This paper is a reflective review of the study habits of international students in postgraduate accounting studies, and how these study habits have changed over recent years as a consequence of increased enrolments of full-fee international students. It is based on the author's experience coordinating and teaching accounting at the postgraduate masters level over the past five years.
Teaching and learning strategies for this subject follow modern pedagogies, but these appear to be misaligned with the needs and learning practices of modern international students, and the outcomes in graduate attributes seem misaligned with the requirements of society. Modern pedagogies depend on resources and teaching methods that teachers have come to take for granted and have built to a high standard. But these are increasingly marginalised by students who have prior learning skills alien to what is expected for a week one, semester one, core accounting subject within an Australian university learning environment. Outcomes, as measured by subject grades, are declining.
A significant portion of the recent growth in international students in Australian universities has been in accounting or related business studies at the postgraduate level. As a consequence the teaching experience in this field is an important indicator of the impact of overseas student enrolments on Australian university teaching and learning practice.
The subject under discussion is a core subject for a Master of Commerce program and a Master of Professional Accounting program and is accredited with the Australian professional accounting bodies. As such, students need a high standard of content comprehension and the capacity to mix practical accounting with a significant theoretical content. Topics are taught in three-hour seminar-mode classes through each semester, with each class ranging from 30 to 45 students, and taught by one or at most two full-time continuing staff members supported by up to three sessional teachers. Because of accreditation requirements the resources are comprehensive and to a very high standard, and all teaching staff are trained and skilled at providing a consistent learning experience.
The subject is multi-modal, taught on-campus but with a vibrant online discussion and resource centre accessed by all students at a dedicated website and student cohorts include both on-campus and off-campus students. The online resource and discussion emulates the student engagement concepts espoused by Garrison and Anderson(1) and other authors.(2) Research indicates that online engagement places heavy demands on academic time.(3)
At the beginning of a recent semester eighteen per cent of enrolled students were designated as off-campus (not attending on-campus classes) and these off-campus students are historically predominantly Caucasian. The use of both face-to-face and online interaction between teachers and students fits well with the blended-learning approach suggested by Abraham,(4) Entwistle,(5) Dart et al. (6) and others, and should create an opportunity for student adoption of deep, student-centred approaches to learning.(7)
During the last five years the subject has been redeveloped to incorporate new technologies and pedagogies and on two occasions substantially re-written and upgraded, the most recent being during 2007.
A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
Student cohort numbers began with fewer than 200 students per semester when the subject was first re-developed more than five years ago, but a recent semester had more than 350 students enrolled. Staff anticipate that enrolments will approach 400 in the near future. To discourage even unitended discriminatory practices, quantifiable statistics re ethnic composition are not used in this paper. However, international students now make up in excess of eighty per cent of total semester on-cam-pus cohorts.
In 2002 overseas students came mainly from Asian countries outside of mainland China (People's Republic of China--PRC). However, since 2002 there has been an increasing number of PRC sourced students and more recently a large swing towards students from India and Pakistan. Student groups from the sub-continent are now the predominant category in most of the seminar classes taught in the subject. As noted by Jackling,(8) these changes reflect the addition of accounting to the Australian government's Migrant Occupations in Demand List (MODL) in September 2004. This listing increases the chances of overseas students who study accounting gaining Permanent Residence (PR) on completion of their courses. There has also been an increasing marketing drive in the sub-continent by Australian universities.
An amalgam of observations made by a range of subject staff members, including sessional staff, is summarised in the following Table 1. Such observations derive from experience with students in the classroom and online, including a vigorous online discussion site, student/teacher emails, student/staff consultation, and exam paper reviews. These observations reflect a 'then' to 'now' perspective indicating a shift in perceptions over a five to six-year period. While the contents of this table are anecdotal rather than hard empirical evidence, the table has been distributed through five members of the subject team plus two comparable subject-coordinators in two schools within the university and these staff members support the observations in the table.
Some might argue that the above outcomes may be merely problems associated with poor English comprehension, but they are consistent with research(11) suggesting that that new strategies for dealing with international students need to be developed. Ballard and Clancy for example(12) suggest that students can demonstrate a range of possible learning approaches and styles ranging from reproductive through to speculative, with an intermediary point that they call analytical. (A learning approach is reproductive when the student's choice of study strategy is to try to be capable of faithfully reproducing the materials, data and information provided, but not necessarily with a deep understanding.) how these student orientations have influenced teacher adaptations in the accounting field.
Table 1: A shift in student learning strategies over The past Now The subject depends on a prescribed A...