Elizabeth Gammie

Celebrating the past, present and future of accounting at RGU

By Elizabeth Gammie, Professor of Accounting and Dean of Aberdeen Business School, Robert Gordon University - 11 January 2023

As Robert Gordon University celebrates the 25-year anniversary of the Accounting and Finance undergraduate degree l have found myself both reminiscing and looking forward to the future.

The degree was designed to align with the various professional body syllabi and thus obtain maximum exemptions whilst incorporating an extensive credit bearing work placement. The intention was to produce work-ready graduates and provide students with the knowledge and competence to launch successful accounting careers.

It is with great pride and pleasure that I have watched graduates from the course secure their first graduate jobs; study to become professionally qualified with a variety of professional accounting bodies; become professional prize winners competing against some of the brightest and best graduates in the country; and accelerate up the ranks to CFOs and CEOs of multinational organisations.

The course content and indeed our student profile looks somewhat different than it did 25 years ago when we launched with 19 eager first year students. We now recruit more than 100 students each year, including students who can enter directly into third year as part of our focus on widening access and providing opportunities to a wide range of students.

Equality, diversity, and inclusion is of critical importance to the legitimacy, professional ethics, trust creation and future recruitment to the accounting profession and we are delighted to be currently working with Schools who do not traditionally send many pupils to university through RGU’s outreach and school liaison programmes with a view to further increasing the number of students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.  

The content of the degree has changed as we have responded to criticisms levelled at the accounting profession and professional education, the changing role of accountants and the societal responsibility for accountants to work in the public interest. The beginning of the 21st century heralded a spate of accounting scandals which called into question the legitimacy of the profession and the ethicality of accountants’ behaviour. We responded to this concern by both embedding ethics throughout our curriculum and introducing a dedicated ethics module for final year students.

Thinking ahead to future skill requirements, we were early adopters of international accounting standards into the curriculum and we incorporated modules designed to develop both meta and business skills alongside technical skills traditionally associated with accounting degrees. This has resulted in a contemporary curriculum and a corresponding demand for our graduates by employers.

Our current focus is now on the impact of AI on the accounting role. My view is that AI is not a threat to accountants but an opportunity. Basic and dare I say boring, mundane tasks are becoming automated, faster and more efficient and thus accountants are now in a position to provide more added value through financial planning and forecasting, data analysis and analytics and risk management.

Accountants also have a key role to play in the transition that is needed to address climate change. Not only does sustainability need to be measured, reported and assured which all fall under the accountants’ remit, but accountants have a role to play in helping companies embed sustainability into their corporate strategies. This includes the development of tangible plans and the modelling of different scenarios to achieve desired outcomes.    

Recent additions to our Accounting and Finance curriculum include the introduction of a first-year module on Sustainable Business designed to lay the foundations for subsequent study into sustainability issues embedded throughout the rest of curriculum and a module on the Digital Context of Business designed to provide the context for the future development of analytic and planning skills. 

Accountancy and accountants are most certainly not obsolete or in danger of extinction but the skills set required continues to evolve and universities have a responsibility to ensure that their curricula is regularly refreshed to address these current challenges. I am looking forward to what the future holds and our role in producing the accounting talent of the future so that we can continue to produce graduates who are a credit to themselves, RGU and the accounting profession more generally.

RGU is celebrating 25-years of Accounting and Finance with an event on the evening of Thursday 26 January at the Sir Ian Wood Building. Registration is free and open to course students and graduates.

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