaping that context. The context focused upon in this regard is global,although within this attention is given to Aotearoa New Zealand. The outputs and inputs of the systemic process represented maybe understood - more evidently in some instances than in others - as being linked by a feedback loop. The framework suggests various avenues of exploration including: What are the factors helping to shape a particular accounting practice? What are the consequences associated with such a particular practice? What alternatives are there to current practice in this area? How can external accounting function more efficiently and effectively, and what would this mean? 6
(A) actual (problematic) external accounting
problematic constituting factors
problematic effects
(I)
PROBLEMATIC CONTEXT
(B) potential external accounting
(T)
enabling constituting
enabling effects
factors
(I)
ENABLING CONTEXT
KEY: (A) (B) (I) (T)
Understanding of actual interaction of a problematic accounting practice and the problematic context of which it is part Vision of potential interaction of an enabling accounting practice and the enabling context of which it is part More evidently direct feedback loop from output effects to input Potential transformation sought (implying strategies for change) from dimension of actuality to that of potentiality
FIGURE ONE:
A Critical Systems Model for the analysis (including prescriptive analysis) of external accounting practice.6
6 This model is an adaptation for external accounting of the model elaborated in Gallhofer and Haslam (1997a) which in turn is a critical development of a systems model found in Lowe and Tinker (1977). 7
The framework was introduced at the beginning of the course and justified in terms of its capacity to deepen understanding of accountancy practice, to enhance student abilities and to take seriously the ICANZ accreditation criteria.7 The framework was initially elaborated through discussion of the contextual systems elements. This included an elaboration of the types of questions that the framework draws attention to (supra). In addition to economic dimensions of the framework, students were introduced to the relevance of issues of gender, culture and politics for theorising actual and potential influences upon accounting and accounting's actual and potential consequences. Emphasis was thus placed at the outset upon a concern to challenge conventionally narrow perceptions of accounting. To aid explication it was suggested that analysis of accounting may be considered conventional, economistic or sociological.8 The latter reflects the approach taken on the course and represented by the framework. By conventional analysis is meant fairly conventional descriptions and illustrations of current practices and prescriptions and conventional criticisms thereof - understood as those with a heavy technical emphasis, not strongly articulated in terms of a theoretical perspective from `outside' of a narrow accounting focus. By economistic analysis is meant analysis of accounting informed by neo-classical economics. This includes, for example, the testing of hypotheses derived from such reasoning, more general empirical explorations informed by such reasoning, and attempts to appraise accounting representations through conventional economic analyses of income and capital and approximations thereto.9 It was deemed necessary for the students to be aware that much of the literature in accounting - academic as well as professional - is more economistic10 and conventional.11 The sociological approach was elaborated with reference to the CSM (supra). Given the paucity of social analyses of external accounting in the literature, many readings on the course were more economistic and conventional and had to be interpreted accordingly in lectures and seminars.12 The course clearly was at least implicitly a critique of such literature. 7 The background to the new ICANZ accreditation criteria was also covered leading into an elaboration upon challenges and opportunities facing the accountancy profession in the future environment a theme of the course. 8 The term sociological is arguably too narrow to reflect the breadth of the interdisciplinary research that has been conducted in financial accounting, which has drawn horn perspectives such as the political and cultural. Yet it can be used as herein a broad sense (see also Scapens, 1985, in categorizing approaches to management accounting research). The alternative term is `social'. 9 This categorisation, utilised in the introduction lectures for purposes of exposition overlaps to some degree with other categorisations of approaches to the accounting problematic. For example, many conventional analyses overlap with what Laughlin and Puxty (1981) labelled `data-oriented' approaches to accounting as they put more emphasis on the technical data than do approaches which attempt to access or prescribe accounting in terms of decisions for which it is relevant (decision-oriented). Like most classification schemes of this kind the scheme is not easily applied to the many diverse readings and materials in financial accounting. Many particular readings and materials in financial amounting will overlap across the three categories of the schema. 10 The bulk of the academic accounting literature mobilises or draws horn economistic analysis. Much of it since the 1970s has had an empirical emphasis (Laughlin, 1995). 11 Mainstream textbooks, articles in professional journals and professional prescriptions (e.g. accounting standards) typically tend to be more `conventional' in their approach. 12 We also firmly believed and resolved that students should be exposed to such readings and be able to understand them! Understanding conventional and economistic readings in terms of the framework required critical interpretive 8
