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Interview with Donna Street, IAAER Director of Research and Educational Activities

  • Robert Bruce Image

13 Feb 2013

In connection with the launch of the Deloitte IAAER Scholarship Programme, Robert Bruce, author of the Bruce Column on IAS Plus, spoke with Professor Donna Street, Mahrt Chair in Accounting at the University of Dayton and Director of Research and Educational Activities for the International Association for Accounting, Education and Research (IAAER), about opening doors and closing the divide which often exists between the academic community and the accounting profession.

‘Opening doors for people brings about change’, is how Professor Street sums up the new Deloitte IAAER Scholarship programme. She and her IAAER colleagues have worked hard for this. The idea of a program devoted to widening the understanding of the global accounting profession by young people in the academic world could have huge and long-term effects. ‘The aim of the program is to reach out to emerging scholars who are working in transitional economies who have the desire to be part of the world accounting arena but don’t have the resources’.

The programme could have a transformative effect on the world of accounting. It will support five young scholars from around the world, Brazil, Indonesia, Poland, Romania and South Africa, so that they can increase their exposure to internationally recognised accounting scholars, best practices in accounting and business education and research, and a global peer network.

‘We want young scholars who can network with international established scholars, policy makers and standard-setters’, says Street, ‘to help them develop an international way of thinking. Often people don’t understand that we all face the same or similar problems. We want to encourage the emerging scholars to think globally not locally and learn that we are all in this together’.

Five scholars may not seem like many on a global scale but this is quite deliberate. ‘We decided that the best way forward was to take a small step’, says Street. The idea was to choose five people who have the desire to make a difference and support them with a powerful team of mentors. I expect the program to grow from well-established roots, both in terms of experience and structure, which will help both the academic community and the wider accounting profession.

Each Scholar will have an assigned mentor of global reputation to enhance the experience. ‘This really breaks down the door’, says Street. ‘Mentors will be so important’. And the first mentors lined up to assist the scholars include distinguished scholars incorporating world-class universities and prior membership on the Financial Accounting Standards Board, (FASB), and the International Accounting Standards Board, (IASB), for example. ‘We have been very, very careful in selecting the first group of mentors’, says Street. ‘The five have a proven track record and passion for mentoring and giving back’. The mentor-protégé relationship will be about access, advice, and the benefit for the scholars of having the undivided attention of people of this calibre.

She gives some examples of how the Scholars will gain from the program. She emphasises how academics can become isolated. ‘In some countries when teachers are faced with becoming researchers they don’t have the relevant training. They feel inhibited. They suffer from a lack of local research mentors, resources and exposure to the international arena. ‘You are told to publish in top journals’, she says, ‘but there is no one down the hall who can help you. There are few who can lead by example.’ The Deloitte IAAER Scholarship programme will change all that. ‘Now the scholars will be able to access their mentors and go to conferences they only dreamed of going to before on a regular basis’, she says. ‘They can have dialogue and debate and they can establish a long-term network’. ‘IAAER and Deloitte are tapping the right group here’, she says. ‘The mentors will really make a difference’.

The programme will also go some way to closing the divide which often exists between the academic community and the accounting profession. It will have the effect of influencing and changing curriculums. ‘The greater the connections with real world practice and practitioners the more that is being taught and researched can be enriched. Being in regular contact with the practice world will help the scholars understand how they can get resources, and then utilize that experience and knowledge for their teaching purposes.‘

‘In this regard, at the opening meeting, at which the program will be launched, the Scholars will spend time with Deloitte Germany partner, Andreas Barckow, who is also a visiting university professor. He will talk to the Scholars about how he interacts with academics to help enhance their understanding of practice and the profession. ‘The experience will open up the Scholars to different ways of teaching and they can then go back to their universities and their countries and share this experience.’ Networking with individuals like Barckow also reinforces the importance of academia and business working together to develop students that are also more work ready’.

Street emphasised this outcome by talking of how her own career benefited from the interaction with practice. She says. ‘It opened up my eyes so much’. And she can see how her own experience can be replicated. Street returns to the example of Andreas Barckow. ‘He teaches university classes’, she says. ‘He works with the students. It often doesn’t cross the minds of academics in other countries that they could do this – reach out to practice to improve their curriculum. Spreading understanding like this means people come to feel that they are not so isolated and that all countries around the world have the same or very similar problems. So they don’t have to keep re-inventing the wheel.’

The Scholarship programme provides the link between “local” and “global” accounting developments, reflecting the global progression of the profession and business in general. It should raise the standard of future accountants, contributing in the long term to quality improvements in accounting, auditing and financial reporting.

‘You have got to take small steps’, says Professor Street. ‘In three years curriculums will not be totally updated, but there will be improvements and you have to take these small steps to eventually make real changes’. The initial group of Scholars will become role models and their colleagues will see the success. Then the scheme can be expanded. Five Scholars can get you a certain distance. They can seed the long-term changes that the scheme will bring about. ‘Definitely more would be wonderful’, says Professor Street. ‘Deloitte is setting the example and when others see the progress we hope they too will want to be involved and more sponsors will want to come on board’.

The Scholarship scheme is now up and running. Change and long-term opportunity are in the air. ‘I am just so delighted that IAAER is given the chance to work with these five outstanding Scholars’, says Professor Street. ‘I think the program will be very successful’.

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