AUT - Removing Barriers and Taking Culture to Work

Associate Professor in Accounting Dr Anil Narayan and Accounting Lecturer Dr Peni Tupou Fukofuka at AUT know better than most how to help Pacific people succeed. Read about their areas of expertise and how culture plays a big part of how they operate and view their fields of study and practice

 

 

Associate Professor in Accounting Dr Anil Narayan has not only researched the subject, but his dedication to his students at the Auckland University of Technology was recently recognised with its teaching excellence award.

 

For more than two decades Narayan has been nurturing our next generation of accountants, and helping the Pacific students is particularly dear to his heart, he says.

 

“The Pacific means a lot to me. I was once a student on a government scholarship studying overseas. I understand some of the difficulties Pacific students face in the tertiary education environment.”

 

Narayan has classes at AUT’s South Campus in the heart of Manukau, where all core accounting papers are taught, and where more than half of his students are Pacific students.

 

As Deputy Head of the university’s accounting department, he feels responsibility to ensure they are looked after.

 

“In our research we found that a lot of Pasifika students were not coming to classes because they had other family pressures, for example church-going or looking after the younger siblings,” he says.

 

The solution is to get those who place demands on their time to change their mindset so that they instead give the best support.

 

“Church and family elders feel great pride in one of their family attending university, and they want them to succeed. If we can get that network on board then the students have a much better chance.”

 

Lecturers need to encourage Pacific students as well as look out for things that can trip up their studies, like not having access to a study room or computer at home.

 

Narayan also monitors when a student’s attendance or performance dips and follows up with a friendly chat about what’s going on for them.

 

As well as being in a convenient location, AUT’s South Campus often suits Pacific students better than what can be intimidating large lecture theatres in the city, he says.

 

“They can be shy, but the more you talk to them in a friendly way, in a nice approachable way, that actually then encourages them. I come from a Pasifika culture, so I have a great understanding of that “Pasifika people learn very well with real life examples.”

 

Narayan wants to lift the standard of living for the Pacific community, and he has had Pacific students who have gone on to be great accountants, bringing skills and qualities to the job beyond those of a traditional “bean counter”.

 

“Pasifika people, from what I’ve experienced, have good communication skills and often enjoy working in groups. These soft skills are more important than ever as technology is taking away the routine parts of an accountant’s job.

 

“We want them to be successful in business, and studying accounting is very important, very critical. We need more educated, qualified accountants who are Pasifika, because we certainly don’t have many.”

 

AUT graduates can be found working in the top four accounting firms and leading New Zealand companies, he says.

 

Making a difference

 

Originally a chartered accountant, Narayan has been at AUT for 23 years and was motivated to pursue teaching after realising the enormous contribution he could make in the lives of many students who were not enjoying accounting.

 

“Students often comment ‘accounting tends to be pretty boring, and the way you are explaining it to me – I’ve got it now’.”

 

Narayan is a member of CA ANZ and a Fellow of CPA Australia and has just been awarded the CPA ANZ Divisional President’s Award for Excellence (Service & Leadership).

 

In 2016 and 2017, Narayan also received recognition in teaching excellence from CPA Australia, one of the largest professional accounting bodies, for exceeding both the national and global pass rates in CPA external examinations, averaging between 88 and 100 per cent.

 

AUT is this year nominating him for a national Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award. “Students come to us for accounting, and we have to make sure that we give them good teaching,” he says.

 

“It doesn’t stop with their education though. We have to be part of their lives as they embark on their careers.”

 

Taking Culture to Work

 

AUT lecturer Dr Peni Tupou Fukofuka’s academic teaching and research has taken him from cities like Canberra, Sydney through to remote indigenous communities in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Tonga. His research is focused on exploring the influence of accounting on various social contexts and how, in return those social contexts influence accounting.

 

 

Before joining AUT, Peni taught at the University of the South Pacific, completed his PhD at Australian National University and worked as an accountant and CEO in organisations in Tonga. He examines failed projects and asks why accountants who provided financial reports and advice to assist senior management in deciding whether to begin or continue with a project that was on a path to failure.

 

Last year, Tonga’s Prime Minister had the unenviable task of fronting to the media - and to his country - announcing Tonga would not be hosting the 2019 Pacific Games. A Government spokesman said agreeing to host the games was a “costly mistake”. Interestingly, there is evidence this failure was known to accountants at the Treasury department long before the public announcement was made.

 

Other examples of costly failures can be found at church level, such as the highly publicised collapse of the Tonga Methodist Church in Australia, which impacted more than 20,000 Tongans and owed AUD$21 million.

 

At the heart of these projects are accountants who provide financial reports and advice to assist senior management in deciding whether to begin or continue with a project. Why are these knowledgeable insiders continuing to support projects on a path to failure?

 

It’s a question put to more than 500 Australian and Pacific Island accountants to try and understand the tendency to support failing projects, and also to see whether cultural respect for superiors, such as CEOs or project managers, was influencing accountants’ support for failing projects.

 

It became apparent through this research that as more resources are poured into a project, the more hesitant both Australian and Pacific Island accountants were to support decisions that would bring the project to a halt, even if there was evidence it was failing.

 

Additionally, a cultural respect for superiors means Pacific Island accountants back a failing project if they saw their superiors wanted it continued. This was not the case for Australian accountants surveyed, suggesting a cultural element differentiating Pacific Island accountants from their Australian colleagues.

 

These findings are highly relevant to CEOs, project managers, government representatives and anyone who is accountable for the use of public funds. Three pieces of advice I would give to people in these positions would be:

 

• To have the financial and governance mechanisms in place to convey news of project failure as soon as it is known.

 

• To rotate project accountants and to direct incoming accountants with exploring whether the project is still on track.

 

• To be mindful that Pacific Island accountants might be supporting failing projects out of respect for superiors.

 

The investigation into cultural respect for superiors as it relates to accountants and the accounting profession has opened up further research projects within the Pacific context - the first in the education sector and another in the church setting.

 

Accountants are more than just book-keepers. They are trusted advisors with a unique set of skills that can ensure the financial wellbeing of public money and project success.

 

Although Pacific accountants are no different from their non-Pacific colleagues in continuing to support projects that have been heavily financially resourced and championed by superiors, there is also an element respect for hierarchy that can inhibit them from speaking up when projects are financially unworkable.


 

12/07/19