An exploration of first-year, non-major accounting students' learning experiences at a private higher education institution in South Africa.
This research project focuses on Accounting education at tertiary level. There is limited understanding of students' experiences of learning Accounting in higher education institutions. Furthermore, Accounting is generally perceived as a difficult discipline, especially for novice first-year, non-major Accounting students. In this research study the purpose and focus were to explore first-year, non-major Accounting students' experiences when learning Accounting. The study attempts to answer two key research questions pertaining to first-year, non-major Accounting students' experiences when learning Accounting, and to show how their experiences influence their learning of Accounting. The study was conducted at a private higher education institution in South Africa where first-year Accounting is a compulsory element of an undergraduate commerce degree. The research participants sampled for this study were six first-year, non-major Accounting students, some of whom were novice Accounting students while others had studied Accounting in high school up to Grade 12. A qualitative research methodology was adopted to generate data using an interpretive case study approach. Research methods included semi-structured interviews and participant reflective journals. Data were analysed using open coding, and the findings categorised according to themes. Some of the key findings of this study revealed that students' experiences were influenced by teacher/lecturer qualities, students' perceptions and preconceptions of Accounting as a discipline, and the abstract nature of the Accounting discipline and its discourse. Other factors influencing students' learning experiences included their agency, resilience and determination, the effect of Accounting assessments, and ability streaming. This study concludes with a discussion of recommendations based on the findings. These point to the need for staff development workshops for Accounting lecturers, with an emphasis on students' emotions and perceptions when learning Accounting, so that lecturers are more aware of the extent of students' anxieties, insecurities and negative perceptions. Other recommendations include more post-plenary workshops for first-year Accounting students and development of different programmes for novice, non-major and Accounting major students, since these cohorts of students have differing career Accounting competence expectations.