The chasm between academic research in accounting and accounting practice

The gap between academic research in accounting and accounting practice has been much debated in various accounting and academic forums. There have been several attempts to explicate the chasm between academia and practice and subsequently to propose firm actions in an effort to narrow the gap.

Certainly, any effort to decrease the gap should commence by identifying the parameters that create and sustain the distance between academic research and practice. In this context, any exploration of the relationships between the two components as well as the challenges faced by practitioners and academic researchers can be conducive to the process of partially alleviating the gap.

Accounting research should be effectively used in the evolvement of accounting practice and practitioners should efficaciously be involved in the development of research focused in accounting contemporary topics. Research conducted by academics should richly contribute to the development of accounting knowledge and practitioners should actively engage in embedding the practical aspects of the profession in existing academic research on accounting as well as curricula.

A fundamental constituent on any successful collaboration is the existence of common interests and mutually accepted incentives between all collaborative parties. It is rather the rule than the exemption that accounting researchers and practitioners stand on opposite grounds in terms of both their interests and incentives. Practitioners rightly tend to focus on current issues that include efficient and effective functioning in the provision of their services to existing and potential customers. This tendency is aligned with the twofold central objective of practitioners which is composed of a sustainable increase in organisations revenues and the provision of added value services to the market.

Conversely, researchers tend to overlook practical aspects of the profession and direct their attention to theoretical, methodical, behavioural, and evaluation facets that will increase their chances of publishing their work in distinct academic journals and thus align their efforts with the requirements of the Higher Education evaluation and ranking systems. There exists a chain effect where publishing research work in distinct academic journals may substantially impact the rankings of Higher Education Institutions as well as the professional status of academics; inevitably, this interconnection influences the research endeavours and research choices of academic researchers.

The preoccupation of practitioners with current practical matters locks their time horizon within a short-term framework. This approach in effect renders the outcome of academic research as rather insignificant to the needs of the profession, since research endeavours necessitate long time horizons to produce results.

It seems that the chasm between academic research and accounting practice has increasingly become systemic. The aforementioned and other additional parameters play a fundamental role in extending the profound divergence.

Can any of the involved and interested parties undertake substantial actions to constrain this steadily increasing chasm?

Can accounting standard setting bodies facilitate a process that would effectively reverse this course of divergence?

  • This has indeed been a long-standing issue. There don't seem to be any real incentives on either side to make major changes. Some countries in Europe seem to do better than the UK. Unfortunately I think the initial push will have to come from the academic side if anywhere. 

    I can only speak from a management accounting perspective but maybe there is a need for research which can go someway to proving causality - for example there is a dearth of longitudinal research, although some experimental work - mainly in the USA. Meta-analyses seen in other disciplines are pretty much non-existent as are systematic reviews.

    Other things that may help:

    - skills training in writing and presenting for practitioners

    - feeding back to research subjects - I have been interviewed for a number of research projects and always have to chase to find out what the resulting research stated.

    - champion open access, far too risky to pay c $35 for a paper based on an abstract which rarely says anything about practical implications of the research.

    On a positive note don't underestimate the impact of executive education in its various guises.

  • What an interesting discussion piece, Filippos. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Does anyone else have any comments or ideas on this important area.