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The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is here to stay as digital technology increasingly influences our daily lives. Prof Amanda Dempsey is senior director at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) School of Accounting, which has fully embraced this wave of development. 

The school is implementing pioneering digital teaching techniques to better prepare accounting graduates for a career in the 21st century. A full suite of academic programmes, from a diploma to a PhD, is now being offered at the school.

“UJ prides itself on being a 4IR university. Our vice-chancellor Prof Tshilidzi Marwala is the deputy chair of the presidential 4IR committee”, says Dempsey, as she outlines how the School of Accounting aims to prepare students for the real-world experience of a global economy that puts digital first.

As part of this dynamic approach, the university is the first in SA to adopt Xero Learn, a cloud-based accounting software teaching platform that enables both teachers and students to come to grips with cloud software. The Xero Learn package is customisable, so students and lecturers can mould it to suit their needs.


UJ encourages basic knowledge of 4IR in accounting students as early as possible in their academic career. During the break after completing their first degree, accounting honours (CTA) students are given a comprehensive assignment with a scenario and a case study, and they need to apply 4IR,” says Dempsey.

The top students are then invited to present their research outcomes to a panel consisting of senior partners at audit firms and senior staff from the SA Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica). “This is a way of empowering students to learn to do their own research.”

From 2021, undergraduate students will also be exposed to a new module, 4IR Accounting.

UJ’s department of accounting is at the head of the pack when it comes to producing high-quality accounting graduates, as is evident from their combined 92.3% Initial Test of Compliance pass rate last year. This exam is required if graduates wish to register as chartered accountants with Saica.

UJ has reached a high standard through the nimble way it has structured its teaching programmes and blended teaching modules. During lockdown, the school was able to switch to fully online education within a week and students will therefore still be able to complete the 2020 academic year in 2020.

The School of Accounting also offers an online accounting degree, which allows students to work virtually and to register for the different modules at different times of the year on a rotational basis. Students need a seven-week period to complete a single module before moving onto the next. “There is no other university in this country, and few in the world, that offer an accounting degree in this way,” says Dempsey.

There is little doubt that accounting as a profession is facing an ethical crisis in SA, as reports of financial misconduct by major accounting firms dominate local news headlines. UJ’s School of Accounting is tackling this challenge by introducing mandatory courses in accounting ethics as part of its degree programme.

Dempsey says the university offers a six-month course on accounting ethics, but that ethical, independent thought is inculcated as part of every module that the school offers: “You can’t teach ethics to someone in six months. We try to instil ethics in students as much as we can.”

The School of Accounting also conducts short learning programmes as part of continuous professional development for members of professional bodies or for professionals in business.

These programmes are 100% online and applicants can be admitted, pay and register within 10 minutes, 24/7, 365 days a year. Modules can be completed in the students’ own time within eight weeks, after which an e-certificate is issued on completion.

Three modules are available: 4IR Perspective, An introduction to Blockchain Technology and Integrated Reporting. In the near future, Artificial Intelligence and 4IR Ethics modules will also be launched.

Through its portfolio of accounting degrees, UJ’s School of Accounting aims to create graduates who will go on to offer value to the companies they work for and play a fundamental role in strengthening the economy.

Dempsey is acutely aware of the added pressure that technology and 4IR have placed on the job market, and that only highly skilled and adaptive graduates will rise to the challenge: “A company doesn’t just want an auditor, they want an auditor who can add value.”

For more information on UJ’s degrees in accountancy, and to register, e-mail accountancy@uj.ac.za, visit the website or follow  on Twitter.

This article was paid for by the University of Johannesburg.

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