Academic journal article e-Journal of Business Education and Scholarship Teaching

The Value of Prerequisites: A Link between Understanding and Progression

Academic journal article e-Journal of Business Education and Scholarship Teaching

The Value of Prerequisites: A Link between Understanding and Progression

Article excerpt


This paper contributes to the debate about the value of discipline-specific prerequisites. The study compared the results of students from 2003 to 2006 completing the subject Principles of Finance and who had completed the subject Business Statistics, to students who had not. This comparison indicated that the students who completed Business Statistics performed significantly better overall than those students who had not. The findings imply that discipline-specific prerequisites provide students with a minimum level of understanding required to undertake advanced subjects, and can improve their chance of success.

Key words: Accounting education, finance education, prerequisites, student understanding.


It has long been recognised by those involved in curriculum development that the knowledge and skills that students acquire are fundamentally linked to the contexts within which those attributes are introduced Bolton and Genck, 1971; Clayton, 1993; Gibbs, Habeshaw and Yorke, 2000). Likewise, the concept of progression, which focuses on the advances in students' learning over time, is important for planning the structure of a curriculum and for assessing students' attainments. This paper reports on the relationship between understanding and progression through the need for, and use of, prerequisites.

The need for discipline-specific prerequisites, specifically in accounting/finance programs, has been formally recognised in the USA by the accounting and finance profession since 1989, when the Accounting Education Change Commission of the American Accounting Association investigated how accounting education could improve the students' capabilities for successful professional careers (Mueller and Simmons, 1989). This view was encapsulated by Carlson, Cohn and Ramsey (2002), who argued that the purposes of prerequisite courses were to ensure that students were prepared for advanced subjects.

However, prerequisites can mean different things to different stakeholders. To the student wishing to complete in minimum time, the prerequisite represents the unnecessary subject they are forced to undertake in order to do the subject they really want to do, and as such, the prerequisite is perceived as having no value. To the academic developing an advanced subject, it represents a gate-keeping procedure that provides the minimum level of understanding required to undertake the advanced subject and to maintain an acceptable success rate. This concept of progression is seen by Bennetts (2005) as a process that focuses on student learning over time, and is important for planning the structure of a curriculum and for assessing student attainment. To the administrator confronted with scarce resources, it represents a mechanism to contain students within a particular cohort, thus improving administrative planning, or, by using the ubiquitous presumed knowledge', can allow a student to accelerate their program, thus ensuring a more controlled flow through the system.

This paper focuses on the academic view, and aims to demonstrate that the academic perception supports--and enhances--the other two views.

Research Question and Importance of the Study

This research provides a longitudinal study of students within an accounting/finance major undertaking a second-year finance subject, Principles of Finance, where the first-year subject, Business Statistics was not a formal prerequisite of the academic program, but considered by both accounting and finance academics as a fundamental requirement for the success of the student. The study is unique in that it provides an opportunity to compare the results of four groups of students over a four-year period.

The research question derived from this is: whether a significantly different relationship exists between achievement in Business Statistics and Principles of Finance. Specifically, we examine the effectiveness of using the subject Business Statistics, or its equivalent through exemption, as a prerequisite screening strategy to improve student's success levels in Principles of Finance. …

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