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technician The official publication of the Association of Accounting Technicians (Australia)

September 2008

Which career for you?

Getting SG right Job starts made easy Distance learning rules! Corporates embrace AAT SUPPORTED BY:

From the


AAT Australia is experiencing an exceptional period of membership intake. The reasons for this escalation in interest in the Association are various; however, the following highlights are likely to have contributed to this spike. 1. Our lead news story (page 3) describes the details of one of the most important breakthroughs in Australian paraprofessional accounting history. The NAB’s recommendation of AAT Australia membership to its financial analyst staff members, and the acknowledgement of the corporate governance and professional ethics that are associated with such membership, is a significant milestone in the development and recognition of the paraprofessional accounting industry in Australia. 2. The draft Tax Agent Services Bill and related regulations were released by Treasury in late May 2008. The exposure draft introduced the establishment of BAS agents who will be governed by ethical standards. AAT Australia has welcomed the arrival of this legislative code of professional conduct for tax agents and BAS agents. We have been at the forefront in providing submissions to government that aim to ensure that unskilled and under-trained people who use the title ‘bookkeeper’ become skilled and trained to the standards required by Australian

AAT Australia is now at the beginning of what we believe will be the greatest period of growth for the Association. business. Our submission in response to the draft tax agent legislation was prepared in consultation with CPA Australia, the Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia and the National Institute of Accountants and lodged on 30 June 2008. Since the release of the draft Bill, interest in AAT Australia membership has increased and enquiries regarding the proposed legislation have been plentiful. 3. AAT Australia has managed to secure what we believe to be the most competitive Professional Indemnity (PI) insurance cover in the country, exclusive to AAT Australia members. The features of the PI cover are as follows;

Depending upon the member’s current premium, the saving may be over $300 per annum! This has also created a great deal of encouragement for non-members to join AAT Australia. Further, we have now negotiated competitive motor vehicle insurance through Affinisure Professional; for details, see ‘In the news’ in this issue of Accounting Technician. 4. Various AAT Australia team members are hitting the road to exhibit at MYOB conferences across the nation. Our first stop, Adelaide, was a huge success, and the number of membership enquiries was overwhelming. We anticipate that this sort of response will continue in each state. In closing, AAT Australia is now at the beginning of what we believe will be the greatest growth period for the Association. The many strategic partnerships that we have negotiated over the past 12 months are now ensuring the Association the recognition it truly deserves.

• $1 million cover for $295 p.a. (plus GST) for gross fee billings up to $75,000 • $1 million cover for $395 p.a. (plus GST) for gross fee billings up to $150,000

Robert Comelli CEO – AAT Australia

• an excess fee of $500 for each claim.



Table talk


In the news


New member welcome


Alliance formed with ANZ


Job starts without tears


Getting technical


Hands on


Balance sheet


Making distance learning work

Exploring career pathways 6


Level 6, 555 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3000 GPO Box 1637, Melbourne, Victoria 3001 Phone: 1800 000 961 Fax: 03 8665 3130 Email: Website: ABN 25 085 441 934

accounting technician September 2008

Make distance learning work The days when distance learning was considered the poor cousin of on-campus study have long gone, as Alan Bowen-James explains. In many ways, the term ‘distance education’ is misleading nowadays because it implies that it is about people studying in remote locations, deprived of access to ‘proper’ education in the form of face-to-face teaching. While this once was the case, with distance or correspondence education being the ‘poor cousin’ of campus-based education, the advent of the internet has changed everything. The perceived disadvantages of distance – lack of access to facilities such as libraries, isolation from peers and teachers, absence of community, loss of immediacy of communication through lectures and seminars – have largely evaporated. Indeed, in some respects, the situation is now the reverse, with campus-based students finding that they are going online to experience the dynamism of life on the web. Further, traditional views on what constitutes the ‘best’ form of education have also moved on, with educators appreciating that what is good for one category of students, say, high school leavers, may not be optimal for other types of students, such as mid-career professionals or working parents. In other words, few educators would now argue that one size fits all, that one mode of education can meet the needs of all types of students. This is not to mention individual variations in learning styles and preferences, regardless of your age or circumstances. Numerous studies have shown that for busy people, quality distance education provides just as fulfilling an educational experience as campus-based learning, sometimes more so. This is especially the case for adult learners, people either returning to education, or coming to it late, who are driven by the desire to gain a qualification or specific knowledge rather than the attractions of a campus lifestyle. Accordingly, the key questions for you in deciding to take on – or continue with – distance learning are: • Is lack of time a major hindrance to study? • I s distance learning the best solution to your study needs, taking into account accessibility, work, family and other commitments? • I f the answer to both the above is ‘yes’, which of the various types of distance learning is most likely to assist you to achieve your learning goals?

