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R. Rudman

Stellenbosch University (SOUTH AFRICA)
In 2010, the accounting profession in South Africa adopted a new competency framework, in terms of which students are required to apply their theoretical knowledge in practical business environments. The ability to do this requires insight into real life work situations and as a result; tertiary institutions use various teaching tools to simulate actual work experience. The primary objective of this research is to determine whether having work experience, obtained through vacation work, contributes to improving students’ understanding of the subject of Auditing. A secondary objective is to evaluate whether the type of vacation work has an influences on the level of understanding of students. It is important to investigate both these objectives in light of the shortage of ‘auditing’ vacation work opportunities available to students.

Following a review of literature on the benefits of work experience in fields other than auditing, a questionnaire was developed to investigate:
• students’ perceptions of skills developed while taking part in work experience;
• students’ views of its benefits; and
• whether having work experience, irrespective of the nature of the work experience, makes it easier to understand Auditing.

The questionnaire was distributed to under- and post-graduate students in a specialist Auditing courses at Stellenbosch University. The results were analysed based on the nature of the vacation work the students performed.

The findings demonstrate that work experience enables students to contextualise their theoretical knowledge better. Students are also, irrespective of the nature of the vacation work, able to understand the scenarios in examinations better after gaining work experience. Work experience further develops a variety of personal skills, which cannot be developed in an academic environment. The perceived benefits of work experience could assist in addressing the lack of practical insight students traditionally demonstrated. All types of work experience help to develop this insight. It also highlights the need for co-operation between the education providers, potential employers and the accounting profession to make work experience feasible and more accessible to a larger number of students.