Preparing accountants of the future
Credit: Singapore Management University
SMU Office of Research and Tech Transfer – The Singapore Management University’s (SMU) Second Major in Accounting Data & Analytics (AD&A) programme offered by the School of Accountancy (SOA) is the first of its kind in Singapore. It aims to equip students with the relevant skills in data and analytics, which are in demand in the accountancy sector.
Says Associate Dean (Teaching and Curriculum) Associate Professor Seow Poh Sun of the programme: “This is particularly important considering that the need for accountants to become more tech savvy and conversant with data has been identified as one of the important ways that can help the accounting profession continue to thrive amidst digital transformation.”
Evaluating the efficacy of the programme
Professor Seow and his team of investigators are preparing to evaluate the efficacy of the programme. The study will be funded by the MOE Tertiary Education Research Fund (TRF). The two-year project will begin in September 2020.
According to Professor Seow, the study seeks to examine three research questions (RQs): (1) To what extent does the AD&A Second Major programme equip students with key skills and competencies in the future accounting workplace? (2) To what extent does it achieve its intended learning outcomes? And (3) How would insights gained from this study impact the design of future programmes in data and analytics given the disruption caused by emerging technologies?
The need for evaluation
Why does the programme need to be evaluated in such depth, compared to other programmes? The accounting profession is rapidly evolving due to technological innovations, Professor Seow tells the Office of Research and Tech Transfer. It is predicted that over the next decade, information technology (IT) will significantly transform the accounting profession.
IT is expected to enhance transparency, accuracy, and the communication of financial information as well as offer opportunities for accountants to create value, perform more in-depth analyses, and provide timely financial advice. As such, there have been calls for university programmes capable of equipping accounting students with technology skills that they will bring to the future workplace.
“We want to ensure that accounting degree programmes include learning experiences that develop skills and knowledge related to the integration of IT in accounting and business,” he adds. “These experiences include development of skills and knowledge related to data creation, data sharing, data analytics, data mining, data reporting, and storage within and across organisations.”
The future of accountancy
In Singapore, there has been extensive discussion on the role of IT in accounting. For example, in 2015, the Singapore government established a Committee on the Future Economy to develop economic strategies that can position the country well for the future. A working group on legal and accounting services was formed as part of the Committee.
In its 2017 report, the working group acknowledged the role that technology will play in the jobs of accountants and recommended that universities should embed technology into the accounting (and law) curriculum. Minister Indranee Rajah announced on 22nd August 2019 that the Singapore Accountancy Commission, the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants, and the Infocomm Media Development Authority will develop a new accountancy industry digital plan to help Singapore’s accountancy sector push ahead with digitalisation and support firms in adopting technology for greater productivity and competitiveness.
“This study will provide insights not only to help improve the AD&A programme but also to educators seeking to develop other similar programmes, both in accounting and in other professions such as law and finance,” Professor Seow says.
The study will employ a mixed methods research design. To address the first research question (RQ1), the study aims to obtain feedback from employers, accounting professionals and alumni who have completed the programme (via surveys and interviews) on the extent to which the AD&A Second Major programme imparts key skills in data and analytics, which are expected in the future accounting workplace.
“To address the second research question (RQ2), our study seeks to measure students’ learning outcomes for the five compulsory courses in the AD&A Second Major programme. Four of these courses are under the data technology pillar, and we will conduct experiments to measure students’ knowledge,” Professor Seow explains. “For the final compulsory component that is the accounting analytics capstone, students need to deliver solutions for real-world projects. We will interview industry partners who provided projects to gather detailed insights on whether the students met their expectations of the capstone project deliverables.”
“We will also engage students via focus group discussions to gather their perceptions about competencies gained and key learning takeaways from completing the capstone course,” he continues. “Then we will interview employers of the graduates in order to gather detailed insights on whether the graduates of the programme have met the expectations of the accounting profession.”
Finally, to address the third research question (RQ3), the study will assimilate insights gained from RQs 1 and 2 to examine how future programmes in data and analytics can be designed to equip students with the necessary skills to thrive in the future workplace.
Impact of IT on the accounting profession
Professor Seow’s research interests are in accounting information system (AIS) and accounting education. The AIS discipline arises primarily from the application of IT in the accounting and auditing environment. “I am keen to examine the impact of IT on the accounting profession as it undergoes digital transformation. I am also interested to integrate innovative teaching pedagogies and accounting education research to examine the effectiveness of the teaching innovations and share the pedagogies with the accounting education community,” he says.
As the Associate Dean (Teaching and Curriculum) of SOA, Professor Seow looks after the AD&A programme. He argues that evaluating the AD&A Second Major programme is important not only to understand whether the programme’s goals are met but also to identify potential problems and recommend possible improvements. “I hope it will benefit more students and instructors. I am also teaching AIS, one of the compulsory courses under the AD&A programme. This study will provide insights to help me improve the course.”
According to Professor Seow, SOA is launching another new Second Major programme in Financial Forensics in August 2020. “We will be able to apply the knowledge gained from this study to help us better evaluate the new Financial Forensics programme. The school is constantly reviewing its curriculum to ensure that we are producing future-ready accounting professionals.”