A $140,000 grant from the Big Four accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers is enabling the School of Business to revamp its accounting curriculum.
The new curriculum will better prepare students for the changes in financial reporting practices at publicly traded companies that were put into place after the Enron and WorldCom scandals.
“We are very excited to be given this opportunity,” says Mohamed Hussein, professor and head of the accounting department, who will direct the curriculum redesign.
“Globalization and information technology have radically changed the way business is conducted, and have created new risks. While we are always changing the curriculum, big scandals put urgency on reform in several areas all at once.”
Corporate scandals surfacing since the spectacular collapse of energy trader Enron led Congress to pass the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002, to make corporations’ finances more transparent and
to hold executives responsible
for financial disclosure.
The law is forcing companies to strengthen their internal controls.
Its impact is being felt at the level of the nation’s Big Four public accounting firms (PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, Ernst & Young, and Deloitte & Touche), which find themselves trying to cope with a tidal wave of calls
for help from clients.
“The changes put tremendous new responsibilities on auditors,” Hussein says. “All of a sudden, accountants are the people who safeguard capital markets. They are no longer bean-counters, but have a critical social and economic function.”
Companies face looming deadlines for implementing parts of the new law. As a consequence, the hiring of experienced financial talent is increasing rapidly, as firms seek knowledgeable accounting professionals to sort through the labyrinth of new regulations.
The increased demand is trickling down to accounting schools. Changes in the laws have meant “huge job creation” says Hussein. “Sarbanes-Oxley is really fueling the demand for accountants. Companies must strengthen their internal controls and are being challenged to build a staff that is qualified to comply with the new regulations. We’ve seen a tremendous increase in the demand for our graduates. We can’t produce them fast enough.”
The accounting department is “a major supplier of accounting graduates to the profession,” Hussein says. “We averaged 120 graduates over each of the past five years, and about 70 percent of them joined public accounting firms. Our master of science in accounting has averaged 80 graduates per year over the past four years.”
Because of the higher standards, accounting firms are closely assessing graduates’ skills, and are less willing to hire someone who doesn’t have the financial reporting expertise necessitated by the requirements of Sarbanes-Oxley.
This is influencing how accounting must be taught. Some of the Big Four firms, such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, are helping schools reengineer their curriculums to prepare students for the new realities in the workplace.
The three-year grant from PricewaterhouseCoopers – the world’s largest professional services firm – will fund a restructuring of courses to integrate topics for meeting new corporate governance standards, including those introduced by the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, starting with students in their sophomore year and continuing through their junior and senior years.
Mark Gelinas, campus recruiting manager for PricewaterhouseCoopers, says his is the accounting firm that recruits the most UConn students, “and we plan to continue hiring many students from the University because of the quality of the school. We are hiring more top students in order to keep pace with the changing marketplace. UConn is a priority school for recruitment in our region.”