Structuring of the course, teaching methods and assessment and an overview of course Content From the above, a challenge of the course was to integrate discussion within the framework of the CSM with the concern to elaborate upon and illustrate current practice and prescriptions (such as accounting techniques, standards and legal requirements). A more typical approach in accounting education (mainly followed at Waikato previously) is to confine theoretical discussion largely to a `theoretical' course with `methods' courses mainly focused on an explication of techniques (Wright, 1994, p. 172). The typical format of courses in accounting at Waikato, which operate under semesterisation is that for each of twelve weeks (excluding the first when there are no classes) there are four contact hours constituted by three hours of lectures and a one hour class. For the intermediate financial accounting course the course format was changed to two hours of lectures, one class and one workshop. In order to pursue our course objectives we also introduced a variety of different teaching methods. The lectures were concerned to elaborate on topics in terms of the framework, offering starting points from which students could explore further aspects in more detail. The lectures were designed in this respect so as to stimulate interest and self-initiative in students to further their own studies. The relevance of key issues was emphasised. Occasionally to break up a tendency to `talk at' students in large lectures attempts were made to involve students in discussions and debates. At the same time, given especially the role of an academic as a developer of insights and as a motivator of intellectual work the `standard' lecture was deemed an important element of the course to be retained. The classes took the form of seminars providing a forum for students to practice analytical and presentation skills and to develop their abilities to work in teams as team members and team leaders. In the seminars students were divided into smaller groups (between 4 and 6 students). Breaking up larger seminar groups (between 16 and 20 students) in this way made it possible for the seminar facilitator to spend time during the seminars with smaller groups. Such an approach was deemed especially enabling for international students who it was felt do not always feel confident to speak in larger groups. These groups also facilitated team based or Cooperative learning. Students were thinking and effort on the part of the students, with the help of the staff. For example, many of their readings only scarcely adopted a contextual perspective and/or a critical perspective on current practices - whereas others more clearly and explicitly did so. It was a challenge to consider the former material in contextual and cultural terms. 9
asked as groups to critically summarise and evaluate academic articles, to write reports and to give seminar presentations. The objective was to encourage relatively independent work by the students with the lecturer/tutor taking on the role of facilitator in their development. The advantages of such an approach to learning is well recognised in the education literature (Cottell and Minis, 1992; Berry, 1993; Carland et al, 1994) as the following citation from Boyer (1987) illustrates: If democracy is to be served, cooperation is essential, too. And the goal of community.. .is essentially related to the academic pro- and most especially, to procedures in the classroom. We urge, therefore, that students be asked to participate in collaborative projects, that they work together occasionally on group assignments, that special effort be made, through small seminar units within large lecture sessions, to create conditions that underscore the point that cooperation is as essential as competition in the classroom. (Boyer, 1987, p. 151; cited in Cottell and Milk, 1992, p. 95) In the workshop sessions students could practice technical and computing13 skills and gain feedback on these skills. The workshops had been introduced to redress the balance effected by the change in the lectures: previously lecturers had gone into detail in discussing the technical aspects of accounting, now we had shifted the focus towards issues and concepts. This helped to highlight the importance of understanding accounting techniques in a much broader context (cf. Bauer et al, 1994, p. 7). We also attempted to encourage students to practice their technical skills with the help of computer-assisted learning (CAL) packages. The introduction of the workshop session permitted a relative movement away from a rule-centred technical approach and focus in the lectures and seminars. Similar concerns motivated the preparation of handouts for the lectures. Each lecture was covered by a course handout. This was to allow lecturers to be innovative in terms of the content and form of their presentations whilst ensuring that basic points were summarised in a form that students could develop through the lecture and their reading, work and reflections. The handouts were not to be transcripts of the lecture. The aim in the lecture was to go beyond the summary notes of the handouts in terms of elaborating illustrations and encouraging interaction and discussion. It was felt that there were dangers that lectures reduce to the coverage of key points for students to take down given the time/resource constraints. The handouts were meant to reduce such tendencies. The approach was meant to enhance the possibilities of challenging students' prior perceptions of accounting as a (not very interesting) set of technical practices and prescriptions.14 Turning to course content, the course was concerned to theorise current accounting practice from a sociological or interdisciplinary perspective. Most topics covered on the course were typical 13 The authors also see advantages in using information technology in the accounting curriculum so as to improve the quality of what is offered in terms of lectures, seminars and supervision (see Pratt and Davey, 1997). 14 Course evaluations by students indicated that students found the handouts particularly helpful. 10
mainstream topics (see table 2) which had to be covered in order to fulfil the accreditation requirements. The important difference compared to typical financial accounting courses was, however, that these topics were discussed horn a sociological and interdisciplinary perspective.
