E-learning for teaching Accountancy – universities need to embrace or face being obsolete!

By Paul Caulfield, Teaching Fellow, Birmingham City Business School

The demand for university accounting courses is burgeoning, especially those courses that are accredited by the accountancy professional bodies and deliver exemptions from their exams.

With the current uniform fee structure, universities view these courses as a source of valuable income which provide the cross cost subsidisation of more costly courses in science, engineering and medicine.

From my perspective, as a newly appointed accounting academic who only recently left accountancy practice, I am surprised that much of the teaching of accountancy at university has not moved on since I studied this discipline at university in the early 1990s. The traditional process of teaching the stages of accountancy through explanation, demonstration and application (practice) is still valid supplemented by scenario based case studies which provide the fundamental skills necessary to test learning. But the medium of teaching is still dominated by paper based formal classroom-structured delivery.

This is simply not conducive to providing the employability skills that are required by the modern world of accountancy. In today’s organisations, no accounting transactions will be recorded on paper and no financial analysis working or reporting will be done on paper that will be of any use to managers wanting to understand and support the business recommendations behind the accounting data prepared by the Accounting department. The world of paperless organisations has been in existence for many years.

The newly employed accountancy graduate will, therefore, need to have strong analytical capabilities supported by spreadsheet, Word document and PowerPoint skills sets. For the recording and reporting work, they must also have the facility to quickly assimilate the computerised accounting systems utilised in organisations.

Therefore, it is imperative that universities, when planning the delivery of accounting courses, embed as much technology as possible. Ideally, this should start with all teaching of practical topics that involve calculations taking place on computers so that students can undertake practice calculations on spreadsheets. This would encourage the level of computer literacy which is needed by Accountants in the work place.

These spreadsheet skills are paramount and students come to university with differing levels of ability depending on their previous experience. Therefore, a spreadsheet course should be integrated throughout their university degree and one that culminates in an advanced level of spreadsheet skills. Ideally, this should be largely self-taught with tutor support due to those differing levels of base skills that will result in differing paces of progress.

Running concurrently, certainly in the first two years of accounting study, should be modules that result in a high technical competence in at least one dedicated computerised accounting software package such as Sage Accounts or Xero.  These provide the basic mechanics of computerised accounting software to supplement the study of the basics of accounting double entry and this would bridge the knowledge/ application gap between learning of double entry to actually applying double entry in the work place.