Accountancy - Links Between Academics and the Profession

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by Neil Harris

Academics teaching accountancy related subjects in universities often have stronger links with their profession than lecturers and researchers in other subjects. Some began their careers in accountancy firms, including the top four international firms (Deloitte, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, KPMG and Ernst & Young). Other accountancy academics were previously either management accountants, working as finance directors of companies or in senior positions with banks. Yet at some point in their successful careers they made the decision to change direction and become a lecturer and researcher in finance and accounting within a university department.

Even while working within academia many people still maintain their business links. Some work on a part-time basis as consultants, non-executive directors of companies or trustees. Some utilise their teaching skills by being employed on a part-time basis as trainers of those working within the financial sector.

The professional accountancy bodies also rely on academics to assist them in the development of the curriculum for the examination of students. This curriculum leads to qualification as a professional accountant. Some academics assist with the marking and moderating of the examinations.

Investment adviser and expert witness

Janette Rutterford is Professor of Financial Management at the Open University Business School where she is responsible for several courses including the MBA in Financial Strategy and the MSc in International Finance. Her research includes performance management. Outside the university she is an investment adviser to several pension funds and a trustee of one such fund. Other activities include acting as an expert witness in law suits that are concerned with the mismanagement of investments and contributions to the broadcast and published media.

Trainer and consultant

David Cairns began his career in the accountancy profession and became a partner at Stoy Hayward but has also worked in business with firms such as Black and Decker, Carlsberg and Société Générale. He rose to become Secretary General of the International Accounting Standards Committee. David now runs his own consultancy which provides training to many organisations on international financial reporting standards. But he is also a visiting professor at the London School of Economics where he teaches international accounting, lecturing the course on ‘Accounting in the Global Economy' to master's degree students.

Andrew Coulson, a senior lecturer and course tutor in accountancy and taxation at Newcastle Business School is a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and maintains strong links with the profession. In addition to his work at the Business School he also works as a part-time trainer, giving short courses to accountancy firms including Ernst and Young. He is also an active consultant, providing professional advice on financial issues for local solicitors in the Newcastle area.

Researching Risk and Regulation

While business schools emphasise the practical application of the subjects they teach and the vocational education that they provide, university accountancy departments place more emphasis on research and the academic side of the subject. At the Accountancy Department of the London School of Economics (LSE) they express this as ‘giving students an understanding of accounting and finance and developing critical analytical skills to evaluate relevant issues in financial management'.

As the political parties think deeply about how to make the banking system more stable, nothing could be more relevant just now than the problem of reducing financial risk and developing systems that will in future regulate firms operating in financial markets. LSE runs the Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation where academic staff are devising novel ideas that will ultimately be extremely valuable to governments as well as public and private sector organisations. Clearly the questions about how to manage risk and how to regulate the major players in global finance are not merely academic issues but require new thinking which academics in that sphere are actively researching.

Michael Bromwich, CIMA emeritus professor of accounting and financial management at LSE, was recently awarded the CIMA Gold Medal for outstanding service and providing direction to the entire profession. He enjoys an international reputation for developing the science of accounting. ‘Younger academics in the research based universities', he says, ‘have come up through the PhD route and have less to do with the profession'.

The Professional Bodies

The profession maintains contact with universities, assisting with research funding. It also offers speakers on a range of topics. Also, some practising accountants like David Cairns work as part-time lecturers. The professional accountancy bodies such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) and The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants work closely with academic departments to recruit new students into their ranks. The ‘Partners in Learning Scheme' of ICAEW encourages relevant university departments to offer options within their courses that will give their students exemption from some of the professional examinations. They provide support through Internet access to learning materials and welcome academic staff at professional events. Students are offered networking contacts with local accountancy recruiters and receive regular newsletters. The ICAEW recruitment team provides speakers for student events, runs a business game at many universities throughout the UK and attends many of the university Career Fairs.

The other professional accountancy bodies are naturally competing for promising new graduates and offer similar services both to relevant academic departments and to university careers services.

Graduate Recruitment

Large chartered accountancy firms have for many years taken recruitment very seriously. Every year they organise numerous events on campus within universities, their target group being the entire student population, not just those studying degree subjects that are relevant to accountancy. Events include skills sessions for students, such as workshops on making presentations, business games and talks by qualified accountants. Sponsorship of student societies is sometimes on their agenda and attendance at Careers Fairs around the universities is usual during the annual recruitment cycle.

The firms maintain links with academics and careers advisers by occasionally inviting them to presentations on their own premises to discuss the latest changes in the training of student accountants, developments within the profession and the current nature of the recruitment market.

Overall, there is an immense quantity of activity going on between academics and the profession in accountancy. The extra curricular work that professional accountants do at universities, and the work of academics who engage with the profession, enriches their experiences and allows them to offer a better service to their students.

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