Week 1 Week2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8 Week 9 Week 10 Week 11 Week 12
Introduction: The Current Environment for Accountants and the ICANZ Admissions Policy Framework for Analysis Accounting Regulation and the New Zealand Regulatory Context The Conceptual Framework Conventional Accounting Practice Questioning the Historic Cost Convention Cash Flows vs Accruals Issues in Accounting for Liabilities Issues in Ownership Accounting: Focus Upon Partnerships Issues in Accounting for Investments, Fixed Assets and Debtors Issues in Accounting for Inventories Issues in Accounting for Research and Development Uniformity and Accounting Social Accounting Current Challenges
Table 2: Course Topics, 0341.202
There were two parts to the elaboration of the individual topics in the lectures. In the first part, each topic was initially introduced with reference to important issues and alternatives which had been addressed in the literature. Any tensions over particular accounting treatments were also elaborated. An aim was to provide a brief historical overview of debates and regulatory developments. The emphasis was on bringing out the political and value laden nature of accounting and on highlighting the consequences - social, political, economic, cultural and environmental - that different treatments can have. The objective was to challenge the perception that accounting numbers are or ought to be neutral in the sense narrowly conceived within the practice of measurement in the physical sciences (Solomons, 1991; Tinker, 1991). In the second part, the focus was on current practice in Aotearoa New Zealand. Aotearoa New Zealand practice was discussed against the background of part one. This structuring also made it possible to locate such current practice in the context of global debate. Themes addressed in the lectures were discussed in more detail in the seminar sessions15 where a 15 In the early weeks attention was given to addressing basic questions concerning why students had opted to study accounting, what were there expectations of accounting education and what was their reception of the early part of the course, to discussing the value of the course's suggested framework of analysis and how it might be applied to the 11
particular emphasis was placed on the reading and discussion of academic articles. In lectures and seminars, those facilitating the educational process were encouraged to be topical and to reflect current issues implicating accounting (e.g. discussed in newspapers). Apart from a common structure for the lectures there were also common themes which were referred to in several lecturers. These themes included discussion of gender, ethics, culture, industrial relations and the role and responsibilities of the profession in relation to society and the environment. Workshops consisted of exercises from Gaffikin (1995) and Alley (1995), the latter book explicitly geared to interaction with the computer. The emphasis on reading and discussion of academic literature was a significant development of the course. We made use of social analyses of accounting in the literature. Studies have analysed accounting in terms of politics, ethics, gender and culture. academic journals reflecting the growth of interdisciplinary studies in accounting (such as Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal; Accounting, Organizations and Society, Advances in Public Interest Accounting Critical Perspectives on Accounting) along with specially prepared handouts were deemed important sources of readings and materials drawn upon.16 We made use of such literature as we deemed appropriate in the context of the course's location vis-a-vis students previous experiences. These studies in the accounting literature - many of which have mobilised critical and interpretive theory have an empirical emphasis (Laughlin 1995). It includes work which is particularly critical of conventional practice. Prescriptive work that reflects - to some extent - the concerns of such literature includes studies on `enabling' accounting, including work in social and environmental accounting. Such work was also drawn upon in finishing course content. The use of readings and material such as the above particularly helped us to apply the principle of integrating the liberal component within accounting.17 One theme we are concerned to address in the context of integrating the liberal component was the assessment of Western accounting from a Maori, indigenous cultural, perspective. Throughout the course, consistent with a contextual approach students were asked to consider the readings and materials,18 including formally through exercises and in class sessions, from the point of view of various constituencies operating in today's social and business environment - including context of Aotearoa New Zealand; and to discussing essay writing in accounting. Thereafter their were focuses upon politics in accounting regulation debates over the conceptual framework, controversies over cash flow reporting, issues in partnership accounting, uniformity in reporting and the phenomenon of creative asset accounting. The latter, and a final group project, discussed in the main tem also gave rise to presentations in the class. 16 Readings included Lowe and Tinker (1977), Hope and Gray (1982), Hopwood (1983), Tinker (1985), Parker (1986), Puxty et al. (1987), Guthrie and Parker (1989), Gallhofer and Haslam (1993), and Robson (1993). Additional readings for seminars included Briloff (1993), Walker (1993), Fogarty et al (1994), and Young (1996). 17 That some topics were introduced historically consistent with the contextual approach was also deemed to reflect the principle of integration. 18 Including their lectures. 12
