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University accounting education in the 4th industrial revolution (4IR)

  • School: Nottingham Business School
  • Starting: 2021
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Self-funded


The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is a term introduced by Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, to describe the disruption caused “by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human” (Schwab 2016, 12). Despite the wide array of the exciting opportunities there is the need to raise awareness and aim to proactively address a set of pressing challenges that emerge from the 4IR. One of these challenges is the skills gap which is created by the disconnect between the speed of change in the employment market and the ability of education providers to develop appropriate courses (Gleason 2018). This is particularly apparent in higher education where, Hamilton explains, “Universities are a bit like ocean liners – they tend to struggle with sudden course changes” (2018). Essentially, the 4IR challenges the ability of universities to devise courses which respond to the changing needs of the future world of work.

One of the key areas in university education where the 4IR is expected to cause major disruption is accounting. The adoption of digital technologies (i.e. Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain, Cloud computing) by private and public sector organisations are expected to have a substantial impact on the accounting profession (Tsiligiris and WECD 2019; ICAEW 2018; IMA 2019). There is much speculation about the impact of digital technologies on the various roles within the accounting profession. For example, auditing could be fully automated with the use of AI and blockchain, and bookkeeping could be replaced by AI-based cloud accounting platforms. All the evidence points to the future importance of technical skills (i.e. data analytics, understanding of digital technologies). Similarly, a consistent message is the increasing importance of soft skills (i.e. communication, critical analysis, ethical awareness) that will become central to the role of accountants in the future. These messages have been driving suggestions for re-skilling  accountants ‘on the job’ and reconfiguring education for new accountants (ACCA and EY 2019). In response, the professional bodies (e.g. CIMA, ACCA, ICAEW) are reviewing their professional qualifications.

Some indicative research questions that could be explored as part of a research project on this topic are:

  • How does the adoption of digital technologies by private/public organisations affect the nature of the accounting profession?
  • What are the key challenges for university accounting education that emerge from the adoption of digital technologies and the wider developments in the context of the 4IR?
  • What are the skills required to be developed by university accounting education programmes to maximise the success of graduates in the future?
  • What are the regional/national disparities that need to be considered by universities when developing accounting education curricula in the context of the 4IR?

We invite proposals to explore these questions and suggest that adopt a mixed methods approach, ideally within a critical realist perspective might be the appropriate methodological approach.


ACCA, and EY. 2019. ‘The Impact of Digital and Artificial Intelligence on Audit and Finance Professionals: Harnessing the Opportunities of Disruptive Technologies’. Association of Chartered Certified Accountants; Ernest Young.

Gleason, N W., ed. 2018. Higher Education in the Era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Singapore: Springer Singapore.

Hamilton, M. 2018. ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution: How Can Universities Respond to the Rise of the Robots?’ Jisc. Available online:

ICAEW. 2018. ‘Understanding the Impact of Technology in Audit and Finance’. Dubai: ICAEW Middle East. Available online:

IMA. 2019. ‘IMA Management Accounting Competency Framework’. Institute of Management Accountants. Avalable online:

Schwab, K. 2016. The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Geneva: World Economic Forum.

Tsiligiris, V, and WECD. 2019. ‘The Impact of Technology on Accounting Technicians and Bookkeepers’. London: Association of Accounting Technicians.


Dr Vangelis Tsiligkiris

Entry qualifications

An applicant for admission to read for a PhD should normally hold a first or upper second class honours degree of a UK university or an equivalent qualification, or a lower second class honours degree with a Master's degree at Merit level of a UK university or an equivalent qualification.

International students will also need to meet the English language requirements - IELTS 6.5 (with minimum sub-scores of 6.0). Applicants who have taken a higher degree at a UK university are normally exempt from the English language requirements. A research proposal (between 1,000 and a maximum of 2,000 words) must be submitted as part of the application.

For more information please visit the NTU Doctoral School – Research Degrees webpages.

How to apply

Applications are accepted all year round.

Please visit our how to apply page for a step-by-step guide and make an application.

Fees and funding

This is a self-funded PhD opportunity. Find out more information on fees and funding here.

Guidance and support

Further information on guidance and support can be found on this page.

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Vangelis Tsiligkiris