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Study accounting courses in Australia

Field of Study: Accounting Course Information

You might think that accounting is all about boring number-crunchers in grey suits, but this is far from the truth. While accountants do have to be accurate with numbers and in the advice they give to people, the profession has otherwise well and truly outgrown this bean-counting image.

These days, there is less labour intensiveness at the number-crunching end and more room for accountants to have an impact on business strategy and management. Accountants play an active role in the business world and can work in any industry or sector. They can choose between large firms, smaller private practices, government, not-for-profit organisations, schools, arts organisations — you name it. The field covers many different workplaces, roles and specialisations (auditing and insolvency, cost and management accounting, business consultancy, foreign exchange and taxation among them) and there is much call for skill in making deals, getting on with people and thinking in big strategic terms. Many accountants take advantage of their transferable skills and spend time working overseas.

At the other end of the spectrum, with accountants acting as the glue in the all-important ‘accountability’ framework, some come off as the bad guys in high-profile corporate scandals. But for aspiring professionals, this controversy only highlights the reasons for the fairly exhaustive requirements of professional certification. In Australia, to become a member of the main professional associations (see details below), you will need to go through a program that begins with an accounting major in an accredited university course, followed by further study and mentored practical experience.

For further information about the accounting professions, including professional registration, see the CPA Australia, Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand and Institute of Public Accountants websites.

Other fields of study likely to appeal to someone interested in accounting include business and management, mathematics and economics.

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VET study in accounting

Courses, majors and specialisations in accounting

Accounting is a crucial role within any business or organisation, so the huge number of courses available in the field should come as no surprise. In the VET sector, accounting courses are available at certificate IV, diploma and advanced diploma level. There are also many other courses that provide entry into associated areas such as financial services and accounts administration, which are available at all VET qualification levels. This means that the field provides a very broad range of study options.

It is important to keep in mind that VET qualifications in accounting do not provide entry into the accounting profession. Instead, they provide graduates with the hands-on skills and background to enter paraprofessional roles in the accounting field (supporting professional accountants and associated workers) or to enter further study. To become a professional accountant, it is necessary to complete an accredited degree in the higher education sector.

The course you choose will largely depend on the specific part of the accounting field of study that interests you. If there’s a certain role you are interested in, it’s worth looking into some of the more specialised courses (banking services, for instance) or researching the subjects and electives on offer within the broader accounting courses. If you're not sure which course option is best for you, we recommend having a chat to your career adviser or course coordinators at the institutions you are considering.

Where to study accounting

VET courses in accounting are available at a wide range of institutions, including TAFE institutes and private VET providers. There are also a number of universities that operate a TAFE sector. If you are hoping to progress into higher education study following your VET course, it is important to enquire with institutions about their Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) process.

If flexibility is what you need, the great thing about a field as popular as accounting is that many courses are available part time or through online or distance education. This may not be the case at smaller institutions, so it's crucial to do your research.

Career opportunities in accounting field

Graduates of accounting and related programs find work in all sorts of workplaces. At the VET level, accounting courses prepare graduates for roles such as bookkeeper or payroll clerk. To become a professional accountant, it is necessary to complete a bachelor degree. Graduates of higher education qualifications are eligible for professional recognition through the Institute of Public Accountants.

See the Career Search for more information about your career options.

Undergraduate study in accounting

Courses, majors and specialisations in accounting

There are many accounting courses available, although studying accounting does not necessarily mean choosing a course with accounting in the title. You might undertake a degree in business, commerce or economics with an accounting specialisation or a double degree pairing accounting with law, information systems or even arts.

You might choose an accounting specialisation because you think it will be interesting or provide a good background for another career you have your mind set on, but remember that if you want to qualify as an accountant you will need to make sure that your degree is accredited by the relevant professional associations. You will also be required to complete accounting subjects in core areas. You can find details about which courses are accredited and which subjects are required on the professional associations’ websites (see above).

