University level accounting education is in a
“sorry state” in Australia, according to Institute of Chartered
Accountants in Australia (ICAA) chief executive Graham Meyer.

The first problem is ageing accounting

“There are suggestions that within 15 years
there won’t be any more accounting academics left,” Meyer said.

“There is a paucity of students doing a PhD in
accountancy and without PhD students you don’t get new

Meyer said part of the problem lies with the
fact that unless you have a PhD, you can’t progress through
university promotional systems.

The institute is discussing with universities
whether credit could be given to people will relevant business and
commercial skills, so they are not limited to becoming consultants
for universities, but can join the academic system.

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Insufficient English

The second problem for accountancy education
relates to the fact that 60 percent of students at Australian
universities are foreign full fee paying students, Meyer said.

Foreign students are attractive to
universities because they must pay fees upfront and pay higher
rates, while Australian nationals can defer payment.

“Because [foreign students’] English is not
necessarily of a high standard, it tends to slow down the teaching
and slow down the ability to get complex ideas across, which
becomes frustrating for those that do have English as a first
language,” Meyer said.

“[Another implication is] universities are
using accounting skills as a pot of gold. There is a greater and
greater push to get more of these foreign students and the revenue
from that does not to go back into accounting education, but is
used in other departments, because for accounting you just need a
tin shed and a white board, you don’t need a lot of equipment.”

Meyer said there are no easy solutions to the
higher education dilemmas, so the ICAA recruited James Guthrie
towards the end of last year to fill a new position, head of
academic relations.

Guthrie is honorary professor at the
University of Sydney, a fellow of the ICAA and has more than 35
years of experience in accounting education.

As head of academic relations, he will help
the institute form its policy position and proposals.

“It is all very well to criticise and say
‘here is the problem’, but you have also got to be there to provide
solutions,” Meyer said. “Through James Guthrie, we are starting to
work with universities and the government on how we can resolve
these problems.”