Why opt for distance learning? Making a comparison between campus-based study and distance education is a bit like comparing restaurant dining and take-away meals: they both have their advantages and disadvantages, and both are driven by circumstantial factors and personal agendas. While many of us would prefer to eat in the best restaurants every night of the week, we realise that the opportunity cost of doing so would wreck our budgets, in time as well as money. Moreover, the sheer hassle of dressing up, driving, parking and putting up with noisy patrons gets tiring. Invariably, it’s a matter of balancing needs, opportunities and resources.


accounting technician September 2008

Distance education is all about flexibility, mobility, time management, and juggling competing life interests and pressures. An interesting case in point is the impact distance education is having on rugby league players in Sydney’s western suburbs. A significant number of young players are taking distance education courses in a variety of disciplines, even though there are university campuses nearby. Why? Because many of the players are self-conscious about how they might be perceived by their peers. The issue here is not time, but self-image. A good example of how distance education can make a real difference is the case of Sally, a separated 30-year-old with two young children who lives in south-western Sydney and is struggling to make ends meet bookkeeping for a small business. Sally deeply regretted not finishing high school and despaired of ever getting out of her poverty trap. She didn’t meet the admission prerequisites for the local university and simply couldn’t afford the time (or babysitting) to attend lectures. A friend told Sally about our Bachelor of Accounting so she contacted Cengage, and was advised by one of our counsellors that she could enrol in a Diploma of Accounting as a mature-aged student and, if she passed the course, could get advanced standing into the degree; which is exactly what happened. After a tentative start, Sally finished the Diploma with a credit average and is now well into the degree, looking forward to graduating as an accountant and a new life. Neither mode of learning, campus or distance, on its own will serve the needs of everyone, everywhere, every time. What is important is that people have a choice, and that is what distance education offers, especially for those for whom the pressures of life and circumstance offer few choices.

Is all distance learning the same? What differentiates so-called distance education from traditional campus-based education is that the majority of the learning is outside the classroom. However, there are also sub-types within the distance education model. These are differentiated by: • t he primary medium of communication used (such as television, radio, paper, the internet) • t he inclusion of compulsory face-toface components (such as workshops, lectures, online seminars) • t he degree to which you are able to study independently and at your own pace

for you Distance education is all about flexibility, mobility, time management, and juggling competing life interests and pressures. • the provision of comprehensive study materials, such as full course notes, textbooks, additional learning resources • t he level of supplementary support in the form of mentors, help desks, customer service contacts. It is important to keep these factors in mind when deciding on a distance-learning program that will suit you and the resources at your disposal. For example, if you have limited internet access, a program that is delivered totally online may not be a good choice; if you believe that you will need a lot of support, at least early on, look for a learning model that includes mentoring. Distance learning that includes face-to-face components is called ‘blended learning’. To a greater or lesser degree, blended learning courses try to create a virtual campus where students are required to ‘attend’ as a group at a particular time (e.g. for online seminars with minimal supporting materials or television presentations). Besides suiting people who prefer to work in groups, they are also helpful to young students and those inexperienced in ‘managing’ their own learning, so may be a good choice for a first foray into distance learning. At the other end of the spectrum is the ‘flexible learning’ model that we use at Cengage Education, which has no attendance requirements whatsoever. Rather, students are given very comprehensive learning materials, including textbooks, detailed notes, online libraries, tutorial support on request, a mentor to answer general queries and to provide overall guidance, and the option (but not requirement) of communicating with peers and others through online forums, chat and voluntary group activities. This approach to learning best suits adult learners and those who prefer to organise their study around other activities and obligations. Of all the types of distance

learning, flexible learning best addresses the fact that distance is no longer the issue for most people when it comes to learning – time is the issue. And good use of time is all about not commuting to a campus (real or virtual), waiting between lectures or tutorials and reorganising everything to meet someone else’s agenda. If your lifestyle is such that you need to be able to access your study resources whenever an opportunity arises, no matter where or when, and you are confident in your motivation and discipline, then flexible learning is the preferred distance model.

How can I make a success of distance learning? The following tips have been gleaned from the experience of over 700,000 Australian students who have studied with Cengage Education since 1921. Ask yourself some hard questions 1. B  e clear about WHY you want to study: is it for a promotion, a career change, personal development, to keep your mind nimble? Whatever the reason, make sure that you have a compelling purpose that will help keep you motivated and focused. 2. U  nderstand WHAT subject or course you need to study in order to realise your purpose. Some people can study effectively for the sake of it, but most of us need to know that what we are studying will help us achieve our goals. 3. B  e honest with yourself about WHEN and WHERE you can learn – not wish to, but can. We would all love a degree from Harvard or Oxford, but is that realistic – would we gain entrance, could we afford to, what would we be willing to sacrifice to get there? Choose an institution that offers a course that suits you, with the level of support and flexibility that meets your needs, that gives you the best chance of achieving your goals in your timeframe. 4. A  nd if you decide distance learning is the way to go, what type should you choose, blended or flexible? Consider HOW you wish to study, and how quickly you wish to achieve your goal. This means reflecting on your work and lifestyles, and how best you can meet your learning goals with minimal sacrifice. Nobody wants a qualification at the expense of their health or their family’s wellbeing. Create a structure to achieve your objectives This is all about WHO you are, the way you do things, and how you get things done. 1. W  ork out a reasonable study timetable, taking into account such issues as fitting in family commitments (e.g. caring for children or ageing parents), a busy job, community involvements and so on. Also consider how you would cope if you elected to sacrifice non-work commitments (e.g. coaching a sporting team) in favour of study. continued on page 12

