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New Challenges for students

Caroline Bailes, a lecturer in management and accounting at the University of Hertfordshire, came up with a unique idea for teaching her students corporate governance.

Caroline, a chartered accountant herself, wanted to encourage her students to gain a sound knowledge of corporate governance, but also think freely. She wanted them to see that in an area such as corporate governance, not everything has a black and white answer. “As well as teaching history and theory of corporate governance, I wanted my students to come up with and deliver their own ideas on some of questions that face businesses today,” commented Caroline.

While working on a new course material, she came across ICAEW’s thought leadership New Challenges: Five Questions.

ICAEW has been working on five big questions concerning the board of companies since the financial crisis began. These are:

With the bank bailout, public outcry on executive pay or the lack of diversity on boards in the public consciousness, many of us have thought about these five questions: what is clear is that there are no straightforward answers. ICAEW has published short papers on the first three questions in 2013 and the remaining two will be published in 2014.

Caroline contacted Jo Iwasaki, Head of Corporate Governance, to see if she could use the ICAEW material as part of the course work. Jo obviously thought it a brilliant idea and a mini joint project was born!

Caroline assigned her students to write an essay on the ICAEW paper ‘What should companies be responsible for?’ as part of their corporate governance module assessment. To inspire students, Jo went to the University to talk about the paper in December, sharing what ideas went in to develop the paper. She spoke of the challenges that a modern board faces, and the importance of having an inquiring mind in tackling these challenges. When students submitted their essays, Caroline was overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of their ideas.

In early February, Caroline, and five students who wrote the best essays, visited ICAEW in Moorgate. “ICAEW was very keen to engage with our students and Jo Iwasaki gave them a fantastic tour of Chartered Accountants' Hall. The round table discussion on corporate governance was the highlight of our visit and something the students will not forget. I was extremely proud of all of them – they contributed their thoughts readily and made some very good points. It isn’t often that students have the opportunity be part of shaping the future of their subject area,” said Caroline. Rick Payne, Technical Manager, Finance and Management Faculty, joined the meeting to add a different take on the discussion.

During the discussions the group looked at how hard it could be to balance different arguments when it comes to company responsibility. The students had already found this a challenge, when writing their essays, and some key points raised were;

  • Companies should be responsible to a range of things, but how can they do so effectively while they are by law responsible to the shareholders.
  • Even among shareholders, depending on who they are, they perceive risk differently, eg, shareholders, investment managers and others in the investment chain.
  • It was hard for certain businesses to serve both their business purpose and be socially acceptable.
  • There is no single formula for all companies.

The students had only been studying corporate governance for 5-6 weeks before starting to write their essays and, as the corporate governance module was now over, they were on their way to fulfilling their ambitions to be the next auditors, bankers and even pilots of the future!

(L to R) are: Front: Elena, Siobhan, Kudzaishe . Back: Rick Payne, Max, Jo Iwasaki, Savva, Caroline Bailes