Forensic accounting curricula and pedagogies in Australian universities: analysis of academic and practitioner perspectives

PhD Thesis

Alshurafat, Hashem A.. 2019. Forensic accounting curricula and pedagogies in Australian universities: analysis of academic and practitioner perspectives. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland.

Forensic accounting curricula and pedagogies in Australian universities: analysis of academic and practitioner perspectives

TypePhD Thesis
AuthorAlshurafat, Hashem A.
SupervisorSands, John
Beattie, Claire
Jones, Gregory
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages254
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

The proliferation of fraud activities and the need for skilled accountants to be proficient in identifying and analysing fraudulent transactions highlights the need for forensic accounting education. Increasing numbers of accounting employers are seeking graduates equipped with investigative, adversarial, and technological skills. Recently, there has been a significant rise in the prevalence of forensic accounting education, and a major paradigm shift among colleges and universities has occurred. However, some universities have opted to delay introducing such programs. The lack of consistency in forensic accounting curricula and pedagogy is a significant obstacle to a cohesive framework for forensic accounting education. Individual curriculum and pedagogical approaches appear to be motivated by a variety of different philosophical orientations. Therefore, this research explores the factors that influence the transformation of forensic accounting knowledge into curricula, and identifies the various pedagogical approaches, which have been perceived as signature pedagogies to forensic accounting.

This thesis provides an overview of the current state of forensic accounting education in Australian universities. Three separate papers are presented and each paper investigates a different aspect of forensic accounting education. The thesis document follows the format of thesis by publication1. The three linked and interconnected papers reflect interpretive findings from evidence obtained regarding forensic accounting education within Australian universities. An extensive literature review and the use of several theoretical lenses led to the development of three research questions. The development of the first research phase and the findings revealed from the first research phase led to the development of the second research phase. Through this process, the following research questions are addressed:

1. What are the forensic accounting core curricula components and knowledge? And, what is the nature of the integrated interdisciplinary knowledge that is included in forensic accounting curricula components? (first paper, chapter 3 of the thesis)
2. What factors influence the development of forensic accounting curricula? (second paper, chapter 4 of the thesis)
3. What are the features and the signature of forensic accounting pedagogies? (third paper, chapter 5 of the thesis)

The first paper captures the structure of forensic accounting curricula within educational programs offered by Australian universities. Using qualitative thematic analysis, a website analysis of the 40 Australian universities is undertaken and provides an understanding of the core and interdisciplinary topics of forensic accounting curricula. The findings suggest a lack of emphasis on law knowledge, business valuation, and IT forensic integration. Courses emphasise fraud as the core content knowledge while criminology and ethics are considered to be interdisciplinary components. The findings also reveal variations in curricula design and content knowledge. These findings suggest an epistemological uncertainty within forensic accounting education. The paper provides directions for educators to assist in developing forensic accounting programs. This paper also sets the stage for an empirical journey regarding further studies in this field, in the face of the continued demand for, and the growing importance of, forensic accounting education.

The second paper addresses a theoretical question within a specific context; what factors influence the development of forensic accounting curricula? Based on Bernstein’s (1996, 1999 and 2000) theoretical lens of the pedagogic device and knowledge structure, the research question is explored using a qualitative case study to collect the perspectives of practitioners and academics. This evidence is supported with data collected from Australian university websites. The findings indicate that there are different factors that influence the formation process of forensic accounting curricula. Further, the horizontal structure of forensic accounting is seen as highly segmented, and this is reflected in curricula that lack coherence and cohesion. This suggests that the forensic accounting curricula in Australian universities encompass a variety of teleological, epistemological, and ontological positions. As a result, it is identified that there was inconsistency around the nature and purpose of forensic accounting topics within courses and programs of study. Further inconsistency results from the bureaucratic system within which universities operate. These inconsistencies resulted in academics teaching and writing forensic accounting courses primarily based on their own epistemological roots and knowledge base or reflecting their particular university philosophy.

