The AI narrative is shifting and students continue to face multiple challenges. Accounting education must move with the times.
The 2022/23 academic year has challenged the academic and education community once more. The release of ChatGPT 3 in late 2022 led to a rush of activity as the sector sought to understand the risks and opportunities that it, and other generative AI tools offer, not to mention the ethical implications of using them. Also, during 2022/23 both students and academics continue to face mental health challenges and burnout as they continue working through the ongoing cost of living crisis. Now academics are preparing for the next round of the Research Excellence Framework (with different rules of course) and are currently awaiting the results from the most recent round of the Teaching Excellence Framework. This is against the backdrop of a challenging regulatory and funding situation for the UK universities sector. That said, students are now mostly back in classrooms, with the benefits of many lecturers leveraging the digital skills built up through the pandemic to create more flexible learning environments where they can flourish.
What then does 2023/24 and beyond hold for accounting education?
The narrative surrounding generative AI has shifted noticeably in recent months from one predominantly concerned with academic integrity implications to considering the opportunities that it presents. For academic research, generative AI can yield significant productivity gains in the form of literature searching and writing support. In the classroom it can help with the development of lesson plans, the creation of scenarios and case studies, as well as writing check-up questions. For students it can support the review process, acting as a coach, a Socratic opponent or offer self-test capabilities. It is important that accounting academics maintain a dialogue with the profession to understand how such tools are being used in practice so that they can prepare students for the changing workplace.
We are hopeful that we will see a change in what authentic assessment looks like, perhaps with more portfolio work and reflection, including more optionality in assessment to support our diverse student population demonstrate their developing knowledge and skills. As accounting lecturers, we need to be aware of the constraints of professional accreditation but need to continue to challenge our students to develop and demonstrate the skills they need for the future.
All of this brings us to a juncture for accounting education. Too often accounting is conceptualised as a narrow technical subject and students focus on ‘the right answer’. This ignores the important enabling role that accounting plays in society in shaping behaviours, making inequalities visible and also the implications of its darker side, including matters of power and control. Given the power of accounting in society, a strong ethical foundation and the ability to make sound judgements are critical to underpin responsible behaviours. The rapidly developing sustainability reporting area is a fantastic opportunity to draw these themes together and engage with how accountants can work on societal challenges.
Accounting education has a responsibility to embrace and engage with the uncertainties of the subject, ensuring students are equipped with critical thinking skills that enable them to recognise and engage with the complex issues facing contemporary society.
In the words of Garry Carnegie and Jenni Rose ‘How should we redefine accounting?’. The article, from earlier this year, draws on the following definition of accounting:
'A technical, social and moral practice concerned with the sustainable utilisation of resources and proper accountability to stakeholders to enable the flourishing of organisations, people and nature.' (Carnegie, Parker & Tsahuridu, 2021)
Of course, students will still need to be able to perform technical calculations in order to understand the construction of the accounts but the emphasis is likely to shift to engage them further with the uncertainties and areas of judgement at the outset rather than in the more advanced options of their degree.
The question is, are we bold enough to lead these changes?
*The views expressed are the author’s and not ICAEW’s.
Carnegie, G., Parker, L., & Tsahuridu, E. (2021). It's 2020: what is accounting today? Australian Accounting Review, 31(1), 65-73.