Evidence of Accounting as a Grade 12 subject for first-year Accounting students at a South African university

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Evidence of Accounting as a Grade 12 subject for first-year Accounting students at a South African university Prof Dr Elmarie Papageorgiou School of Accountancy University of the Witwatersrand Johannesburg
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Evidence of Accounting as a Grade 12 subject for first-year Accounting students at a South African university Prof Dr Elmarie Papageorgiou School of Accountancy University of the Witwatersrand Johannesburg ABSTRACT Orientation: The future of Accounting education and the prior knowledge of students entering academic institutions is an ongoing debate. It is important for higher education institutions, students and professional bodies alike that the factors that influence students academic performance are identified. This study is a work-in-progress. Purpose/objective of the study: The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of prior knowledge and no prior knowledge of Accounting as a Grade 12 subject on the academic performance of first-year Accounting students enrolled in an undergraduate Chartered Accountant (CA) degree programme. Research problem: In order to achieve the aim of the study, the main objective was to determine whether there were any correlations between the academic performance of first-year Accounting students and prior Accounting exposure at school level, marks obtained in Accounting as a Grade 12 subject, age, gender and race. In addition to also explore Accounting students opinions by delving more deeply into students interests in accounting and their experiences of accounting as a school subject. Research method: The research method was a mixed method, using quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Main findings and contribution: The findings offer Accounting lecturers, institutions and accounting professionals a better understanding of and a greater sensitivity for the prior knowledge that students bring to universities and which could influence their academic performance. This study concluded with evidence on the ongoing debate as to whether Accounting as a Grade 12 subject is beneficial for students and mixed opinions from respondents if prior accounting knowledge is beneficial or not in becoming a Chartered Accountant. The findings make an important contribution by revisiting the admission requirements for students applying for a Chartered Accountant programme at South African universities. Key words Academic performance, Accounting students, gender, university, South Africa 1 INTRODUCTION The future of Accounting education and the prior knowledge of students entering academic institutions is an ongoing debate. For the majority of students, career and educational aspirations, personal interests and characteristics are the main drivers (Samsuddin et al., 2015). The factors that influence students academic performance have attracted the attention of many researchers. Duff (2004) states that there is a variety of factors that affect students performance in their first year of study at higher education institutions, while other studies (Papageorgiou and Halabi, 2014; Van Rensburg et al., 1998; Bergin, 2001) have indicated factors that could affect students performance such as age, gender and prior academic achievement. This paper reflects on an investigation into the effect on first-year accounting students academic performance if they had or did not had Accounting as a Grade 12 school subject. The motivation of this study was further enthused by the study of Arquero et al. (2009) that recommended future research in particular, future qualitative research by delving more deeply into students interests in accounting and their experiences of accounting as a school subject. The results of this study indicated a significant association between first-year Accounting students academic performance of if they had Accounting as a Grade 12 subject compared to students with no prior knowledge of Accounting. In addition, no significant relationships were found between the academic performance of first-year Accounting students in relation with the age, gender and race of students in respect if they had or did not had Grade 12 Accounting. This study concluded with mixed opinions from respondents since the findings contribute to the ongoing debate as to whether Accounting as a Grade 12 subject is beneficial for students who intend becoming South African Chartered Accountants (CA(SA)). A CA(SA) is associated with a person who has a professional accountancy degree, obtained an additional postgraduate Honours degree or postgraduate diploma in Accounting, completed a three-year training contract, passed two board examinations and is a member of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA). The students in question were enrolled at a South African university for an undergraduate Accounting degree programme accredited by SAICA, with the intention of becoming chartered accountants. This programme is characterised by extremely large classes as well as the diverse range of prior knowledge students bring to these classes (Scott et al., 2007; Műller et al., 2007; Steenkamp et al., 2009). Currently, there are 23 universities in South Africa, 11 of which are research-intensive universities, conducting pure and applied research, six are technology based and the remaining six are comprehensive universities offering traditional university programmes 2 (Pitso, 2013; SA Info, 2015). The university under review is a public, urban, comprehensive university in South Africa and is the highest ranked university in Africa according to the Center for World University Rankings (CWUR, 2016). In an attempt to increase students academic performance and eventually the throughput rate, it is important to explore the factors that affect academic performance. The finding of such research could be useful to higher education institutions, students and professional bodies. This study was inspired by two studies. The first study by Van Rensburg et al. (1998) investigated the effect of secondary school Accounting on Accounting performance at a South African university and concluded that prior Accounting exposure improved student performance. The second study by Bergin (2001) explored the effect of previous Accounting studies on student performance in a first-year college Financial Accounting course at an American university. The results of this study confirmed that there was no significant difference in the examination performance between the students that had and those that had not studied Accounting before entering university. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect on first-year Accounting students academic performance whether they had or did not have Accounting as a Grade 12 subject. The following two objectives were addressed: To determine if there are any correlations between the academic performance of first-year Accounting students and prior Accounting exposure at school level, the symbol (symbol obtained in the National Senior Certificate (NSC)) obtained in Grade 12 Accounting, age, gender and race, and To explore the Accounting students opinions (perceptions) if they had or did not have Accounting as a Grade 12 subject. This paper begins by reviewing previous research on the benefits or not of having had Accounting as a subject prior to entering an undergraduate CA Accounting degree programme with particular reference to the South African context. Thereafter the literature related to the study will be discussed followed by the research method. The paper concludes with the results, conclusion and limitations of the research and lastly recommendations for future research. LITERATURE REVIEW School life spans thirteen years or grades, from Grade 0 (nought), otherwise known as Grade R or reception year , through to Grade 12 or matric , before learners enter higher education. South 3 Africa relies on the matric pass rate as a significant marker of what is happening in schools. The matric pass rate, which was as low as 40% in the late 1990s, has improved considerably. South Africa's 2014 Grade 12 learners achieved a pass rate of 75.8% (SA Info, 2015). However, the national pass rate in the 2015 NSC Grade 12 examinations dropped to 70.7%, down from 2014 (Department of Basic Education RSA, 2016). Students can apply to higher education institutions to further their studies if they fulfil the admission requirements of the institution. These admission requirements, which vary depending on the degree, are posted on university websites and/or are available at university enrolment centres. The marks learners obtained in their final year at school are the most important admission requirement to enter higher education at South African universities. However, in most universities the total number of points or score provided by the final NSC examinations is used merely as a guideline for admission. Thus, meeting the requirements does not guarantee a place in the institution and the final selection of applicants is made subject to the availability of places, academic results and other entry requirements where applicable. Accounting lecturers and educators confirm that prior research and experience have shown that those learners with a higher score or points in the NSC outperform their counterparts with weaker mathematics abilities in the Accounting stream (Baard et al., 2010). Therefore, Mathematics, English and, in some cases, Accounting marks obtained in the NSC examination are used as admission requirements since these subjects are believed to be a reasonable predictor of student performance (Baard et al., 2010; Du Plessis et al., 2005; Műller et al., 2007). Duff and Mladenovic (2015) state that first-year Accounting students that had prior knowledge of accounting obtained inconsistent and inconclusive academic results. Such research has in many cases been in isolation and a more comprehensive investigation may consequently provide insights into these inconsistencies. Doran et al. (1991) confirmed that students with prior knowledge of Accounting in secondary school tend to perform better at university level than students who did not have prior accounting knowledge. Aidoo-Buameh and Ayagre (2013), who conducted their research at the Central University College in Ghana, investigated relationships between Accounting students admitted to the university predominantly in terms of the prior knowledge they bring to lectures and their academic performance. The results confirmed that pre-university Accounting grades were statistically significant in determining the performance of Accounting students at the university. 4 A study by Akenbor (2014) investigated the institutional factors influencing the academic performance of first-year students enrolled for the Introduction of Financial Accounting I course at the Federal University Otuoke in Nigeria. One of Akenbor s (2014) recommendations was that pre-university Accounting with a minimum pass is a key success factor for achieving in Accounting and should be part of the requirements for admitting students to the Accounting programme. Gul and Fong (1993) examined the success of first-year introductory accounting students at the University of Hong Kong and confirmed that previous knowledge of Accounting was a significant predictor of student performance. Prior research has confirmed a significant positive relationship between prior academic achievement and academic performance in first-year Accounting courses (Arquero et al., 2009; Byrne and Flood, 2005). Arquero et al. (2009) investigated the preparedness and academic performance of 180 first year accounting students enrolled for Financial Accounting I at a Spanish university and concluded that the interest in accounting and the experience of accounting as a subject at school were significantly correlated with academic performance. Schroeder (2001) found that students with more than one year of school Accounting obtained higher scores in a college introductory Financial Accounting course than those with one year and less exposure to Accounting. Mitchell (1988) investigated high school Accounting and student performance in the first level accounting course at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom. He concluded that students with high school Accounting scored slightly higher than students without high school Accounting. However, the difference in performance was small and not significant at the 5% level. In contrast, Yee Lee (1999) concluded that students who passed Accounting outperformed students with no prior Accounting qualification in Accounting I but not in Accounting II. Furthermore, Baldwin and Howe (1982) investigated secondary-level study of Accounting and subsequent performance in a first-year Elementary Financial Accounting college course at Arizona State University. The findings of the study confirmed that there was no difference in students performance whether they had prior knowledge of Accounting or not. Xiang and Gruber (2013) studied students who have had a high school accounting course prior to university while others have not and the results suggested a significant and positive relationship between students who had accounting at school and students that did not had accounting at school. Pullen et al. (2015) investigated factors that impact on performance of students registered for advanced management accounting at the University of the Western