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Accounting ambitions? Universities want you

A calculator with a chewed pencil.

If accounting was once about the numbers, it is no more.

After a dismal succession of corporate, banking and government financial scandals, the sobering lesson for today's accountant is that the job description has multiple prongs: the ability to interpret the numbers, the skill to communicate their meaning to a wider audience and the fortitude to stand up to a boss who wants to pretty up the balance sheet.

"Accounting is the centre-point of the decision making, so we need to make sure we are training people to do that," says chartered accountant Susan McCracken, director of the CA/DeGroote Centre for the Promotion of Accounting Education and Research at McMaster University's business school. "You need to be well-rounded to be a successful accountant because the numbers have become more complex over the last decade."

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Training a new generation of accountants is a top concern for many business schools, and the profession.

In November, McMaster became the last of eight universities in Ontario to receive funding (up to $100,000 each a year) from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario to establish a centre for research, scholarly development and professional activities. The Institute also committed $200,000 over five years for DeGroote's executive education program at the Ron Joyce Centre.

Like other Ontario universities designated earlier by the Institute, McMaster has received ICAO accreditation for DeGroote's accounting courses in its bachelor of commerce and MBA programs.

"By having a centre and accredited programs, we hope that top students will look at us and say, 'This is a place we want to go,'" says Dr. McCracken, an associate professor of accounting.

Her centre is funded by the Institute and governed by an advisory board from industry and academe. A key goal of the centre is to promote accountancy education and research through sponsorship of student activities, research grants and student awards. The centre also will award grants of up to $10,000 each for faculty research on accounting issues, participation at conferences and development of case studies.

This fall, DeGroote plans to offer between two and four placements for a new PhD in accounting, part of a broader effort to address a shortage of PhD-trained professors.

The partnership between the Institute and the eight Ontario universities dates to 2004, with three business schools already renewed for a second five-year term.

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Brian Leader, vice-president of learning for the Institute, says co-operation between the profession and the academic community is paying dividends. He cites the development of new curriculum, especially case studies, funding for faculty research and internships for students in accredited courses to work with professors.

"We want to help these universities develop critical mass [in accounting]" says Mr. Leader.

Over time, he hopes to bring together the directors of the research centres and members of the accounting profession in a network to discuss issues of mutual interest.

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