The accounting education change debate is not new, indeed, since the first accounting programmes were offered by universities and professional accountancy bodies in the 19th century, their relevance and currency has been questioned. However, the nature and scale of the change debate has intensified over the past thirty years, as accounting education within higher education has expanded considerably and there has been an explosion in demand for those with accounting knowledge and skills in the global marketplace.
The most enduring criticism of accounting education is that it fails to appropriately prepare professional accountants to meet the challenging and dynamic needs of contemporary organisations. More particularly, it has been reported that many accounting programmes focus on developing technical accounting knowledge and skills at the expense of broader business knowledge and competencies, thus failing to prepare students to cope with knowledge obsolescence and changing demands on accountants in organisations. Many academics also consider that the dominance of the accounting profession in shaping accounting education means that programmes provide “a narrow, functionalist view of the discipline” and fail both to expose students to multiple perspectives of accounting and to enrich their intellectual capabilities such that they can critique current practice and develop innovative ideas.
Many educators have listened to the criticisms and significant changes are evident in the programmes offered by professional bodies and universities. Accounting programmes now focus on developing the multiple types of competences needed by accountants in the modern business world. Further, many programmes provide a wider perspective on accounting and explore topics beyond the traditional, technical syllabus (e.g. sustainability, corporate social responsibility, accounting in society etc.), in addition to embracing both broader business subjects and skills development.
There is no doubt that there is scope to further enrich the education of accountants, however, the time is ripe to shift the focus of the accounting education change debate to the delivery of accounting courses to those who will not become accountants. Non-accountants do not need to be taught the intricacies of technical accounting, instead they need to understand the role of accounting in their organisations and how accounting information impacts on their roles, whether that be as a marketing specialist in a multi-national, a family business owner or a GP in a medical practice. Thus the attention of accounting educators needs to focus more astutely on the content and orientation of the accounting courses taught to MBA students and the undergraduate courses that are taught to general business, engineering, science and humanities students. If such courses focus on cultivating a contextual understanding of core accounting concepts and also develop some appropriate financial analysis skills, they will provide students with the competence and confidence to participate effectively in the strategic discourse and decision-making in organisations. Thus, by engaging in this debate, accounting educators have an opportunity to add real value to the career prospects of non-accounting specialists who aspire to management and leadership roles.
Barbara Flood is Professor of Accounting and Deputy Dean at DCU Business School. Her research focuses on accounting education and training and she is a member of the Education, Training and Lifelong Learning Board of Chartered Accountants Ireland.
 Boyce, G. (2004) Critical accounting education: teaching and learning outside the circle, Critical Perspectives on Accounting, 15(4/5), 565-586.
 In their model of professional competence, Cheetham and Chivers (1998) contend that professional competence comprises of Knowledge/Cognitive competence, Functional competence, Personal/ Behavioural competence, Values/Ethical competence and a range of meta competencies, such as communication, analysis, reflection. See Cheetham, G and Chivers, G. (1998) The reflective (and competent) practitioner: a model of professional competence which seeks to harmonise the reflective practitioner and competence-based approaches, Journal of European Industrial Training, 22(7), 267-276.