The lure of permanent residency and the aspirations and expectations of international students studying accounting in Australia.

Author:Jackling, Beverley

Australian government policy directs international students to study particular types of disciplines where skill shortages have been identified. This paper examines the outcomes with respect to international accounting students aspiring to gain employment in Australia in accounting. The study includes a survey of international students undertaking a second-year accounting unit at a Melbourne-based university together with feedback from a small number of employers of accounting graduates. The results show that 84 per cent of the international students in the sample intended to seek permanent residency (PR) in Australia and viewed the study of accounting as a means of helping them meet the requirements for PR status. Although most indicated that they intended to seek employment in the accounting field on graduation, the feedback from employers suggests that generally international accounting graduates are not sufficiently 'work ready' to be considered for graduate employment.


In recent years the focus of higher education in many disciplines has become much more vocationally oriented. A growing emphasis on employability and graduate outcomes has occurred in response to changes in both graduate and employer expectations. This reflects both the changing nature of the higher education market and employers' expectations of graduates.

Workplace requirements have meant that government and employers are increasingly concerned to promote the development of skills that enhance graduates' employability. In Australia this approach has been supported by policies designed to encourage skilled on-shore migration to fill shortages in targeted professions. As part of this program overseas students have been encouraged to complete degrees that are linked to specific occupations in Australia. To this end, international students completing relevant degrees have been given additional points towards any application for permanent residency (PR). This policy has contributed to a sharp increase in the number of international students enrolled in accounting courses. International students now make up around 47 per cent of all commencing students in the business field. (1) However, initial evidence suggests that this policy has not increased the number of accounting graduates suitable for graduate accounting positions. (2) This article explores why this is the case in the context of an examination of the influences shaping international students' choice of accounting courses.

International students typically enter university and specifically accredited three-year accounting courses at Australian universities having been granted advanced standing for first-year accounting studies. The entry pathways include completion of university-equivalent first-year studies with Technical and Further Education (TAFE) colleges, completion of one-year diploma courses with registered private providers, twinning programs with partnered universities off shore and, to a lesser extent, direct entry to first-year university programs. Experience demonstrates that entry to university courses via these pathways presents numerous problems for international students when they commence their studies at university and also for the academics who teach them. As Bretag indicates, international students require induction to their new environment and training in Western academic conventions. (3) While universities usually recognise the difficulties of transition to university for international students, induction programs are typically only provided at the first-year level of entry. Efforts to cater for induction at various stages of entry, particularly at second-year level (given the range entry pathways of international students) provide many challenges for universities, particular the support service divisions. Consequently many international students, given the different timings of their commencement at university, fail to receive adequate induction to the university environment when commencing university studies in Australia.

Many international students also have inadequate English language skills. Part of the problem is that a high proportion enter university courses via alternative pathways without first having to pass an English language assessment.

These problems have prompted some academics to question whether international students studying accounting are sufficiently motivated to succeed in their studies to become accountants in an Australian environment. Some have suggested that immigration policies have attracted students who are focused on residing permanently in Australia, rather than on the commencement of a journey of life-long learning. (4) Others have expressed concern about the capacity of overseas students to meet employers' needs given their lack of work experience and difficulties with English language skills. (5)

This paper addresses the motivation of international students in studying accounting by examining influences on choice of accounting for a group of second year international university students. It investigates international students' intentions to seek employment in accounting, as well as employers' perceptions of the suitability of international accounting graduates for the Australian market. It also explores reasons why students from different cultural and/or social backgrounds may have difficulty in meeting employers' expectations on graduation. (6) This part of the study builds on recent evidence provided by Birrell that indicates that 'migrant accountants ... struggle to find professional level jobs as accountants'. (7)


Prior studies have shown that various factors influence students' motivation to undertake university studies and more specifically to select particular fields of study. The factors influencing choice of major include background characteristics of the students, economic, and regulatory factors, and reference groups (for example, parents and teachers). Other factors including students' extrinsic and intrinsic interest in studying have also been found to be major influences on choice of major.

Economics and regulatory influences

Attempts to address the present shortage of accountants in Australia have resulted in changes to the federal government's immigration policy. In 1999 a review of the policy was followed by the introduction of a number of measures which made university study of an accounting degree more attractive to overseas students. One of these measures included the establishment of a Migrant Occupations in Demand List (MODL) that specified occupations given priority for skilled migration visa to Australia. Accounting has been on the MODL since 2004. These changes have provided increased incentives for overseas students to undertake the study of an accounting degree in Australia. (8)

Since the introduction of these policies the proportion of commerce and management enrolments of all enrolments in universities by international students has grown exponentially. (9) The country of origin of international enrolments in business degrees in Australian universities has also shifted reflecting the changes in motivation to study accounting. The traditional markets for recruiting international students to study in Australia, notably Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore, have...

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