regulators, auditors, managers of organisations and users of accounting information.19 The relevance of research for and in teaching or the facilitating of learning has been recognised in the education literature. Beaver (1984), for example, has pointed to the importance of research for accounting education. Wright (1994) suggested that there is a need to reconsider and elevate the role of research in the accounting curriculum: Research topics could be incorporated as part of all courses or, alternatively, a course could be devoted entirely to research and the great writers. Some schools now offer an "accounting theory" course that may deal with some or perhaps essentially all of these issues. A broader view is to change the focus of many accounting courses from procedural to conceptual, which may naturally lead to the appropriate research coverage or, at least minimally, would facilitate the discussion of such topics. (Wright, 1994, p. 172) As we elaborated above, we decided to take the second option of integrating theory into all our courses. The above elements of course design we felt facilitated student opportunities for and exposure to a range of learning styles reflecting a range of theoretical prescriptions for learning consistent with our standpoint on education and the ICANZ concerns. Drawing from the terminology of Leidner and Jarvenpaa (1995; see also Pratt and Davey, 1997), the course had constructivist, socioculturist and collaboratist dimensions in this respect: it sought to enhance independent learning, encouraging students to develop ideas and explore materials (cf Van Peursem 1988), it was consistent with an emancipator interest in education (cf. Gallhofer and Haslam, 1996a) and it valued highly group work and communication (cf May and May, 1989; McLaren 1990). Regarding assessment, we formally assessed five elements: group work, computer based case study, an essay, a test and a find examination. We felt somewhat restricted in holding the latter to what had become the norm of 50% of course assessment. We would have preferred to reduce its weighting somewhat (cf. Neale and Emanuel, 1996; Pratt and Davey, 1997) but felt this would have been inappropriate given the constraints effected by the overall structure. We introduced a compulsory essay question into the Final Examination to reflect better the liberal component and the underlying framework of analysis. The coursework essay also reflected the liberal component, typically dealing with issues such as how ought accounting to be studied. The test supported the workshops in reflecting mainly a concern to ensure that students were able to apply technical accounting skills. The computer based case study was designed with similar objectives in mind. It was concerned to help students consolidate their computing and accounting techniques. The major 19 This is one way in which the (relatively small) business-related component' of the course was to be satisfied. Given the location of the course on a `management' degree, students were also encouraged to understand external accounting as a management focus in an organisational (management context) ­ as well as in a societal (regulatory, governance) context. 13
group work was constituted by a group project which was due for presentation in the last week of the semester. As an example, students were requested to critically evaluate a sample of ANNUAL REPORTS of companies listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange in terms of the issues discussed on the course. The main focus here was on the nature of disclosure, ie. what information is disclosed; how is the information presented (e.g. narrative, monetary terms, photographs etc); what information has not been disclosed but should have been disclosed - for example an assessment of the adequacy of environmental and social disclosures in the annual reports.20 Experiences In the following we discuss our experiences as staff teaching on the course, our experiences of students reactions and our experiences of reactions to the course by other members of staff in the Department of Accounting at Waikato. It is of interest to note that one of us has experienced the course as a student when it was running for the first time as well as a seminar facilitator. Experiences of staff Designing the course material took up a considerable amount of time and effort. There is still a paucity of critical sociological research in the financial accounting area in particular. Further, the literature of accounting education in spite of its encouragement of critical pedagogy, provides few practical examples of course design and implementation in the financial accounting area (cf Bauer et al, 1994). Perhaps this reflects the phenomenon whereby while there is a growing number of critical sociological researchers, few of these appear to teach the material they research (see Day, 1995; cf. Humphrey et al, 1996). Moreover, there was some lack of teaching experience amongst us especially in terms of teaching from a critical sociological perspective, with some of us at an early stage of our academic careers. Preparing for the delivery of lectures thus also took up considerable time and effort. Further, teaching a course which was designed to challenge students' understanding of the subject area was at the same time a challenge for a lecturer or seminar facilitator. It could be emotionally draining. Much emotional energy was also needed to motivate some students to participate in discussion and to see the value of difficult readings. Students had to be continually reminded of the purpose and value of their readings. Similarly, much effort was needed to facilitate an understanding of the relevance of "theory" for the study of financial accounting. A co-operative and collegial approach to some extent helped counter these factors. Our experiences of students' reactions 20 Students usually were able in their presentations and reports to go beyond a narrow understanding and to demonstrate an understanding of accounting as a socially constructed and controversial practice. 14
