Date of Award


Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Business (Research)


Accounting & Information Systems

First Advisor

Sylvia Dempsey


In Ireland (and the UK) becoming an accountant usually involves a dual qualification system: a third-level degree followed by training and professional examination. This is commonly conceptualised as learning through knowing followed by learning through doing (Wilson, 2011; Apostolou & Gammie, 2014). Much debate exists about where the responsibility for the development of knowledge and skills lies. Third-level accounting degrees have been criticised for focusing too much on gaining exemptions from professional examinations, with employers feeling that graduates are not work ready (Albrecht & Sack, 2000; Jackling & De Lange, 2008; Pan & Perera, 2012; Bayerlein & Timpson, 2017). However, anecdotally, students and graduates value exemptions and maximising exemption is important to them. This study explores the views of third-level accounting students and recent graduates to confirm (or not) if exemptions are valued by students and graduates. Mixed methods were used in this study. Fifteen in-depth interviews were conducted; ten with third-level accounting students and five with recent accounting graduates. The findings from these interviews were supported by information obtained from a survey which had eighty-three respondents; fifty-three students and thirty graduates.

All participants expressed a strong preference for gaining exemptions during their degree to expedite qualification. While the development of broader business skills was acknowledged as useful, neither students nor graduates were willing to replace exemption bearing modules. Even though graduates admit to not having all the generic skills needed to be work-ready, both students and graduates were in agreement that exemption-led modules provide the most relevant knowledge for professional life. Students valued exemptions because they believed earning exemptions improves the work-life balance of the accounting graduate during the period of professional training and examination. Exemptions were seen as reducing the effort required by graduates to achieve qualification. Graduates after beginning professional examinations were less concerned about balancing work and study. Instead they view exemptions as having helped to improve employability prospects. Students and graduates believe that earning exemptions demonstrates to employer’s the graduates’ commitment to their career and willingness (and capability) to complete professional training and examinations.

Findings from this study provide qualitative evidence that exemptions are highly valued by accounting students and graduates. Awareness of exemptions should be promoted at the earlier stages of the accounting degree. Graduates did see a lot of benefit from a broader curriculum making students more work ready. Educators should continue to investigate ways of improving generic skills without removing exemptions. Developing broader business skills could be introduced as methods of examining modules (such as group work, presentations and IT reports), rather than replacing exemption-bearing modules.

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