Education for the Next Generation of Professional Accountants

Aug 01, 2013 | IFAC News, August 2013 | English

IFAC recently interviewed Dr. Peter Wolnizer, chair of the International Accounting Education Standards Board (IAESB), to discuss his vision for accounting education in an era of globalization and technological advancements.

Would you discuss some emerging trends and issues facing accounting education at the academic and professional level?

There are many issues to consider, including the globalization of education, the relative interdependency of the academic accounting community and professional accounting education providers in the design and provision of professional accounting education, the increasing mobility of professional accountants across countries and jurisdictions, and the impact of information and communication technologies on the delivery of educational programs and services.

The issues of mobility and technology-empowered educational delivery methods, in particular, will become increasingly important as those who undertake professional education will demand that programs are delivered in a form and at a time that suits their work and lifestyle choices. As a result, professional education programs that focus on learning outcomes to develop professional competence, while instilling flexibility into their delivery methods, will be more likely to succeed in the future. This is especially true for continuing professional development programs where professional accountants need to embrace lifelong learning so as to adapt to the globalization of information and increasing mobility.

Can you give an example of a profession where education and a profession work especially well together?

In medicine, law, and engineering there is a discernible influence and collaboration between research, education, and practice. I don’t think that holds as strongly in accounting as it does in those other professional fields. It is a challenge ensuring international education standards are designed to enhance the quality of professional accounting education worldwide with the specific public interest aim of increasing the competence and judgment of professional accountants to increase stakeholder confidence and trust.

Setting international education standards to raise the quality of professional accounting education means these standards have to speak across jurisdictions, be sensitive to cultural differences, and be relevant to the contemporary world of work.

There is a need for thought leadership and enhancement of collaborative dialogue between the academic community and the profession, focusing on professional accounting education and practice. This is one of the principal points at issue in the Pathways Commission’s work and report. [The Pathways Commission is sponsored by the American Accounting Association and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.]

What are some other issues the IAESB faces over the next few years?

This board must be forward looking and have an informed understanding of the kind and scope of work that will be performed by professional accountants in the future, and how technology will impact the nature of that work. What will the world of the professional accountant look like in five years’ time?

We have to anticipate significant change. The challenge is to set standards and work with educators around the world to best prepare professional accountants for a future world of work that’s very difficult to foresee. Globalization and technological innovations are real forces, and organizational forms and business models must continually adapt to market, regulatory, and environmental changes. These changes will cause future learning and development models to become increasingly flexible and diverse. Professional accountants will be continually challenged to adapt to constantly changing and increasing knowledge and skill requirements.

The standards that we’re setting and the thought leadership we’re seeking to provide have to be as well informed as possible from continual environmental scanning and engagement with stakeholders who understand more about what’s going on in the environment and the 24-7 world of the professional accountant than we can know from our individual experiences. In spite of these pressures, education standards on professional development must continue to serve the public interest while striking a balance between developing professional competence and ensuring professional accountants are empowered with skills that enable them to adapt to a constantly changing environment.

What is your view on online education’s impact on professional accounting education?

In International Education Standard 2, Initial Professional Development-Technical Competence, the board recognizes the importance of professional accountants having appropriate competence in the IT sector; however the standards are not written to prescribe or recommend particular educational or delivery models. So, the standards are independent of the technological environment in terms of educational delivery.

Potential participants in professional accounting education programs have grown up with considerable familiarity with modern communication technologies and are literate and well-practiced in the use of modern technologies.

Experts regularly say they can’t foresee what the whole IT environment will look like in the future. What has served us well in the past and currently will not necessarily serve us well into the future.

So I think aspiring professional accountants will have very different working lives, career paths, and organizational and regulatory contexts compared with those of previous generations. The world of work, the nature of work, where and how work is done have undergone significant and perhaps even unforeseen changes.

Therefore, the current and future providers of professional accounting education will have to be innovative in curricula design and educational delivery, and adaptable to the dynamics of the world of the professional accountant of the future. The significant talent and diversity of experience and expertise represented on the IAESB from around the world has contributed greatly to international education standards and related guidance statements that will have a beneficial impact on professional accounting education worldwide.


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