Staying competitive in the accounting world

By Dr. Pauline Ho

How does Curtin Sarawak stay competitive with accounting trends and meet marketplace needs?

Curtin Sarawak offers both a single accounting major within the Bachelor of Commerce programme as well as a number of double majors such as Accounting and Finance, and Accounting and Entrepreneurship.

The single major has the benefit of elective units to expand students’ choice of future careers. The double majors, meanwhile, offer the advantages of dual specialisation where students gain a comprehensive understanding of, and competencies in, accounting and related disciplines.

From a macro perspective, Curtin’s accounting programmes have been revamped where course learning outcomes are embedded with Curtin’s graduates attributes, which include:

  • applying discipline knowledge, principles and concepts
  • thinking critically, creatively and reflectively
  • accessing, evaluating and synthesising information
  • communicating effectively
  • using technologies appropriately
  • utilising lifelong learning skills
  • international perspective
  • cultural understanding
  • applying professional skills

Furthermore, the course learning outcomes are aligned with professional competencies from CPA Australia.

Specifically, many topical and contemporary accounting issues such as internal auditing, financial statement analysis, corporate governance, corporate responsibility and ethics are imbedded throughout the accounting major.

We also use feedback from industry experts in developing our curriculum to ensure that our course reflects industry needs and our graduates are industry ready.

With the continuing evolution of accounting education, greater emphasis is being placed on the development of professional and community skills amongst students so that our graduates are well-equipped for the exciting and diverse possibilities within today’s accounting profession.

Accounting programmes offered by Curtin have gained an enviable reputation in the region. The University will continue to remain in the forefront in providing accounting programmes that are relevant to accounting trends.

How well does Curtin Sarawak prepare an undergraduate for post graduate/professional qualifications?

From day one, our accounting undergraduates are told of Curtin’s graduate attributes, lifelong learning being among them. They are constantly reminded of education’s capacity to transform lives, create opportunities and broaden horizons.

Speakers from industry as well as accounting professional bodies are regularly invited to talk to our accounting students about careers in accounting and the possibilities which an accounting career can offer. This provides an opportunity for our accounting students to think beyond their studies, of the necessity to take responsibility for self-directed learning, and the development of a career-long commitment to continual professional development.

Accountants must be at the vanguard of the business response. They play an important role in creating and managing strategic approaches to devising solutions to business problems. Thus, it is imperative that accounting graduates can communicate effectively in relating the significance of commercial events and issues to the business and investing community. Having said so, being able to communicate effectively is another Curtin’s graduate attribute that our graduates are geared towards attaining.

How does Curtin Sarawak bridge the gap between professional and undergraduate needs in terms of knowledge and practical application?

Our accounting students are strongly encouraged to sign up for internships such as the one initiated by CPA Australia during the long vacation. However, internship opportunities may be limited. Nonetheless, we believe it helps if our graduates possess good communication and professional skills.

Studies have shown that employers look particularly for a high level of presentation and communication in potential employees. The ability to present and communicate clearly is a critical factor when considering university graduates for employment. Curtin’s accounting programmes actively seek to bridge the gap between academic study and professional employment by emphasising the development of skills, which are reflected in Curtin’s graduate attributes, and constitute essential employment criteria for accounting graduates.

Is the shortage of accounting graduates in the country caused mainly by a brain drain of accounting professionals attracted overseas? Does Curtin Sarawak’s accounting programmes generally attract the same number of students as before?

To an extent, the answer is yes. Losing the talent is inevitable in today’s globalised world. But the economic slowdown may be a blessing in disguise. This could possibly halt the brain drain of accounting professionals overseas. It is imperative that Malaysian organisations put in place active recruitment and retention programmes to attract and keep the best talent. Attractive compensation and benefits packages also play a major part in luring accounting talent. Even though Malaysia is in the mid-range of the packages, the attractiveness is lost once it is converted from strong foreign currency. It is where we lose talent to overseas, particularly the neighbouring countries.

Demand for accounting graduates has remained strong at all levels across the country. Since our establishment in 1999, the number of students in accounting programmes at Curtin Sarawak has grown exponentially. In this regard, Curtin Sarawak has been contributed towards the nation’s development by producing accounting graduates to meet the needs of the marketplace.

Do you believe that there is there too much of a rule based approach to education when it comes to accountancy? Is there a need for a greater emphasis on technical accounting knowledge or are broad based business knowledge and skills more important?

The rule-based approach to accountancy education is a thing of yesteryears. The proverbial ‘bean counting’ accounting graduate can no longer keep pace with the dynamic business environment. Accountants will face their fair share of challenge in today’s unprecedented economic climate. Besides, given the full IFRS convergence in 2012, Malaysian accountants will need to be aware of what challenges lie ahead.

While it is crucial to focus on technical details, the attainment of broad-based business knowledge and skill is equally vital. This is what Curtin’s accounting programmes are set to achieve.

How does Curtin Sarawak generally keep abreast of accounting and business trends?

Curtin Sarawak has resorted to a number of ways to keep abreast of latest developments in accounting and business. A number of academic-related activities have been organised for our undergraduates such as an undergraduate business conference, accounting and business quiz, and industry visits. Guest lecturers are invited from industry to give lectures on relevant topics.

All these serve as platforms to expose students to topical and contemporary accounting and business issues, and certainly facilitate students’ learning in different perspectives.

What do you feel are the three most important traits an accounting graduate should have in order to excel in this career?

Versatility, willingness to learn and to continue to learn, and leadership. 

Dr. Pauline Ho is an accounting lecturer and Coordinator of Research and Development at Curtin Sarawak’s School of Business. Her teaching focus is in financial accounting and taxation. Prior to joining Curtin Sarawak in 1999, Dr. Ho began her career in a leading audit firm where she gained vast experience in audit and taxation of a wide range of industrial portfolios. She then joined one of the leading merchant banks in Malaysia to further gain insight into corporate finance and treasury. Her research interests include corporate disclosure and governance, capital structure and financing decisions of small and medium enterprises, and accounting and IT, and she has a number of research publications to her credit. She can be contacted at