Despite some attempts to change student preconceptions of accounting in the first year of study,21 most students coming into 0341.202 expected a focus on the technical and more mechanical aspects of accounting. Such an understanding of accounting was deeply rooted in many students. It had especially been developed during their studies at secondary level where courses are designed to develop basic bookkeeping and technical skills rather than to engender an appreciation of accounting as a social practice (Keef and Hooper, 1991; Bauer et al, 1994, p. 11). The emphasis of our course came as a bit of a shock: students had expected to do `more numbers' than at secondary school but instead they were exposed to a view of accounting as a social practice which can be critically analysed and challenged.22 Some students were resentful about a move away from the relative security of a narrow focus upon `facts and figures'. Common complaints23 included that there was too much `theory', not enough `numbers' and that some of the academic articles were too difficult to read. And students did not strongly associate `accounting' with `reading and discussion' at the outset. The attitude of some students that issues other than the technical were not important and relevant for "future accountants" was also unfortunately reinforced by some colleagues who blatantly and covertly disagreed with the changes put through on the course (subter). Our efforts to move beyond a `bean counter' mentally and to justify our approach point to the nature of the challenge involved. Many students displayed an unwillingness to put what seemed to us appropriate effort into preparing for seminars. This again for us reflects the way many students are still taught at secondary school: they expect to be spoon-fed and find it hard to accept that they have a responsibility for their own learning. Student attitudes are also given greater clarification through consideration of their reasons for studying accounting. When asked, the majority of students suggested that they were studying accounting because of the money they could earn. Students may thus have found it difficult to appreciate the character of accountancy practice beyond equating it to what you did to earn money. In particular, notions that accounting was controversial, had social consequences, and might be different were difficult to immediately grasp. A common view put forward by students was that if they had wanted to learn about social aspects they would have studied in the School of Social Sciences rather than in the School of Management Studies! 21 These attempts were hampered by resource constraints. A structural change to how introductory courses in accounting and finance were to be split between the separate Departments of Accounting and Finance disturbed the ongoing development of the first year in the context of the resource constraints. 22 Research suggests that accounting students prefer convergent learning styles consistent with a tendency of having narrow technical interests and preferring the practical application of actual concepts. We believe this is in large part because of the way accounting is taught. Our experiences overall suggest that accounting students are capable of Divergent thinking - consistent with learning through concrete experience, reflective observation and the embracing of a multiplicity of insights (see Brown and Burke, 1987; Pratt and Davey, 1997). 23 The material reflects discussion largely in seminars. 15
Other students were much more positive about the course and were interested in accounting's controversial character and how it might be analysed contextually e.g. in terms of the social, political, economic and cultural factors that constitute it and its social, political, economic and cultural consequences. These students, based on their written and oral contributions to the course, appreciated the relevance of focuses and themes such as gender, culture and globalisation in accounting. Participation in seminar work by these students was significant with substantial effort put into preparation. Some students went on to do projects in areas such as accounting and gender, culture and ethics, in other courses. A few became involved in tutoring on the course which they did with great enthusiasm and skill. Experiencing the course positively as a student no doubt enhanced the contribution in later teaching on it. Other students were more cautious ­ although many started off that way but became more enthusiastic during the course as they perceived themselves to be gaining insights from the course and accepted its validity, including for practice. From feedback from students we know how challenging and controversial the course was. As one student put it, in a written