Case Study — An Insolvency Pracademic Experience

Dr Jennifer Dickfos
Griffith Law School

During February to April of 2018, as part of my approved study program,I engaged in a pracademic experience at Worrells Solvency Accountants. For those unfamiliar with the term, a pracademic may be narrowly described as a person who is dually recognised as an expert in both academic and professional practice (Panda 2014). However, the term has been used more broadly, to describe a teaching style that focuses on the practical application of academic theory and knowledge (McDonald & Mooney, 2011). For the purposes of this blog, the phrase “pracademic experience” refers to an academic taking on the role of a practitioner and experiencing professional practice as part of their continuing professional development.

My host employer was specifically chosen for a number of reasons. I was previously acquainted with the Worrells Gold Coast partner, Jason Bettles, through attendance at professional and university events, and co-authorship of academic and practitioner papers. Significantly Worrells enjoys nationally a market reputation of running paperless or digital offices, having designed and developed in-house computer programs specifically for the electronic documentation of insolvency administrations’ files and investigations. Such a reputation was of paramount interest to me. I was provided much needed access to insolvency practitioners who daily used digital resources in conducting external administrations at a time when my research included surveying insolvency practitioners, regarding their perceptions of the impact of artificial intelligence on bankruptcy and corporate insolvency administrations.

My role as pracademic was twofold: to actively question and reflect upon insolvency practice and procedure within Worrell’s office and provide commentary and recommendations thereon; and to experience insolvency practitioners at work which would provide the foundation for the creation of experiential teaching and learning activities and authentic assessment tasks, thereby blending practice with theory.

I was appointed a file accountant. My responsibilities included: meeting compliance obligations such as drafting and lodging business activity statements(BAS) via Australian Taxation Office portal on behalf of bankrupts; drafting and lodging Liquidators Statement of Receipts & Payments (Form 524s) via Australian Securities and Investments (ASIC) portal; drafting web-note advices to creditors; drafting creditors’ reports; conducting investigations into bankrupts or directors of insolvent companies; conducting searches of bank accounts, land, motor vehicles, PPSR Register; adjudicating proofs of debt; calculating income contributions from bankrupts and drafting correspondence to the ATO, ASIC, company directors, and bankrupts.

Three objectives were sought in undertaking the pracademic experience. Those objectives were: (i) to increase the impact of my research profile by connecting with the various stakeholders within the insolvency profession; (ii) to expand the authentic learning opportunities in the courses I convene and teach at university and (iii) to develop a framework for the future offering of pracademic placements within industry and professional offices to academic staff members at Griffith University. In hindsight,however, much more than the three stated objectives was achieved.

Improved my profile

Before commencing my pracademic experience, I created an Insolvency Pracademic Blog to record my weekly reflections while working as a Pracademic. The ten blog posts canvassed various topics such as “Mining Data in Insolvency” (which considered the use of data analytics as a means of assisting businesses to avoid insolvency) to “Ädding Value as an Insolvency Practitioner” (which questioned the true value of an Insolvency Practitioner’s services). For publishing purposes, the blog website was then linked to my facebook and linkedin webpages.

Publishing the blog posts principally through Linkedin significantly expanded my academic and professional profile. While the number of views of each blog post varied each week, after three months of weekly blogging I had attracted 789 views from Linkedin users working in insolvency firms, professional accounting firms and universities both within and outside of Australia, including the United Kingdom.

Created closer ties with professional partners

During my pracademic experience I completed Worrells’ induction and development program so that I was familiar with the firm’s organisational structure, including its reporting lines, staff roles and duties. As a full time employee for three months I participated in weekly team meetings, strategic planning programs, attended a breakfast seminar, and socialised with staff on a formal and informal basis. By doing so I have formed new relationships as well as reinforced existing relationships with both junior and senior staff members, with the intention of collaborating on future research and writing and providing more opportunities for practitioners to visit and speak with graduates in the classroom.

Benefits for the pracademic employer

The benefits of my pracademic experience extend beyond me. Prior to commencing work as a pracademic it was mutually agreed with Worrells’ partner, Jason Bettles, I would provide a review and report on the professional and administrative procedures within Worrells’ Gold Coast office.

During week 10 of my pracademic experience, I provided a written report setting out eight recommendations to improve Worrells’ professional insolvency practices and administration. The most controversial of such recommendations was the need for Worrells to fully automate the issue of its first day notices and searches for bankruptcies and corporate insolvency administrations so as to maximise the efficiencies of digitisation. This recommendation was also the catalyst for further discussions regarding the future strategic focus of the firm.

Jason Bettles, considered that he and his firm also benefitted from participating in the pracademic experience. Firstly, my pracademic experience provided the firm with additional resources to undertake further investigative work on behalf of creditors. Jason agreed that the experience had enhanced his firm’s reputation as a supporter of tertiary education and created closer professional ties between his firm, Griffith University as well as the local community. Lastly, he believed that staff recruitment opportunities would increase by virtue of the closer ties between his firm and Griffith Business School.

Informed my learning and teaching role

Engaging in my pracademic experience has informed my learning and teaching role in a number of ways. In terms of pedagogy, I am much more focused on experiential learning as a means of providing students with deeper learning opportunities (Ruhanen 2005). To that end, I will be trialling in my post-graduate class, in Trimester 1 2019, one of two online insolvency case studies based on my pracademic experience: a bankruptcy case file, which students must complete. A corporate insolvency (creditors’ voluntary liquidation) is still being developed for learning and assessment purposes.

Loosely based around the concept of an accounting practice set, to complete the case studies students are asked as file accountants to undertake a number of prescribed tasks and document their completion by making relevant file notes and linking such file notes to supporting work-papers. Rather than provide students with a hypothetical set of facts, the case studies are comprised of a series of authentic source documents from which students will extract needed information, or undertake searches or further investigations where necessary. All of the materials are provided digitally, reflecting the increasing use of technology in the insolvency profession.

My pracademic experience reinforced for me, the need to integrate commerce students’ accounting and legal knowledge in terms of learning and assessment to reflect current insolvency practice. The case studies will assess students’ knowledge of bankruptcy laws and corporate insolvency laws, as well as their employability skills, such as written communication skills and time management skills as there will be deadlines by which students must submit their file notes, searches or statutory reports. However, to emphasise to students the importance of their employability skills such as oral communication skills, listening skills and group work skills, a number of work-related activities will be replicated in workshops. These workshop activities may include answering client inquiries over the phone or by email, drafting reports for creditors’ meetings or drafting reports to Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

Creating future pracademic and WIL opportunities

Unless actively consulting with industry or the professions, there are few opportunities for academic members to move between their academy and the world of practitioners. One means of creating such opportunities is to create a Pracademic Experience Pilot Program, which could offer mid-career faculty members the important experience of joining theory and practice.

To that end, I have successfully applied for university funding to scope the viability of a Pracademic Experience Pilot Program (PEPP) to improve the Employability skills of Griffith Business School Graduates and meet the professional development needs of Griffith Business School Academic Staff.

Under the Pracademic Experience Pilot Program (PEPP), GBS academic staff will be offered pracademic experiences with industry and professional partners as a means of enhancing student employability, better engaging industry partners and professionals in curriculum design and renewal and ensuring staff have the capabilities to deliver on priorities now and in the future.

Offering pracademic experiences to university academic staff enable staff to bridge the gap between academic theory and professional practice. Additional benefits also accrue to the pracademic in terms of an expanded academic and professional profile, and to the University and host employer respectively in terms of closer professional ties and enhanced reputations.

If any readers of this Blog are interested in participating in a Pracademic Experience or alternatively offering a placement as a Host Employer, I encourage you to contact me via the contact details listed below and I will add your name and details to our initial survey list.