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Internationalization of the accounting curriculum.

The curriculum at a school of business or accounting today bears remarkable similarity to the curriculum of many decades ago. Unfortunately, this curriculum does not prepare the U.S. businessperson for the environment he or she will be facing in the real world.

The accounting curriculum has been driven by domestically minded businesspeople pushing domestically minded faculty to educate domestically minded students. Since these three populations live in a world in which others have up to now readily adapted to the U.S. world ("Everyone speaks English; why should I learn a new language?"), there has been no motivation to change.

The challenge accounting educators face to effect change is based on three important factors they must address:

1. The significant change in the global business environment that accounting must serve--that is, the interrelationship of the world's economies.

2. The noninternational focus of U.S. accounting students, who will have to be educated so they can deal with a changing environment.

3. Inertia--the fact that people in general resist change. Business clients, accountants and educators are no exception.

Essentially, curriculums are reflections of two forces: the complexity of the business environment and employers' desire for new hires who will be productiver immediately. To keep pace with business complexities, courses on specifics, such as computers, were added to accounting curriculums. This move, however, did not provide students with a sense of the breadth of business issues. Indeed, accountants with broad knowledge of business have evolved in spite of the education system, not because of it.

The profession has been urging accounting educators to change their curriculums to meet the needs of public practitioners. However, the issue of internationalizing the accounting curriculum is reawakening the notion that universities should provide a broad-based education, not simply training for a person's first day's work.

Furthermore, there is the practice of making curriculum changes department by department--the traditional approach, which has served in the past but needs reexamination for the future. It may be the current production-oriented system of courses (basic, intermediate and advance accounting) is no longer the one that meets job requirements.


Thus, we are being forced to change, and we are not good at it. This is true both in American business and in American business schools.

But at least we know change is in the wind. Progress is being made as international courses are introduced across various disciplines. For example, international marketing, international finance and international economics are already standard offerings in many university curriculums. However, they often are electives ignored by students because their programs of study have too many required courses.


Undergraduate or graduate accounting curriculums may be being asked to remedy too many deficiencies at the secondary and even elementary education levels. Even so, graduate business schools are moving quickly to integrate international issues in curriculums, even more so than undergraduate schools. This provides a means by which broad-based liberal arts undergraduates can be brought into the business community in general and into the accounting profession in particular.

Other steps, such as the following, are being taken to incorporate international aspects into college and university curriculums:

* The more internationally minded faculty are changing their courses so international issues flavor classroom discussions. We still have a long way to go before this happens in accounting departments, however.

* The influx of non-Americans into many business school faculties, which certainly adds an international aspect to the classroom, has the potential for instilling an international mind-set into curriculums.

* Preliminary attempts are being made to create a "whole person" (a 21st century Renaissance person?) by blending into the accounting curriculum an awareness of the cultures of people around the world.

Although these measures will help prepare the CPA of tomorrow, more efforts are needed. For example, cross-departmental international case studies, which would help globalize the thinking of faculties as well as students, should be developed with the support of businesses and CPA firms.


This raises a challenge to senior people in CPA firms and to CPAs in industry who will have to work hand in hand with educators in developing curriculums that will produce the broadly educated recruits required for international business.

WALTER O'CONNOR, CPA, PhD, is chairman of the accounting and taxation area at Fordham University, New York City.
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Title Annotation:Accounting Education
Author:O'Connor, Walter
Publication:Journal of Accountancy
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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