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Accounting is vital to many organisations, so it’s no surprise that the field is such a popular choice among international students coming to Australia. In fact, more than half of Australia’s undergraduate accounting students are from overseas (The Good Universities Guide 2015).

The courses and employment opportunities available will depend on the level of qualification you complete. If you are interested in studying accounting, you may also be interested in Business and management.
There are three qualification levels in accounting:

VET study in accounting

Courses and specialization

Accounting is a very broad field in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector. Courses available include certificate IV, diplomas and advanced diplomas in accounting. In addition to these courses in accounting, which prepare students for roles supporting professional accountants, many other VET courses are available in related areas such as accounts administration, banking services, bookkeeping and financial services.

The most important thing to keep in mind when selecting a course is that a VET qualification in accounting will not allow you to work as an accountant. VET qualifications are lower-level qualifications than bachelor degrees, and they provide entry into a variety of ‘paraprofessional’ roles that support professional accountants. If you want to work as an accountant, you must complete an accredited bachelor degree in accounting (see Undergraduate study in accounting). VET courses can provide a good pathway to undergraduate accounting degrees. You may choose to complete a VET qualification in accounting before progressing to a bachelor degree, for example.

Applicants must meet academic and English language requirements, which vary between courses, institutions and qualification levels. Subject prerequisites may apply, including the completion of mathematics subjects in secondary school. For more information about VET courses and entry requirements, see Vocational Education.

Where to study

VET qualifications in accounting can be studied in many locations around Australia at TAFE institutes, private colleges and universities with TAFE departments. If you are considering progressing to an undergraduate accounting degree after completing a VET qualification, enquire with institutions about their pathway schemes to see whether you will be awarded credit for your studies.

The course you choose will generally depend on your area of interest (accounting or bookkeeping, for example). Since practical experience is an important aspect of many of the courses in this field, it is important to check that the courses and institutions you are considering have good contacts with industry and are able to assist students to find work experience placements.

Undergraduate study in accounting

Courses and specialization

Accounting is a large field at undergraduate level. The most popular course in this field is the bachelor of accounting, which is the main pathway into professional practice as an accountant. Accounting can also be studied as a major within general courses, such as the bachelor of business or bachelor of commerce degrees. These general degrees allow students to sample many different business fields, including accounting, providing a good option for students who are unsure about committing to a full accounting degree.

Not all students who study accounting want to work as an accountant, with some simply looking to gain skills that they can use in a range of other careers. If, like many students in this field, you do want to enter the profession you will need to check that your degree is accredited by the relevant professional associations (CPA Australia, Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand and the Institute of Public Accountants). Accredited courses are designed to meet the needs of the profession and follow a core curriculum. In order to gain full accreditation as an accountant, graduates must complete further study and a mentored practical experience.

There are many double degrees available, which allow students to combine study in accounting with fields such as business, law or even humanities. Another interesting option is to complete a cooperative (co-op) degree, which combines study with paid practical experience. Co-op degrees can be very competitive to enter, admitting only a small number of students. In addition, a new degree structure has been established at some institutions, which has the potential to become more common in the accounting field in the future. The structure follows a US-style model where undergraduates enter a general ‘pre-accounting’ degree such as business or commerce and then transfer to a postgraduate qualification in accounting.

Applicants must meet academic and English language requirements, which vary between courses, institutions and qualification levels. Some undergraduate courses in accounting require the completion of prerequisite studies in mathematics in secondary school. For more information about undergraduate courses and entry requirements, see Higher Education — Undergraduate.

Where to study

Undergraduate accounting courses are available at most universities around the country, as well as at some private colleges and TAFE institutes. There are a number of specialist providers that focus exclusively on business and accounting education.

Accredited accounting degrees do not differ greatly in terms of course content, offering a core curriculum that is determined by the requirements of the industry. Work experience opportunities are important in this field, so check course outlines and contact institutions to see whether industry placements are integrated into the course (through a co-op course structure that combines work with study, for example).

Postgraduate study in accounting

Courses and specialization

Accounting is a large and popular field at postgraduate level, offering a variety of course options to students from just about any academic background. Most postgraduate students complete coursework degrees, including graduate certificates, graduate diplomas and coursework masters degrees.

There are many postgraduate ‘conversion’ courses that allow students with a non-accounting background to qualify for a career in accounting. These programs (which are usually titled as ‘professional accounting’) are available to those who have completed undergraduate degrees in fields that are not related to accounting. There are also many programs designed for practising accountants who would like to extend their knowledge of the field or learn a new specialisation (taxation, for example). Another group of programs caters for graduates of undergraduate accounting programs and postgraduate conversion degrees, providing the opportunity to gain accreditation as a Chartered Accountant (CA) or Chartered Practising Accountant (CPA). There are also some programs offered to those with a general interest in accounting who do not necessarily want to enter the profession, but are instead looking to gain some background in the field for their own interest or for career development purposes.

Postgraduate research degrees in accounting are also available, including research masters degrees and research doctorates, although they are currently less popular than coursework degrees.

Students seeking a challenge can select from a number of ‘advanced’ degrees, which provide additional units to give students a better understanding of the field or to assist their career progression. Some advanced programs include a research component (generally a minor thesis) or additional units related to work preparation. There are also many double degrees available at masters level, which allow students to combine accounting with fields such as business and management (including MBAs), law and information systems. Two-part degrees, where students complete a general degree at undergraduate level (such as business or commerce) before studying accounting at postgraduate level, are becoming more common.

Applicants must meet academic and English language requirements, which vary between courses, institutions and qualification levels. Some courses may require students to hold a previous qualification in accounting or to have work experience in the field. For more information about postgraduate courses and entry requirements, see Higher Education — Postgraduate.

Where to study

Postgraduate accounting courses are available at universities across the country, as well as at many private higher education providers. Some private colleges focus exclusively on preparing students for the accounting profession, while industry bodies, including CPA Australia and Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, also offer their own qualifications.

The course you choose will depend on your prior qualifications and career aspirations (whether you are seeking to update your knowledge or learn a new specialisation, for example). Look for courses that are accredited by the professional associations, and, if needed, those that offer work experience opportunities.

If you are considering a research degree, look for institutions with experience in the accounting field and with connections to the industry, including the professional associations.

Accounting jobs in Australia

Accountants and other financial staff play an essential role in businesses and organisations of all types. This means that they can find employment in all sorts of industries and in many different areas, from general accounting roles to auditing, business consultancy, investment analysis, foreign exchange and taxation. Accountants are employed in a range of workplaces, from government departments to large accounting firms and private organisations in all industry sectors. They may also work in private practice (on their own or with a group of accountants), providing services to businesses and individuals.

Graduates of VET courses in accounting generally find work in paraprofessional roles that support professional accountants, including jobs such as bookkeeper, payroll clerk or accounts officer. Graduates of bachelor degrees usually become professional accountants but may also work in associated roles, depending on their interests and preferred area of work.

Graduates of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in accounting may be eligible to undertake a Professional Year Program (PYP), which are accredited by Australia’s professional accounting bodies: CPA Australia, Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand and the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA). The Skilled Migration Internship Program — Accounting (SMIPA) provides a minimum of 44 weeks of training and includes a 12-week internship with a host company. Graduates who successfully complete a PYP can increase their chances of gaining permanent residency in Australia.