‘Big results require big ambitions’: big data, data analytics, and accounting in Masters courses

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Purpose: Accounting education is re-inventing itself as technology impacts the practical aspects of accounting in the real world and education tries to keep up. Big Data and data analytics have begun to influence elements of accounting including audit, accounting preparation, forensic accounting and general accountancy consulting. The purpose of this paper is to qualitatively analyse the current skills provision in accounting Masters courses linked to data analytics compared to academic and professional expectations of the same.

Design/methodology/approach: The academic expectations and requirements of the profession, related to the impact of Big Data and data analytics on accounting education were reviewed and compared to the current provisions of this accounting education in the form of Masters programmes. The research uses an exploratory, qualitative approach with thematic analysis.

Findings: Four themes were identified of the skills required for the effective use of Big Data and data analytics. These were: questioning and scepticism; critical thinking skills; understanding and ability to analyse and communicating results. Questioning and scepticism, as well as understanding and ability to analyse, were frequently cited explicitly as elements for assessment in various forms of accounting education in the Masters courses. However, critical thinking and communication skills were less explicitly cited in these accounting education programmes.

Research limitations/implications: The research reviewed and compared current academic literature and the requirements of the professional accounting bodies with Masters programmes in accounting and data analytics. The research identified key themes relevant to the accounting profession that should be explicitly developed and assessed within accounting education for Big Data and data analytics at both university and professional levels. Further analysis of the in-depth curricula, as opposed to the explicitly stated topic coverage, could add to this body of research.

Practical implications: This paper considers the potential combined role of professional qualification examinations and master’s degrees in skills provision for future practitioners in accounting and data analysis. This can be used to identify the areas in which accounting education can be further enhanced by focus or explicit mention of skills that are both developed and assessed within these programmes.

Social implications: The paper considers the interaction between academic and professional practice in the areas of accounting education, highlighting skills and areas for development for students currently considering accounting education and data analytics.

Originality/value: While current literature focusses on integrating data analysis into existing accounting and finance curricula, this paper considers the role of professional qualification examinations with Masters degrees as skills provision for future practitioners in accounting and data analysis.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAccounting Research Journal
Early online date4 Feb 2021
Publication statusEarly online - 4 Feb 2021


  • Accounting education
  • Profession
  • Big Data
  • Data Analytics
  • Qualifications
  • Masters
  • audit
  • technology
  • future careers


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