Degree matters

John Woodley, ACCA undergraduate programme director at Oxford Brookes University, outlines what makes a good project and also gives some reasons why a project might fail

The Research and Analysis Project (RAP) is very different to an ACCA written exam. Every project is a separate piece of work. Each student has to identify their own individual project topic, set research objectives, and develop a framework for their project work.

The process of undertaking research, supported by a project mentor, results in two different outputs – the 5,000-word project report and the 1,500-word Key Skills Statement. A student who has passed the RAP has demonstrated competence in a range of skills that are expected of a bachelor-level graduate. These include undertaking research, report writing, listening, questioning, communicating, and reflecting on experiences.

I would like to reassure students and their project mentors that Oxford Brookes makes every effort to ensure that the pass/fail decision on a given RAP is the correct one. Every six months, Oxford Brookes assesses hundreds of unique pieces of work. The marking and moderating processes ensure that a failed RAP has been considered by at least two different people, usually myself and the project external examiner. In the most recent project submission period, Oxford Brookes received 810 projects, of which 636 passed.

There are various reasons I can identify that contributed to the failure of the 174 projects. Some students appear unaware of what is required to pass the RAP, and this comes from not having read the RAP Guidelines. A student needs to read these and to give considerable thought as to what is to be achieved by doing the project work, and how this will be done.

I see project reports that are unstructured and do not provide a coherent link between the project objectives, the information collected, and the accounting or business tools used to analyse the information. It is critical to establish the framework for the project before starting the research work.

Another critical requirement for success is to demonstrate analytical skills. This is more than just reporting or describing what has happened within an organisation, but looking more deeply into the causes of such changes. This may involve looking outside an organisation into the wider business environment.

For example, a very popular project topic is an analysis of the financial position of an organisation. One of the accounting tools used in such projects is financial ratio analysis. Calculating that the gross profit margin has increased from 22.5% to 25% from one year to the next is a starting point for analysis but is not, by itself, sufficient. I want to know why this change has occurred – through higher prices or lower costs or a mixture of both?

I know that obtaining a complete answer may not be easy, but if there is no attempt to link the changes in financial ratios to changes in business activity, the project will not achieve the pass standard. Explain – don’t just calculate, report, or describe.

My final concern is over the failure of students to properly reference their project work. Where the work of another author has been used, then this must be explicitly shown in the project text using the Harvard referencing system. I know that for many students, this may be the first time that they have had to demonstrate this particular academic skill. This is allowed for in the assessment of the project. However, where a marker can’t distinguish the work of a student from that of other authors, the marker cannot make a judgement on the student’s abilities. It is almost inevitable that a poorly-referenced project will not pass.

On a positive note, the growth in popularity of the BSc in Applied Accounting has been a success for the partnership between ACCA and Oxford Brookes. The University intends to continue this with a revised BSc degree scheme, subject to validation by Oxford Brookes, to incorporate the forthcoming changes in the new ACCA Qualification. Any changes will also take into account the experience gained by having read and assessed over 4,500 RAPs to date.

 

"I see project reports that are unstructured and do not provide a coherent link between the project objectives, the information collected, and the accounting or business tools used to analyse the information. It is critical to establish the framework for the project before starting the research work"