Accounting firms have also begun to introduce cadetships for school leavers, where students work for the company part time while completing their degree. Some universities also offer accelerated degrees or an industry-based learning component in later years, such as a semester-long internship. Students can attend industry events organised by the professional associations and access career advice through the respective websites. They can also get involved in activities such as the annual Chartered Accountants Student Challenge, which gives students an idea of the issues they will likely encounter in business.

In addition, a new degree structure, which has already been established in some fields at selected institutions, has the potential to become more common in the accounting field in the future. The structure follows a US-style model where undergraduates enter a general ‘pre-accounting’ degree such as business or commerce and then transfer to a postgraduate qualification in accounting.

Where to study accounting

Accounting degrees are available at a wide range of institutions, including universities and private higher education providers. Because courses are accredited by the professional associations, accounting specialisations do not differ significantly, no matter where you choose to study. That said, there is a small but growing number of ‘co-op’ courses, which mix paid industry placements with study.

Competition for accounting courses is tough. Overall, there is a big range of cut-offs and some courses specify prerequisites (mathematics, for instance).

You do not have to do your first degree in accounting to be an accountant (see the Postgraduate section for information about postgraduate conversion courses for graduates of other disciplines).

See Degree costs and loans for more information about paying for your degree.

To find out how each institution performs in your field of study, see our Ratings section.

Career opportunities in accounting field

Figures from the recent Course Experience Questionnaire survey show that 41 per cent of graduates were still seeking full-time work four months after course completion, suggesting that, despite the skills shortages in the accounting profession and the increase in availability of cadetships, employers may still be looking for more experienced professionals to fill vacancies. The average starting salary for graduates in 2014 was $49,805, a slight increase on the year prior. Around 23 per cent of graduates went onto further study before seeking full-time employment, while most of those who did gain employment were working in private practice or private industry.

See the Career Search for more information about your career options.

Postgraduate study in accounting

Courses, majors and specialisations in accounting

Programs in this field fall into five groups. First, there are coursework programs designed for those who are already qualified accountants that offer advanced skills or the chance to specialise. The second and largest group consists of ‘conversion’ programs that allow students with a degree in another field to qualify. Entry to some of these programs requires work experience or a related qualification, while others accept aspiring accountants from all disciplines. If you want to join the profession, you should research accreditation requirements with care.

The third group of programs is for accounting graduates from both undergraduate and conversion programs seeking professional accreditation as a chartered accountant (CA) or certified practising accountant (CPA). To gain these qualifications, applicants generally require a specialist postgraduate qualification in addition to the basic accounting qualification, as well as some work experience under supervision. Contact the three major professional bodies (details above) for more information.

The fourth group is made up of general programs designed for those in related occupations who want to hold up their end of the conversation with the ‘numbers people’ without going to the extreme of actually becoming an accountant.

Last, and rarest, are research programs. Research students make up only a small proportion of postgraduate students in the field, at just two per cent.

One of the advantages of accounting is that there are enough students to support a relatively wide range of postgraduate programs, including some that can be completed by distance and online education, so you can shop around to find the best fit for you.

Where to study accounting

Postgraduate accounting courses are available at most universities, as well as at many private higher education providers. Entry difficulty varies between institutions, although you can expect to need a bachelor degree. In some cases, you may need to satisfy additional requirements.

Most postgraduate programs require students to pay full fees, although some Commonwealth Supported Places (CSPs) may be available, particularly at institutions that have introduced the US-style, two-part degree structure. See Degree costs and loans for more information.

To find out how each institution performs in your field of study, see our Ratings section.

Career opportunities in accounting field

Accounting postgraduates aren't very satisfied with their study experience, rating the teaching quality and their overall experience two stars, according to the national Course Experience Questionnaire survey. Despite industry claims of a skills shortage, the number of graduates having difficulty finding work has risen significantly in recent years, with half of graduates still seeking work four months after graduating. Salaries are average compared to other fields of study, sitting at an average of $72,841.

See the Career Search for more information about your career options.

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