I can still clearly remember that one class at my alma mater, University of Chicago. The one class that profoundly challenged me and inspired me to look for more than just a degree from my studies. It was an introductory class in the public policy stream but, as often happens, the teacher made all the difference. The real vivid examples and rich personal stories that he used in his class were so mesmerising and his approach so intellectually stimulating that I still consider his teaching the most influential academic experience of my graduate studies.
I put this professor on a pedestal and highly recommended him to classmates and prospective students – until I accidentally listened to him delivering a lecture in another course. I realised that he repeated the same examples, stories and jokes though slightly changing the context and names. I felt almost betrayed – instead of being a partner in a bespoke academic discourse, I felt like “another brick in the wall.” The foundations of the high pedestal were suddenly shaken. I never stopped admiring and appreciating my professor, but this experience made me less naive.
This all happened years ago, but I was recently reminded of this experience during a few engaging discussions with US and UK accounting students. They shared concerns and frustrations about how their professors repeat the same lectures year after year and “instead of teaching students they just preach at them.” Several students talked about the deep disconnect they often feel with their academic programs and how little enthusiasm they feel about joining the profession.
I find this really disturbing. Especially as these students are a lot less naive than I was during my freshman years. Are academia and practice dangerously misaligned with the aspirations of the younger generation? I’ve heard a lot of comments and opinions about how naive students can be, but I would say that the students who I’ve met are far from naive.
I feel honored to have had the chance to discuss the future of the audit and accounting professions with over a hundred students from Baltimore University, Ohio State, Grand Valley State, Midwestern State, Iowa State, University of Manchester and University of North Texas. These interactive workshops, as part of our AuditFutures University programme, have given us plenty of evidence leading us to these two big questions:
How can the accounting academy adapt to embrace and respond to the needs of new generations?
Is the profession ready to welcome the generation of the millenials and listen to their aspirations for the future?
These are indeed complex questions. No one can claim to really know the answer. In fact, we should first discuss whether we have the right questions. Therefore, I would like to start the discourse by sharing the thoughts and perspectives of the key stakeholders in education – students. I will do this in a series of three blog posts – the first two will focus on these two questions and the last one will offer a few ideas on what we can do and what we are developing in our AuditFutures University programme.