Cape between 2009 and 2013 and confirmed that students who obtained a higher overall final high school grade outperform their counterparts who obtained a lower grade. Jansen and De Villiers (2016) identified the determinants of students 5 exiting accounting modules in an accounting degree programme at the University of the Western Cape. The findings indicated that high school grades are significantly related to their performance in the final year undergraduate accounting module. Prior studies (Rowlands, 1988; Van Rensburg et al., 1998; Bergin, 2001) have reported mixed results in relation to students with prior knowledge of Accounting entering higher education to enrol for an Accounting course. Rowlands (1988) and Van Rensburg et al. (1998) concluded that students with previous exposure to Accounting performed better in the initial stages of Accounting than students with no prior knowledge, while Bergin (2001) found no relationship between students with prior Accounting knowledge and student performance in a first-year college Financial Accounting course, Chansarkar and Michaeloudis (2001) investigated student profiles and factors affecting performance of first- year students at university in the United Kingdom. Mixed findings have been reported regarding the relationship between gender and academic performance: Chansarkar and Michaeloudis (2001) concluded that students academic performance is not affected by factors like age and gender, while Gammie et al. (2010) indicated that females outperformed their male counterparts in a first-year Accounting module. In contrary, Arquero et al. (2009) concluded that male students obtained significantly higher scores than females since females have more confidence to succeed at university. Fischer et al. (2013) investigated 554 German first-year students in their study Why female students outperform male students and concluded that female students perform better than male students due to higher achievement motivation, self-control and taking pride in their own productivity. Roos (2009) investigated factors affecting Southern African students success in the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and found that female students tend to outperform male students. Chartered Accountant degree SAICA accredits programmes designed to train future chartered accountants which are only offered at certain South African universities (SAICA, 2015a). Accreditation means that the academic unit has put in place the appropriate resources that, if utilised effectively, should enable it to deliver the programme at the required standards and levels of quality; and the programme meets SAICA s requirements in terms of the standards of learning and teaching. Accreditation of a programme is not an assurance 6 that the academic unit is achieving the required standard of delivery of that programme. Rather, accreditation certifies that a programme contains the requirements necessary to meet SAICA s accreditation standards (SAICA, 2015a). Accreditation status is divided into three opinions: first opinion accredited; second opinion accredited, needs improvement; and third opinion accredited, subject to meeting SAICA requirements. Accredited academic institutions are visited by SAICA once every five years for a full monitoring visit and on an annual basis for follow-up visits. Currently, ten universities have obtained opinion one status (accredited), five universities an opinion two status (accredited, needs improvement) while no university has obtained opinion 3 status (accredited, subject to meeting SAICA requirements). This study will focus on the universities that obtained opinion one status accredited, that limit the study to a sub-population to therefore standardizes the environment in which the students are taught which makes the universities comparable. The name of the undergraduate qualification for becoming a chartered accountant and the admission requirements vary among the ten accredited universities, but at all the universities the duration of the degree is three years full time except for one university with a four year undergraduate programme, while a postgraduate diploma in Chartered Accountancy or a BCom Honours in Chartered Accountancy, is one year full-time. The admission requirements of each university vary, with the score/points required for admission depending on the requirements at each university. In How to become a CA(SA)?, SAICA states the following with regard to when scholars exit school with the correct subjects and levels (SAICA, 2015b): The minimum requirements for university admission are a Level 5 pass in Mathematics, together with a National Senior Certificate with matriculation exemption. You need to take pure Mathematics (not Mathematical Literacy) as a subject. A good grounding in English is essential, as it will help you to understand the concepts you will study. Having Accounting as a school subject could help you in your studies towards your degree, but at most universities this is not compulsory This study investigates whether Accounting as a Grade 12 school subject is a prerequisite and/or a subject requirement for applying for a CA degree at ten accredited universities. The admission requirements for the CA degree of ten universities were sourced from the 7 university s official Website, documented and analysed and are summarised as follow: (Mathematics and English were included in the study to compare SAICA requirements to the university admission requirement for the completeness of the study) (NMMU, 2015; NWU, 2015; RU, 2015; UCT, 2015a; UCT, 2015b; UJ, 2015; UL, 2015; UP, 2015; US, 2015; UOFS, 2015;Wits, 2015). Mathematics: Six universities require Mathematics Level 5 with a minimum of 60%, two universities requires Mathematics Level 4 with a minimum of 50%, however it should be noted that at the one university a four year undergraduate programme was used and at the other university students register for a standard BCom as an undergraduate degree before qualifying for the CA programme, one university requires Mathematics Level 6 with a minimum of 70% and one university requires Mathematics Level 6 with a minimum of 70% or Mathematics Level 5 with a minimum of 60% and Accounting Level 6 with a minimum of 70%. SAICA (2015b) states that a minimum requirement for university admission is a Level 5 pass in Mathematics and pure Mathematics (not Mathematical Literacy (Math Lit)) as a subject. English: Three universities do not mention any requirement for English or any other language, three universities require English Level 4 with a minimum of 50%, two universities require English Level 5 with a minimum of 60% with no distinction between HL (Home Language) and FAL (First Additional Lang
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