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Unlocking the potential for innovation in the accounting curriculum

Author: Dr Susan Smith, Associate Dean (Education and Students), University of Sussex Business School

Published: 04 Jan 2022

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How can we embrace the exciting new possibilities in accounting education?

The pandemic has freed universities from the constraints that previously fixed delivery and assessment modes. It has also catalysed change as academics have interrogated their curriculum with a fresh perspective. At the same time, emerging evidence suggests that changes away from timed unseen examinations have helped to reduce some awarding gaps across the sector [1], although part of this narrowing could also be attributable to associated curriculum development.

It remains too early to conclude whether the pandemic-related changes are merely transitory or more permanent. For example, there has been greater experimentation across the sector with authentic assessment modes, ie assessment that reflects a real-life context (Palm, 2008). However, Fogarty (2020, p.567) sounds a note of caution, asking ‘Are we too addicted to high-stakes content-intensive assessment to be able to let go?’

Meanwhile, the move from a reliance on didactic approaches to active learning has accelerated with Sangster et al. (2020, p.449) asserting that ‘the co-existence of face-to-face and online in increasingly blended formats is, it seems, here to stay.’

What does this mean for accounting degrees?

I believe that as we exit the pandemic a range of exciting new possibilities exists. Universities could combine the constraints of accreditation with the freedom of academia in order to nurture graduates that possess the underlying knowledge and skills [2] for the careers they choose.

To achieve these goals means that accounting degrees must offer more than a replication of the professional syllabus. Academics need to navigate the realities, balancing professional assessment requirements (which include unseen exams and potential proctoring) not only with the academic framework of their institutions but also with broader business school accreditation requirements, eg Equis and AACSB.

We can look to other disciplines for inspiration too. For example, medical students undertake, in real time, a range of assessments based on answering questions about patients’ conditions. Could accounting courses similarly embrace a client scenario? Law students often participate in legal clinics providing the local community with much-needed advice. Can accounting students offer financial literacy training or basic bookkeeping to start-ups? Is there an opportunity for the Department of Accounting to establish a relationship with a local charitable organisation and the local ICAEW local network?

Some possibilities

To date, accounting educators have embraced a range of pedagogical innovations, largely on a piecemeal basis in their own institutions. The challenge now is to share best practices, build capacity and scale up high-impact pedagogies through the sharing of resources. Some examples might include:

  • A capstone case study alongside or in place of a traditional undergraduate dissertation. Similar to the ACA case study, this would bring together the technical skills learned in earlier modules replicating the reality of the workplace where knowledge is not siloed.
  • The case teaching method [3] which has been widely deployed in management education but remains relatively underused in accounting (see for example Andrew Smerdon’s July article for the community and Alice Shepherd’s IFRS case study example [4])
  • Team-based learning pedagogies which have been successfully deployed in introductory accounting courses (Christensen, Harrison, Hollindale, & Wood, 2019), as have gamification tools (Selamat & Ngalim, 2021)
  • Integrating work-related learning into the accounting curriculum (Lewis, Williams, Allen, Goldfarb, Lyall, Kling, & Statham, 2021)
  • Introducing cross-cultural learning by harnessing technology in order to facilitate multi-institutional modules and assessments
  • Piloting accounting clinics, similar to the law clinics which have been a mainstay of law degrees for some time. This would help students build practical advisory skills whilst contributing to the local community.
  • Embedding ethics and sustainability learning more fully across the accounting degree, rather than perpetuating the mindset that they are separate bolt-ons (see for example Jenni Rose’s November 2021 article for the community)

As you can see, the possibilities are apparently endless! It is so important, as accounting degrees evolve, that a holistic view is taken of the student’s learning journey to ensure that all students experience a coherent blend of theoretical, technical, and practical learning which is developed to be sustainable.

This Community provides an excellent opportunity to exchange new approaches as they emerge. If you would like to share innovative teaching, learning, and assessment practices or resources, or wish to seek collaborations with other accounting educators to develop scholarship projects please do contact Hilary Lindsay, the Chair of the Academia and Education Community (hl@hilarylindsay.co.uk) or myself (susan.smith@sussex.ac.uk) to discuss further.

*The views expressed are the author’s and not ICAEW’s.

  1. www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/ethnicity-awarding-gaps-uk-higher-education-201920
  2. www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/10/top-10-work-skills-of-tomorrow-how-long-it-takes-to-learn-them/
  3. www.hbs.edu/teaching/case-method/Pages/default.aspx
  4. accountingcafe.org/2021/12/13/embedding-a-single-company-case-in-an-ifrs-course/


Christensen, J., Harrison, J., Hollindale, J. & Wood, K. (2019) Implementing team-based learning (TBL) in accounting courses, Accounting Education, 28:2, 195-219, DOI: 10.1080/09639284.2018.1535986

Fogarty, T. (2020) Accounting education in the post-COVID world: looking into the Mirror of Erised, Accounting Education, 29:6, 563-571, DOI: 10.1080/09639284.2020.1852945

Lewis, G., Williams, B., Allen, S., Goldfarb, B., Lyall, K., Kling, R., & Statham, P. (2021) Developing an evaluation tool to provide a 360-degree reflection on work-integrated learning in accounting education, Accounting Education, 30:6, 601-620, DOI: 10.1080/09639284.2021.1963994

Palm, T. (2008) Performance Assessment and Authentic Assessment: A Conceptual Analysis of the Literature, Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation: Vol. 13, Article 4. DOI: 10.7275/0qpc-ws45

Sangster, A., Stoner, G. & Flood, B. (2020) Insights into accounting education in a COVID-19 world, Accounting Education, 29:5, 431-562, DOI: 10.1080/09639284.2020.1808487

Selamat, A. & Ngalim, S. (2021) Putra Salamanis board game: the game of bookkeeping for fundamental financial accounting learning, Accounting Education, DOI: 10.1080/09639284.2021.2015408