Posted inOpinion

Rethinking Tax Pedagogy at Oxford: Proposals by Dr. Amir Pichhadze

The Boar, a student-run newspaper at the University of Warwick, featured an article in which Sabrina Penty expressed the following concern: “it is clear that the coronavirus generation of students is graduating into bleak uncertainty, and their career prospects are worse than ever before.” She asked, “is there hope for the graduating class of 2021?” It is likely that such concerns over the employability of graduates are also shared by students at other universities, including those at the University of Oxford. These concerns are supported by official data which reveals an alarming spike in unemployment among recent graduates. 

Such concerns were also recently addressed in a FE News article. In that article, it was commented that there is increased expectation that Further Education Institutions will help students develop and demonstrate their employability skills. Notably, this necessary role of universities – helping students develop their transferable employment skills – was also recognized and addressed by Oxford’s Career Services. In the 2021 Oxford Guide to Careers, Jonathan Black, the Director of Oxford’s Career Services, recommended that “to succeed in this time of change,” students should “stay adaptable and open to new opportunities.” He suggested that students should focus on developing their “set of transferable skills – like problem solving, teamwork, business awareness and leadership – that every employer is seeking when they recruit.” Oxford’s career guide points out that graduate employers expect students to obtain “both a solid (predicted) degree class and strong employability skills” that were developed at university. To facilitate this objective, Black suggests that students can and should develop their transferable employability skills through the University’s programs and other activities across the university. The question is, however, whether more can and should be done at Oxford to give students additional valuable opportunities by which they could further develop their employability skills and gain work experience? 

At any university, it is reasonable to expect that approaches to pedagogy will be reviewed regularly and developed on an ongoing basis, as need be, in order to reflect national and global standards, developments, expectations, and needs. In Canada, for example, the stated strategic plan of Osgoode Hall Law School for 2021-2025 aims to develop engaged legal education “through dynamic curriculum development that responds to current and potential future social challenges.” In pursuit of this aim, Osgoode has undertaken the initiative to “evaluate the current array of experiential learning programs, including identifying opportunities for new programs where there are gaps.” 

Here at Oxford, there are gaps in the university’s approach to tax pedagogy. Clearly, the university attempts to provide students with opportunities for comprehensive tax education, both at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. This is evident from the wide array of taxation courses offered at the university’s Faculty of Law and the Saïd Business School. Yet, as I recently pointed out in my presentation at the STORIES conference (STudents’ Ongoing Research In Educational Studies), which was hosted by Oxford’s Department of Education, thus far the University has not been providing students with opportunities for experiential tax education. In my presentation, I called on the University of Oxford to rethink its approach to pedagogy by providing students with opportunities for experiential learning of taxation, such as the establishment of a university-based Tax Clinic as well as Tax Mooting. I explained that experiential learning of taxation could benefit students by providing them with valuable, feasible, and necessary additional opportunities for developing industry specific skills as well as transferable employability skills, while also giving them the opportunity to gain work experience. It could also benefit other stakeholders such as the university itself as well as members of the public.

Further details on my proposals about the necessary way forward in tax pedagogy and curriculum design are expected in my forthcoming publication(s). I am hopeful and expect that if and when my proposals are implemented at the University of Oxford, this may also influence and guide the necessary and overdue development of experiential tax education at other universities in the UK and around the world; if and where gaps in the approaches to teaching taxation similarly exist and ought to be addressed.