November 06, 2017 11:05 PM

The Doctorate (PhD) Propensity in Accountancy in Europe is abnormally low: the EAA should investigate why and what to do about it.

Posted by Willem Buijink

John Flower reacts to my EAA Newsletter note about the low doctorate propensity in accountancy in Europe. He agrees that it is low. He then argues, to my surprise, that it is not low enough and explains why he thinks this. In fact, reading his reaction, one gets the impression that he thinks the doctorate propensity in accountancy, not just in Europe, should be zero.

Summarizing his arguments:

1. accountancy researchers with a bachelor and/or master degree produce (have in the past produced) high quality accountancy research;

2. accountancy researchers with bachelor and/or master degree and a doctorate produce (have in the past produced) accountancy research of questionable value.

Hence the doctorate in accountancy is superfluous.

No doubt 1 is true. The UK LSE colleagues he mentions, Bird, Bromwich, Carsberg, without a doctorate degree, evidently all advanced accountancy research and its relevance for practice. But 2 is demonstrably not true. In the age cohort of the three LSE colleagues there are also accountancy researchers in the UK with a doctorate, with or without a professional qualification, that have advanced accountancy research as well. John himself mentions, this is a good example, Anthony Hopwood. Ken Peasnell and Geoff Whittington are other good examples. Moreover, looking outside of England (the UK) many more examples can easily be given. Members of the same age cohort that John selects his examples from, in continental Europe, North America, and the Far East (including Australia), have (had) a PhD and have also contributed in important ways to accountancy research and its relevance in practice. So, a doctorate is not a hindrance.

Moreover, also about 2, accountancy is an academic area taught in universities. The doctorate simply is the highest university degree. It is inevitable that there will be doctorates in accountancy, as in all other academic areas taught in universities. Also, large parts of accountancy practice are organized in professions. The most obvious example is the auditing profession. These professions promote the teaching of accountancy in universities, precisely because of the expectation that the results of the research carried out there will increase the quality of the work of their members.

John also attempts to demonstrate that 2 is true by arguing that these days accountancy researchers with a doctorate produce research that 'concentrates on technical issues of little interest to anyone other than fellow academics'. This he concludes from going to academic conferences, he mentions the EAA Valencia conference, and from reading current accountancy research journals. This, he thinks, is a consequence of the researchers never 'leaving the university’s ‘ivory tower’'. I think John is wrong here also. In the accountancy research literature there exists these days an obvious, immense and fun, variety. Variety in theory, in data gathering (beyond databases), and in data analysis. That is why its conferences are large and the number of accountancy journals is large now as well. Much of this conference and journal research is, contrary to what John argues, appreciated by accountancy practice, both by practitioners themselves and by accountancy regulators and oversight bodies. Consider these examples. The European Commission produces research based impact assessments of all its accountancy practice related directives, ex-ante and ex-post. EFRAG, in Brussels, has recently created its academic panel. The PCAOB in the US created an Center for Economic Analysis to help organize its oversight. Dutch Accounting firm have helped create the Foundation for Auditing Research (I am on its Board as an academic member) to encourage and support academic research in auditing. The FASB and the IASB have academic board members. Audit firms have technical departments 'consuming' accountancy research, directly and indirectly. In the US the AICPA and the large audit firms have just started a second round of the Accounting Doctorate Scholars (ADS) program, which aims at increasing the supply of accountancy doctorates there.

On a factual basis therefore I think John is wrong about 2, and about his suggestion that a doctorate propensity of zero % in the academic area of accountancy is a desirable outcome.

John's extreme position prevents him from discussing my central point. That is that the doctorate propensity in accountancy is abnormally low. Compared to the other academic areas in management research. Compared to nearby areas such as economics. And compared to academic areas in general. I showed some evidence in my note. To amplify I can offer this anecdote. Recently I was a member of an Evaluation Committee of a Master Program in Accountancy at a Dutch university. These committees always have a student member. This time it was and Artificial Intelligence Master student from Groningen University. In talks with the accountancy master students he always asked about how many of them had contemplated doing a accountancy doctorate. None had: a 0% doctorate propensity. During our final meeting he expressed his surprise about this. In his AI Master program 8 of the 16 students were planning to go on to do a doctorate: a doctorate propensity of 50%,

In my note I explained (see the note) why I think accountancy has this abnormally low doctorate propensity in Europe. I encouraged the EAA management committee and the board to take steps to investigate and remedy this situation. A necessary first step being that the EAA quickly creates a registry of all doctoral degree in accountancy granting institutions in Europe. The Accountancy PhD Forum and the ARC itself, could be used here, and also of course all national representatives on the EAA board can easily help. That would be a very useful start. It will be a very useful database John !

I final remark: I met John for the first time in the early nineties. He had organized EU money to set up, with Stuart McCleay and Gerry van Dyck (of EIASM), a financial accounting doctorate training network called CREA. Universiteit Maastricht, where I was at the time, was part of the network. Several of today's prominent European accountancy professors were doctoral students in that network. Moreover, the CREA program later led to the, also successful, HARMONIA and INTACCT doctorate in accountancy training networks. By then John was no longer involved. But the irony is that, looking at all this, John did play a sizable role in increasing the supply of high quality accountancy doctorates in Europe. 

By the way (and also for John), this is the informative ADS website link: https://www.adsphd.org/. The AAA also has an informative doctorate in accountancy webpage. On that there is the list of US doctorate in accountancy granting schools: a useful example for the EAA. This is the link: http://aaahq.org/Education/Thinking-of-a-PhD.

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About Willem Buijink

Open University Of The Netherlands
Professor of Accounting, Open Universiteit, Heerlen, The Netherlands

Professor of Accounting, Open Universiteit Heerlen, Department of Accounting and Finance, 2015-present. Before that I was Professor of Business Economics, Universiteit Tilburg, 2001-2016; Professor of Business Economics, Universiteit Maastricht,...

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