submission: The teaching style was very thought provoking, and the course created heated debate among students. Those who grasped the concepts became "us'. We understood the concepts and changes that needed to be made to the accounting regulations, education, standards, beliefs and value system. We also learnt to keep quiet around other students who were opposed to this course and certain lecturers who could see no wrong with the status quo. "Them" were the students who strongly disagreed with the theory component and could see no wrong with the status quo. Students who were willing to be challenged began to critically look at accounting. As one student notes: It [accounting] became something more than just techniques and numbers. It shows us that the politics in accounting is what shapes it and how it leads to unequal power. The above reactions are perhaps not untypical reactions to a challenging course (Bauer et al, 1994; Cunningham, 1996, p. 63)24. We were especially heartened by those experiencing the course positively and in terms of a valuable learning experience. This gives some impetus to the further development of the course. Clearly a course such as the one discussed here and involving a number 24 Bauer et al (1994) who also report student resistance to their course reconsidered the speed of change halfway through the course. They discussed three possibilities: reversion, a slowed progression, or full speed ahead They opted for `slowed progression... shilling the content emphasis a bit back toward the technical' (p. 10). In contrast given Waikato's specific situation regarding accreditation, we did not change the course setup but increased our efforts to communicate and explain to students the reasons for change and the benefits we felt were associated with that change. 16
of staff matures with age and strength was gained for seeking to continue further with the project of integrating the liberal component. Interestingly, many of the students openly excited about the course over the past three years of its operation25 were Maori, international students and mature students.26 Further, the course was, as it seems to us, better received by female students than amongst male students. Several factors may have been at work here. The course arguably challenged Western individualism and particularism in its holistic and questioning emphases - emphases which suggest a caring attitude to others, nature and the possibility of multiplicity of insights. It did not give the impression that there is one straightforward answer to accounting issues. The course problematised a privileging of `certainty', `hard facts' and `rigid dichotomies' (see also suggested designs for an intermediate accounting course which emphasise the need to promote `tolerance of ambiguity' and independent learning; see Kimrnell, 1995; cf Gabriel and Hirsch 1992). These factors on the one hand resonated more with Maori and Asian culture (see Gallhofer et al, 1997) while on the other they clearly do not fit the characteristics of what has been termed phallogocentric thinking in feminist discourse (cf. Cooper, 1992). Mature students, given their experiences, can perhaps better appreciate the value laden and political nature of accounting (cf Richardson 1994). It would appear that the above categories of students appreciate relating theoretical ideas to everyday experiences, an emphasis on the course (cf Gallhofer et al, 1997). The reaction of the students has indicated that discussing accounting with reference especially to socio-political dimensions and culture can be challenging in the Aotearoa New Zealand context where the indigenous Maori culture had been marginalised by the former colonists. From feedback from Maori students we know that many felt that this course challenged the dominance of Western thinking in accounting education. As one student noted: In the education system there still...is a compulsion for Maori students to learn modes and thoughts of the dominant culture. However, there is no requirement that European students should learn or be taught any part of Maori culture. When you are from a minority you grow up and experience injustice. This course discussed similar issues and made it easier to relate to. As a Maori student this course was about empowerment, giving me the tools to deal with and understand the needs required for indigenous people. Our discussion of student reactions indicates that the way the course was designed and taught was clearly challenging. Students had become aware that accounting was more than numbers, that accounting rules can be changed and that accounting and changes in accounting can have significant socio-political, economic and cultural consequences. Having been exposed to these issues at the university we believe students will be better able to deal with these issues when working in practice ­ a practical dimension of integrating the liberal component in accounting. 25 The 0341.202 course was changed in 1995 and has run in every semester since this time (A, B, and Summer School). 26 This is not to suggest that others did not appreciate it. 17
