How do we prepare students for life beyond the seminar room? An active learning project developed by Mark Fisher and Susan Smith at University of Sussex is aiming to do just this.
The Experiential Learning Project involves final year undergraduates studying an Auditing module as part of their degree in Accounting and Finance. This module carries accreditation with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW) and therefore has to meet their requirements in terms of theory and practice.
Although accounting is often seen as a technical disclipline (Hopper, 2013), increasingly employers seek generic skills in job applicants such as the ability to work well with others, the ability to think critically and the ability to deal well with clients. Mark and Susan wanted to re-design the module in a way that would enable students to develop these skills alongside their theoretical knowledge and decided to build in the opportunity for experiential learning, that is having an opportunity to experience and reflect on auditing for themselves.
Seven students from the module volunteered to work for a fictitious firm “FisherSmith & Co.” and were tasked with undertaking an audit to improve the stationery ordering process in the School of Business, Management and Economics (BMEc) at the University of Sussex. The client for whom the students would be conducting the audit was the Professional Services Staff in BMEc.
Students were required to arrange and attend meetings with relevant staff to discuss the ordering process, how it might be improved and what could be ordered within the current budget. Just as in a real-world case, the team were required to produce a report to present to the module convenors as audit partners, which was assessed for professional style, accuracy and quality of recommendations.
The client was also asked to provide feedback on the generic skills of the students including their professionalism, communication skills and questioning skills. For example, “The students’ report was very thorough and our considerations were definitely taken into account by the group.”
For the students taking part, the experience proved to be an invaluable opportunity. The students demonstrated a high level of professionalism and were able to translate what they had been learning into a practical assignment. Moreover, some of their recommendations have since been adopted by the Professional Services team.
For Mark Fisher and Susan Smith, the Experiential Learning Project not only enabled students to critically evluate the nature, purpose and scope of auditing but also gave them insight into the role, duties and responsibilities of the auditor as well as the process of gathering audit evidence.
So, where to next? The Experiential Learning Project is due to expand to enable more students on this module to gain experience with businesses outside of University of Sussex with the project becoming an integral part of the coursework from 2017/18. Further details can be obtained from Susan Smith (Susan.Smith@sussex.ac.uk) or Mark Fisher (Mark.R.Fisher@sussex.ac.uk).