Putting learning in context: accounting in China

Victoria University's Helen Yang, an expert in the delivery of offshore accounting courses, has drawn attention to the problem of introducing Western concepts to Chinese students who are unfamiliar with Western business culture.

In "Western concept, Chinese context: A note on teaching accounting offshore", published in the International Journal of Pedagogies and Learning, Helen examines the way in which Western-based accounting concepts and teaching approaches can jar with the cultural perspectives, needs and expectations of Chinese students undertaking offshore accounting programs in China.

Helen argues that transnational accounting programs delivered in China must become more culturally relevant so that students are properly engaged.

During the past three decades of market reform, China's accounting system has adopted many aspects of Western-style financial reporting, but deeply ingrained cultural values still influence practices.  For example, "principles-based" International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) require accountants to exercise professional judgement. In China, such an individualised approach conflicts with traditional practices that are authoritative, rule-based and prescriptive.

Helen proposes the adoption of a comparative teaching approach to offshore accounting programs. Such an approach would enable Chinese students to gain a better understanding of financial reporting practices and concepts used in Australia and other Western countries. Students would also be better equipped to engage with Chinese accounting reform.

Through this teaching model, which Helen employs in her own courses, students are encouraged to evaluate whether Western theories are applicable to Chinese contexts. Real-life international and local cases are used to explain different accounting measurements. The teaching content is equivalent to the corresponding onshore subject curriculum, but China's country-specific context is incorporated into subject curriculum. Helen has found that  the inclusion of translated Chinese equivalents of key accounting concepts was particularly valuable.

She contends that her comparative approach resulted in improved student learning and satisfaction with course curriculum.

Helen is hopeful that her paper will serve as "an ice-breaker for future research into teaching and learning in transnational accounting education in the context of China".

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