Experiences of colleagues' reactions It seems to us that reaction to our course on the part of colleagues was mixed, threatening the potentiality of the course and its concern to integrate the liberal component. Some of those involved in teaching on the course in the early phase of its development emphasised the difficulties of moving to a traditional approach to teaching financial accounting which they were much more used to. Doubts were expressed about the ability of students to take on a greater responsibility for their own learning - since more material was involved - and, fundamentally, about the move away born a rule-based accounting education. There was a reluctance to face up to the challenge. Concern was expressed about usage of academic literature which was deemed to be too difficult for undergraduate students. These concerns are also noted by Cunningham (1996, p. 63): While the idea of restructuring a course to enhance students' creative and Critical thinking skills is logical and appealing, the restructuring process may encounter a few hurdles. One major hurdle involves the natural human tendency to resist change. Overcoming resistance to change entails persistence, passage of time, and a large dose of humor. Other hurdles involve faculty concerns about class preparation, grading, adding new material, classroom control, coordination across course sections, and students concerns regarding grading and expectations about the class. A belief that undergraduate accounting teaching should amount to `nuts and bolts' was still, earlier this year, strongly represented amongst senior staff not involved in the course. Much of this reflects the traditional way of teaching accounting - especially financial accounting27 - in Aotearoa New Zealand. As Bygrave (1996, p. 14) observed: The traditional emphasis in teaching accountancy in New Zealand has been a didactic approach involving heavy reliance on a single prescribed textbook and a predictable, technical rule-oriented curriculum. Thus it was - and remains in some cases - a challenge to convince colleagues as much as students (who are also, of course, partners in the education process). And of course, differences in opinion amongst staff can sometimes make it difficult to offer innovative courses where they are easily perceived to be distinctive and challenging - as we have on 27 Our experience is that there is often more innovation in management accounting education. Perhaps this reflects comparative development until relatively recently, in the academic literature. Perhaps it is found difficult to think beyond traditional orthodoxy in a focus so (apparently) dominated by basic rules and prescriptions. As we suggested earlier financial or external accounting is intertwined with processes of governance, regulation and management in society as is management accounting and gives rise to very similar issues and is suggestive of similar approaches. 18
occasions felt has been the case. It is important to try to achieve consistency in teaching across the board in terms of the principle of integrating the liberal component generally and in terms of gaining acceptance for this in each particular course or course groupings (such as the grouping of financial accounting courses).28 Peer pressures and operations are of significance. The education literature more generally has suggested that if it is only a minority of educators who challenge the norms (or, as in this case, who face up to new norms securing ICANZ accreditation) the resistance to them will be more significant than if there was general collegial support. As Waikato attempts to continue to develop its integrative approach serious challenges lie ahead. CONCLUDING COMMENTS Mary Day (1995) has explored the issue whether accounting academics who do critical research also teach critical accounting (see also Humphrey et al, 1996). She comes to the conclusion that most critical researchers are not critical teachers. In the light of our experience we are not surprised that not many academics teach critical accounting as the environment they operate in might not be safe to do so. In our case an important contributing factor for making it possible to teach financial accounting from a critical and sociologically based approach was that two of the authors were holding senior positions in the Department (ie. Chairperson and Financial Accounting Convener). It was the authority of these positions which created a safe environment for junior staff to be involved in the teaching of a course which fundamentally challenged traditional perceptions of accounting. Especially over the last year a strong sense of support and trust developed between those involved in the course which made it possible to address problems experienced not as problems of an individual but as problems of the group which were then solved jointly. Another positive aspect of the involvement in the teaching was that the people involved see the relevance of research for teaching and as a consequence members of the group have been further stimulated to embark on joint research projects. Our paper suggests that it is possible to liberalise accounting education by adopting a principle of integration whereby a liberal dimension is integrated into accounting and related studies. Nevertheless, it is quite a challenge to put this principle into practice ­ we would expect courses reflecting the principle of integration to mature with age. Further challenges lie ahead as the Department grapples with the task of taking seriously the ICANZ accreditation criteria, having accepted these criteria as a step forward. 28 Bauer et al (1994) report, concerning their course which had attempted to move towards a process oriented approach to learning, that at their institution the department and faculty decided to support the status quo and opt for a gradual change over the whole department. 19
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