19/12/2011 5:50:38 AM
James Guthrie -
As I've highlighted over the past year or more, accounting is one discipline that continues to be at a crossroads in the higher education sector. The profession is faced with many challenges including: chronic student to staff ratios, an ageing academic workforce, and the changing skill-sets required of accountants. But, now it’s the issue of underfunding in accounting education that’s once again grabbing headlines.
In the final report of the Higher Education Base Funding Review (the Review) by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), it acknowledges that underfunding for accounting undergraduates is a real concern that needs to be addressed.
As the first category of disciplines — accounting, administration, economics and commerce, the report highlights a clear gap between costs and funding, based on evidence in their costing study. Under the original relative funding model, this group was assigned to the lowest funding known as cluster 1. Why? Because these disciplines enrolled large numbers of students who were taught in a lecture style, which meant no specialist facilities or equipment was needed. Therefore it was argued that lecture teaching could be delivered at a relatively low cost.
However, in terms of accounting and economics, the costing study shows the average costs of teaching and scholarships exceed the funding provided by government even before the costs of any research-related activity is considered. Compared to all other disciplines, accounting and business students contribute the most to the total cost of their education – an exorbitant 84% with some other disciplines as low as 19%. What rationality, particularly one supported by evidence, can there be that business students pay the most for courses whilst for other disciplines, students pay less? After analysing possible reasons the Panel concluded that "the underfunding of accounting, administration, commerce and economics is a genuine issue" (p. 56).
In fact, the Institute argued in its submission for the Review that the low levels of per student funding resulted in lower course quality through larger classes and higher student to staff ratios. Universities have also had difficulty filling vacancies due to low salary levels, large classes, heavy workloads and limited support for research. The consequence of this can be seen in the recent Excellence in Research Australia results with most accounting faculties and staff not performing at the world-class level. So, what next? In 2012 we need to see positive change. While it’s pleasing to see the funding issue has been identified and some sound principles-based recommendations on the table for discussion, real action with measurable outcomes must follow.
I call on the federal government to collaborate more closely with universities, the professional bodies and industry so we are all on the same page. Otherwise these challenges will only continue to impact the quality of accounting and business education and graduates entering the profession.
James Guthrie (Member since: 31/05/2011 5:00:07 AM)
As Head of Academic Relations at the Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia, I engage with accounting academics and stakeholders in the Australian higher education system and provide thought leadership to benefit the wider accounting profession.
I have more than 35 years experience in accounting education and am an honorary professor at the University of Sydney, a Professor at Macquarie University and Bologna University in Italy.
Prior to joining the Institute, I was the Chair of Discipline of Accounting at the University of Sydney and I've previously held roles at the Macquarie Graduate School of Management and the University of New South Wales.
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