Accounting and accountants over the last few decades have been subjected to considerable pressures. These include the increasing sophistication and complexity of contemporary business; the increasing internationalisation/globalisation of business; rapid improvements in communications and technology, and greater accountability demands on business by societies.
All of these pressures are closely interrelated and interdependent, and as one increases it seems inevitable that the others will too. In every country in the world, business practices are becoming increasingly complex. This has resulted from the increasingly complex form of business ownership - amalgamations, mergers and takeovers. In attempting to reduce competition and win ever-increasing shares of markets, in some industries some business entities are reaching sizes never imagined a few decades ago. Some novel forms of business activities have emerged, such as new forms of financial securities - they and varied derivatives and hedging techniques. Businesses are being man- aged through new, sometimes merely fashionable, management concepts. For example, total quality management, total productive management, activity-based costing resulting in greater demands on business advisors for risk assurance. Business activity has transcended traditional demographic boundaries; there is an increase in global commerce. Multi-national, Transnational (TNC) and even global companies have emerged as major players in the economic activities of all states. Two thirds of international trade is currently undertaken by only 500 companies. Business is transacted over national boundaries, in different currencies and ex- pressed in different languages.
The most obvious source of change is one that has increasingly affected all aspects of our lives, let alone business - computerisation. The business community has been quick to see the benefits of the electronic age; and computers are being used in a great many businesses from small to large. More and more aspects of business activity are now being computerised. E- commerce is now an everyday expression. The internet is now used by upwards of 100 million people, with numbers doubling every year.
However, there are less visible changes brought about by the increased electronic technology - in the area of communication. The speed with which information can be transmitted has added an urgency to business activity. Since the 1980s, telecommunications traffic has been expanded by an average of 20% per year. The information superhighway that Bill Gates talked of ten years ago is now a multiple-lane freeway.
In many countries, there has been an increasing demand by societies in general for decision-makers to be more accountable. There is a greater awareness of the fact that resources are ultimately scarce, so those who have charge over them should use them in the most judiciousway, for the greatest benefit of those who provide the sanction of their use: the societies in which they operate. Sometimes this has been the result of dramatic or catastrophic events, such as the Bhopal gas leak, the nuclear accident at Chemobyl, or the environmental disaster of the Exxon Valdiz oil spill. Many more times, they have come from an enhanced local awareness of living in a new century. Governments as well as the commercial sector have felt the pinch of this pressure. Accountability seems to be the catchcry. These are just some of the more obvious pressures on business in the 21st century. Accountancy facilitates business activity by providing information on the economic actors. The discipline has to meet the needs of the economic decision-makers by continuing to provide reliable, relevant, useful and timely information. An effective accounting education program has to respond to, and even anticipate, these new demands that have been placed on accountants. Not all university accounting courses have adapted to this need - but fortunately; some have. Programs such as those from the Department of Accounting and Finance at the University of Wollongong, where emphasis is placed on student-centred learning. Students are encouraged to challenge existing knowledge and present creative and innovative solutions to contemporary problems facing the discipline. During the learning process, students are required to reflect on what they are learning, and how they will approach problems when they face them in their professional careers.
The general problems described above should be addressed in a department's ac- counting programs. Extensive use is made of computers and the Internet - global electronic business is viewed as an essential element of accounting education. Thus graduates are fully aware of the global aspects of modem business. Communication skills are developed as well as teamwork. Not only does this enhance personal confidence it makes graduates more attractive to prospective employers, as the ability to work in teams and communicate with clients, peers and superiors in the work environment is crucial.
Students are increasingly combining other majors with accounting, giving them an edge in the employment market. Majors can include finance, information systems/ marketing, international business, electronic commerce and many others.
Those contemplating a career in accountng related areas should choose carefully the institution from which they will gain their professional education. It should be one that fully recognises the environment of 21 st century business.
Author Professor Michael Gaffikin Dept. Accounting & Finance University of Wollongong
Professor Michael Gaffikin
University of Wollongong
Tel: (02) 4221 3555