The third paper presents evidence from two qualitative research sources to explore the educational pedagogies for teaching forensic accounting. Principally, this research analyses the current forensic accounting curricula, handbooks, and syllabi used by Australian universities
to explore the pedagogical methods that have been used to teach forensic accounting. This is supplemented by interviews which investigate the perspectives of forensic accounting practitioners and academics in regards to the types of forensic accounting pedagogies that facilitate the acquisition of the requisite competencies. The theoretical framework used in this paper includes experiential learning theory and signature pedagogies theory.

A qualitative approach to the case study yields insights into the usefulness of various teaching methods in forensic accounting. The findings show that some standalone courses and programs of forensic accounting were conducted using traditional learning mechanisms which aimed to give students the opportunity to gain a theoretical understanding. Other courses utilised experiential learning forms, including report writing or case studies. In terms of pedagogies within forensic accounting education, the research revealed elements and features that embody signature pedagogies of forensic accounting. The results from this research advocate for the use of an experiential approach as a philosophy and signature for forensic accounting educational pedagogies. It is proposed that forensic accounting educators aspire to engage students by the use of experiential learning methods as this approach simulates real forensic accounting work in its technical, theoretical and ethical dimensions.

The study provides constructive suggestions and guidance for educators, educational policymakers, and university bodies related to the factors and requirements that they should be aware of when considering the development of forensic accounting curricula and pedagogies. The results also provide incentives to consider how to address the existing impediments which have been identified by academics and practitioners. In respect to the theoretical contribution, one valid way of providing a theoretical contribution to a specific social science arena is to import a theory which has yet to be applied to the phenomenon under research. In this research, theoretical lenses from the field of education were borrowed to understand an educational inquiry within the field of forensic accounting education. The theoretical framework includes the use of pedagogic device and knowledge structure theory (Bernstein 1999, 2000), experiential learning theory (Kolb 1984) and signature pedagogy (Shulman 2005b).

This research project contributes to the literature in three ways. First, this research explores the current directions that Australian universities have taken in teaching forensic accounting to higher education students. This research shows the fraud concentration in the forensic accounting programs and emphases on the need to integrate more law, business valuation and IT knowledge in forensic accounting programs. Second, this research solicits practitioners’ and educators’ perceptions about current forensic accounting curricula and pedagogies. This research shows how forensic accounting educators’ beliefs might be an obstacle to capture the wide range of forensic accounting subtopics. In addition, this reach report on the main factors that shapes forensic accounting curricula. Third, this research suggests changes that may lead to improvements in forensic accounting education, particularly; the fifth chapter provide suggestions in how to use experiential learning approach to equip students with knowledge of real forensic accounting work. This exploratory research is important for four reasons. First, accounting bodies worldwide have advocated incorporating forensic accounting education into accounting degrees. Second, researchers have noted that while there is increasing demand for forensic accounting skills within the job market, there is a lack of adequate forensic accounting education that reconciles graduates’ competencies with the expectations of employers. Third, the research addresses a gap in the accounting education literature as little extant research has focused on forensic accounting curricula and pedagogical approaches. Finally, this research borrows theories from the education field to understand curricular and pedagogical inquiry in forensic accounting discipline.

Keywordsforensic accounting, accounting education, curricula, pedagogy
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020350199. Accounting, auditing and accountability not elsewhere classified
Byline AffiliationsSchool of Commerce
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Related outputs

Perceptions of the usefulness of various teaching methods in forensic accounting education
Alshurafat, Hashem, Beattie, Claire, Jones, Gregory and Sands, John. 2020. "Perceptions of the usefulness of various teaching methods in forensic accounting education." Accounting Education. 29 (2), pp. 177-204.
Forensic accounting core and interdisciplinary curricula components in Australian universities: analysis of websites
Alshurafat, Hashem, Beattie, Claire, Jones, Gregory and Sands, John. 2019. "Forensic accounting core and interdisciplinary curricula components in Australian universities: analysis of websites." Journal of Forensic and Investigative Accounting. 11 (2 (Special edition)), pp. 353-365.