The Institute of Management Accountants and the American Accounting Association’s Management Accounting Section have teamed up on an accounting educational framework that they hope will be used to re-orient undergraduate and MBA accounting curricula to match on-the-job demands.

The IMA-MAS Curriculum Task Force worked to develop the curriculum to bridge what they perceive as a widening gap between the skills currently provided in accounting education to students and those required in practice on the job.

The task force developed the educational framework in response to recommendations by the Pathways Commission, which was formed in 2010 as a joint initiative between the AAA and the American Institute of CPAs to study the future of accounting education (see Commission to Study Future of Accounting Education and AAA, AICPA Release Reprot on Higher Education). The IMA has a representative on the Pathways Commission.

“This is the product of a two and a half year effort by our task force,” said IMA vice president of research and professor-in-residence Raef Lawson, who chaired the task force. “We did exhaustive research on what’s been done previously in the field and conducted a survey as well, and we came up with three main recommendations. The first was that accounting education should be reoriented to include a greater focus on providing long-term career skills. Currently a lot of accounting education is oriented towards the short term. It’s basically vocational education and does not provide students with the competencies they need for their long-term careers.”

The task force also suggested that the knowledge, skills and abilities of an accounting education should be taught so they emerge as competencies integrated within and between each other.

“Competencies should be integrated and not learned in functional silos,” Lawson explained. For example, one member of the task force noted that students in a cost accounting class might know how to use multiple regression analysis to estimate costs, but not how to apply it.

The third recommendation was that the accounting curricula should focus on how accountants add organizational value in a variety of organizational settings. The content should include a focus on strategy formulation and analysis, planning and execution.

The task force essentially suggested that the goal of accounting education should focus on adding value to an organization.

“That’s regardless of whether an accountant works in public accounting or corporate accounting,” Lawson added. “These recommendations, we feel, apply to all accounting students.”

Even accountants in public accounting need to focus on how they are adding value not only to their accounting firms but also to their clients, Lawson noted. “Accounting education should focus on students’ long-term careers and not just their first job,” he said. “Over 80 percent of accountants end up pursuing careers in corporate accounting, so regardless of whether a student initially pursues public accounting or enters a management accounting career path, it’s important that all students have an education that encompasses all of the competencies that they’ll need in their careers. Much of current accounting education focuses on memorization of accounting standards and rules, and this really is very perishable knowledge. It changes, and we think that the over-emphasis on this memorization is not the best way to educate accounting students.”

As accounting standards evolve, they are likely to require increased use of professional judgment in the future. “One of the foundational competencies that we call for is analytical thinking and problem solving,” said Lawson. “We should focus on enabling that competency in our students rather than focusing on rote knowledge of accounting standards.”

The IMA-MAS Curriculum Task Force presented its initial recommendations on January 12 at the 2013 Management Accounting Section Research and Case Conference in New Orleans. Lawson’s PowerPoint presentation is available at http://bit.ly/XyruKt.