Broadening professional education
We aim to explore and advocate for broader professional education which has an active role in shaping the 21st century society. We envision accountancy as a rigorous social science field of study, and not as a technically oriented, procedure-oriented profession, which is the understanding of many students who choose to study it. As the renowned Professor Edward Stamp saw it – accountancy is ultimately a social science, which deals with a system created by people, hence its fundamental characteristics are constantly changing and evolving. We share this vision and aim to create a space to re-engage with normative and critical theories in accountancy, and emphasise that accountancy, as a profession and a field of study, should rethink its intellectual rigour and regain its social purpose.
The Philosophy for Accountancy programme was developed as a cross-disciplinary collaboration, which supports the spirit of the liberal arts education and its interdisciplinary approach to learning. By drawing on interdisciplinary fields of study and research, such as behavioural psychology, sociology, history and philosophy (beyond economic theories), we believe that this breadth will develop well-rounded individuals who are able to think critically and promote more active citizenship within the new generation of professionals. The philosopher Martha Nussbaum points out that economic growth is a goal but not the only goal of society, a narrow technical education does not “deliver the goods” and we need to think of the bigger picture.
A proposal for knowledge construction
To provide a breadth of learning and develop holistic understanding about the role of professionals, we have drawn on insights from learning sciences, philosophy, psychology and organisational theory. We believe that students should be introduced to the underlying micro and macro processes that impact behaviour, learning and organisational structures. By engaging students in philosophical inquiry to reflect on these factors in which the individual acts/exists, we aim to facilitate both individual metacognitive development and improve the greater design of ‘ethical systems’ – a term coined by the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt of NYU Stern School of Business.
We believe that professional education should be broader and more disruptive in driving innovation and progress in society and the economy. The humanities and social sciences are important fields of study that preserve a healthy society and are fundamental for every professional – doctors, engineers or accountants. That is why the programme takes a liberal arts approach, as it argues for fundamental abilities of critical thinking, compassion, imagination, empathy, and creativity. Our aim is to promote this ultimate vision for professional education and propose ways to integrate it within the professional curricula, which could take a three-level approach:
- Induction into the culture of philosophical inquiry and the interdisciplinarity of the liberal arts approach to knowledge construction.
- Contextualising professional technical knowledge by placing it within a larger social frame and questioning the social purpose of accountancy. The ability to understand the greater purpose and the individual’s role within the profession could improve the individual’s moral compass – by placing technical knowledge in perspective and within a larger social frame.
- Building on the ability to critically problematise, think systemically about the profession and design innovative solutions to complex problems – by introducing complexity, systemic thinking and design thinking as tools for deeper learning.
The following graphic illustrates how P4A aims to connect technical knowledge with a broader context of society and the economy. It presents an approach that further informs the well-rounded content of the initiative. While technical expertise is at the centre of professional education, our aim is to situate this knowledge within a wider social frame, which further contextualises and motivates students to work towards a greater purpose.
Engaging with progressive pedagogical approaches
We see the need to engage with progressive pedagogical approaches in order to achieve deeper learning, inspire young professionals by connecting them to the greater purpose of the profession, and develop their personal and professional identities. By connecting insights from various fields of study and allowing for open discussions, P4A aims to broaden and contextualise the spectrum of thinking and create a dialogic space where students develop their values, critical thinking, and ethical commitments.
By integrating the latest research from the field of learning sciences, we hope to support a holistic approach to teaching and learning in professional education, so as not only to develop the students both personally and professionally, but also to rethink how knowledge is constructed in the field.
We propose a constructivist method of learning that engages students in group work, research and project development, philosophical inquiry, and in a space of reason and reflection. Philosophical inquiry is at the heart of our approach as it facilitates: