Accountancy students are used to hearing an EY specialist or KPMG accountant tell them all about audits for example. The degree programme puts a lot of effort into building bridges between practice-oriented education and the professional field. Recently the degree programme has also started to involve active professionals in supporting the students in writing their graduation thesis. In an interview with lecturer Edwin van Kampen, external thesis supervisor Evert Schellen and programme manager Marius Zomer, we learn that this initiative benefits all parties.

Edwin van Kampen is a register controller, lecturer in the Accountancy degree programme, a member of the thesis committee and a mentor for external thesis supervisors. Two things inspired him to contract external professionals to provide thesis supervision.

An interest in the professional field

;First of all, as a Shell alumnus I know that a lot of my former colleagues would be interested in providing thesis supervision. The same applies to people who have vast experience as a controller or accountant in major companies in The Netherlands. In the role of thesis supervisor you stay up to date on the latest developments in accountancy. Take for example the international accountancy standard IFRS. It’s very interesting for a professional to supervise a graduation thesis about the implementation of IFRS 21. In this role you keep an eye on the latest research conducted at universities of applied sciences, so this is much more cutting edge than reading specialised literature. You also experience how others outside of your company or your network handle these issues.”

Practical reason

And secondly, Accountancy also has a very practical reason for bringing in external professionals. Edwin: “We have a lot of students who are graduating in the very near future. Providing thesis supervision to such a large group would put a lot of pressure on our lecturers. With external supervisors we can unburden the lecturers. We offer external professionals the opportunity to play an important social role in universities of applied sciences and we make sure that students are supervised by people who have a wealth of experience in their professional field. So, this is a win-win situation.

Perfect match

The external thesis supervisors go through a regular admission process. Edwin: “They have to apply for the position, regardless of their background. During the application process, they all evaluate two theses based on the provided criteria. When they successfully complete this process, we see how we can best match a professional with a graduating student. If the external thesis supervisor is a tax expert and someone is graduating on a tax-related topic, a match is quickly made. If a student writes a thesis about integrated reporting, then we check to see which external thesis supervisor has the most relevant experience at that time. The external professionals also participate in information sessions about graduation and they are trained and supported by experienced thesis supervisors.

Diversity as a challenge

There are currently eight active external thesis supervisors at Accountancy. Edwin is their mentor. What challenges do they encounter? “I see that they are itching to provide the student with the best supervision. They often have a tendency to actually do the work for the students. But the one to break a sweat should be the student, and not their supervisor. It is also a challenge for them to handle the diversity among students. We have students with a higher IQ, students who have excellent and less excellent writing skills, students with stronger or weaker analytical skills. And then we also work with students who have Dutch as a second language. It’s important that the supervisor knows how to handle this well.

Something different

Evert Schellen is one of the external thesis supervisors. Does he recognise the pitfalls mentioned by Edwin? “Absolutely! As a supervisor I want my students to succeed within the plan that they have made. And of course with the highest possible grade. So sometimes I find myself taking on too much of a student role to help them. I was used to doing this at Shell. Writing a memo or a report was more of a team effort based on equality than the work at a university of applied sciences. As a thesis supervisor at THUAS my role is a bit different. My biggest challenge is finding the right balance between assisting the student without leading them too much by the hand. Evert loves to see how the student gradually gains more and more insight into the topic of their chosen thesis. “The weekly meetings during the graduation project grow into deep conversations about the content. They start out as a graduating student with a topic. They end as consultants who defend a thesis to their company and the university of applied sciences.”

Connection to the professional field

We also ask for the opinion of programme manager Marius Zomer. It’s not surprising that the idea of external thesis supervisors was so well received at Accountancy. Accountancy seems to have a patent on a very strong connection between education and the professional field.

"There is a good reason for this. Accountancy is a challenging and broad specialisation, which requires a lot of theoretical basic knowledge with abstract concepts. Practical examples and applying this theory in a practical context helps students understand why they need this knowledge and intrinsically motivates them to learn the profession of accountancy. During guest lectures our students often hang on every word of the guest lecturer’s presentation.

Over the course of many years, our degree programme has developed a wonderful network with accountancy organisations in the region and we have an active and effective professional field committee. We continually work on strengthening our collaborative efforts and that is why we started this academic year by rolling out a new, flexible partnership concept: the adoption of education modules by our partners. With this adoption, a partner lends their name to the educational module, provides professionals who will teach together with our own lecturers, or the partner brings a current professional assignment that our students can complete. Our students also have at least one interaction with our partner during the educational period and they learn more about working in the professional field. We have already implemented this adoption concept with six partners. We are very enthusiastic about the results."

What they do at Accountancy is not rocket science, explains Edwin van Kampen. “Our model with guest lectures taught by professionals, the adoption of subjects and modules and providing external supervision, can easily be copied, especially by other degree programmes in the field of economics.