September 2008 accounting technician


continued from page 11

2. O  nce you’ve chosen your program and signed up, design some sort of study plan that will enable you to achieve the deadlines you’ve set yourself. Most of our students have found that setting aside a certain numbers of hours each week works best, usually at night after other obligations have been met. Review regularly, and adjust as circumstances require (e.g. if you have a sustained period of illhealth or have to deal with a family crisis, your role at work changes or – on the more positive side – you find you can negotiate regular or one-off paid study leave or the opportunity arises to take a break and travel overseas). 3. I dentify strategies and resources that can assist you stick to your study plan. For example, you might want to negotiate assistance from your family, or engage a paid babysitter either occasionally or on a regular basis, so you can lock yourself in the study at home and work. Suss out your local library and the spaces (for silent study) and resources it can offer.

What is important is that people have a choice, and that is what distance education offers, especially for those for whom the pressures of life and circumstance offer few choices. 4. C  onsciously COMMIT to completing your study (e.g. write a contract with yourself ). Many of our students negotiate a study contract with their mentor. This usually involves identifying what parts of a course will be completed by when, and is a tremendous way to crystallise commitment. 5. S eek the support of significant others. Whether it be your spouse, partner, children or work colleagues, let others who will be affected by your study know what you are doing and why. In this way you can avoid making uncomfortable excuses when taking time out to study. 6. I dentify a personal reward for completing your course. It may be a holiday, or some luxury you’ve coveted but denied yourself in the past. Whatever it is, it must be something you really desire.

4. O  n the other hand, don’t be too kind to yourself. Remember, there’s no teacher or lecturer looking over your shoulder ever day or two checking you’re keeping up; and slapdash work completed at the last minute won’t help you achieve your goals. Successful distance learning students invariably learn to pace themselves like cyclists involved in long distance time trials, who are not so much competing against other riders as against the clock. Like those cyclists, you need to commit early and stay focused. 5. E  ven where there are no attendance requirements, it’s important not to try – or think you have to – ‘go it alone’. Take advantage of the tutors, mentors and chat forums available in your course and the people around you at work and at home. In fact, one of the features that differentiates distance learning from on-campus study is that it encourages you to create patterns of communication and learning associations ‘outside the classroom’, so to speak; i.e. to develop and deepen networks in a variety of social, family, work and other settings where you can discuss issues, seek information, and undertake projects and research relevant to your learning.

You can be a champion While the pressures facing distance learning students are similar to those faced by all students at all levels – there’s never enough time to study, too many distractions, competing priorities, fear of assessment, writer’s block – distance learning does have its unique challenges. To use another sporting analogy, like long distance walking it requires commitment and application from the moment you start. You may be able to slacken off every now and then, you can chat to others, you can talk to your coach and get feedback on how you are going. But only you can do the walking; only you can get yourself across the line. If you don’t know why you’re doing it, then don’t do it. If you know why you need to do it, then you have no reason not to. n

Alan Bowen-James

Avoid these pitfalls 1. I n the first flush of enthusiasm it’s all too easy to set too tough a goal for yourself (remember those exam study timetables you dreamt up for school, where you barely left time to eat and sleep, and which you abandoned after a day?). Be realistic about how much study you can fit into an already busy life. 2. I t’s critical to remember that one of benefits of distance learning is flexibility, so don’t give up if the going gets tough. Rather, revisit your goals and study plan and modify them so they are more realistic. 3. Y  ou will almost certainly have to modify your goals and study plan if there are major changes in your work or personal life. Don’t regard change as a failure – instead, heave a sigh of relief that you chose a flexible way of learning!


accounting technician September 2008

Dr Alan Bowen-James is general manager of Cengage Education, (<>) Australia’s largest private dual sector educational institution, which has some 80,000 active distance education students. Alan was previously a senior manager and academic with a number of universities, including University of New South Wales, Deakin University, University of Technology Sydney and the University of Sydney. He was also COO of NextEd Ltd, a Hong Kong-based company that established the first online consortium of international universities.


Which career for you? Getting SG right Job starts made easy Distance learning rules! Corporates embrace AAT SuPPoRtED BY: September 2008 the...