Griffith Tax Clinic: Engaging and assisting the community to reduce the fear of tax

Case Studies | Featured

Institution:

Griffith University

Discipline:

Business

Model/s of WIL activity:

Industry/community based placement

Level activity is delivered:

Individual unit/course of study

Griffith Tax Clinic: Engaging and assisting the community to reduce the fear of tax

The tax clinic allows students to assist community members meet and understand their tax obligations.

Under professional supervision, the student run Griffith Tax Clinic provides free tax assistance to the community (including small businesses) so they know their rights and obligations in complying with Australia’s complex tax system. In addition, the clinic aims to improve the tax literacy of the community, via the student tax advisers providing free tailored tax workshops for community groups, organisations and high schools. Eligible applicants are people who currently do not have a tax agent, and they have ranged from refugees, new immigrants, the elderly, people returning to work, NDIS workers and uber drivers.

Length of time the WIL activity has been/was in operation

Operating for three years (from July 2019), the Griffith Tax Clinic operates all year round in each of the three teaching trimesters at the Logan campus (or online). The clinic is part of the National Tax Clinic program funded by the Federal Government, with each clinic operated differently. In three years, the Griffith Tax Clinic has operated for 144 days, with 76 students participating as advisors. Nearly 1,000 community enquiries have been received, with over 500 client meetings. Also, 40 tax education workshops have been conducted to over 1,200 community members.

How does the WIL activity demonstrate good practice and/or innovation?

The Griffith Tax Clinic provides students with an opportunity to work in a fully functioning tax advice office while on-campus with real clients. This structured, but real office, has meant that students who may miss out on internship opportunities, such as internationals and those intimidated by WIL, have participated. For students the rich learning environment of working at the clinic is important, for while tax involves technical knowledge, to be an effective tax advisor other skills such as communication and teamwork are critical. It is these other skills that industry sees as lacking in new graduates. The tax clinic has been designed to enhance participating students’ tax advisors’ skills, such as self-efficacy and professional identity, through mastery experiences, modelling and social persuasion. Additionally, by engaging a registered tax agent to assist with the supervision of students, this provides greater insight to their future professional careers, as well as use of tax software and the Tax Agent portal. An innovation has been the use of technology, including being able to operate virtually during Covid-19 lockdowns and severe weather events using Teams or Zoom. This now enables the clinic to assist community members beyond Logan. Also, the clinic has established its own YouTube channel to provided tax resources to assist the community. Beyond tax returns, the clinic has been active to seek to improve the community’s tax literacy and confidence, with the clinic conducting tailored tax workshops for High School students, community welfare organisations, such as ACCESS for recent migrants.

Who benefits from the WIL activity and how?

The tax clinic addresses a need of providing tax assistance to some of most vulnerable segments of society, many of whom would otherwise fall through the cracks. Also, the clinic can assist the activities of other organisations who don’t have the necessary tax expertise, for example by providing ‘Tax and indigenous Business Workshops’ as part of government business initiative. Research demonstrates that our students working at the clinic enhance their self-efficacy, skills and professional identity. For industry and alumni, we are assisting in developing work-ready graduates, as well as providing them a chance to mentor and conduct professional development sessions.

How does the activity embed successful evaluation processes?

Evaluation is key to ensure the success of the tax clinic, including weekly reflections upon how the clinic is progressing and how the student, client and staff experience could be enhanced. Additionally, students are surveyed prior to their commencement at the tax clinic (self-efficacy, skills and identity) and then surveyed again at the completion. Also, students are contacted 6 months afterwards to consider their employment outcomes and to what extent their clinic involvement assisted them securing employment. Additionally, clients are sent an evaluation survey, which considers their overall satisfaction, but also the confidence in dealing with their future tax obligations.

What are the broader/longer term impacts for stakeholders? 

    The activities of the Griffith Tax Clinic aim to improve the tax literacy of Australian individuals. Client meetings and content specific community presentations are designed to upskill individuals’ tax knowledge so that they can take control of their tax affairs in future years. Community feedback from high school students and small business groups suggest that the interactive, clear, logical and step-by-step structure of the content in presentations and client meetings helps with their understanding of how tax impacts on their own individual situations.

    From a student perspective, WIL students report that the program has allowed them to put theory into practice, helping them build self-confidence, communication skills, technical knowledge and interpersonal skills. Overall, this can enhance their employability. Eighty percent of students who have graduated and completed the Griffith Tax Clinic program have secured employment in their relevant profession with 10% working at one of the Big 4 accounting firms and 6% at the Australian Tax Office to date.

    How is the WIL activity integrated into curricula? Include how it incorporates the preparation, implementation, and reflection/debriefing phases of WIL.

    The Griffith Tax Clinic is undertaken as a free choice elective for students completing business or law degrees. Before being accepted as a student tax advisor, students must have completed the introductory tax course, submit their CV and attend an interview. During the interview students articulate what benefit would be gained from participating in the program and the strengths they would bring to the tax clinic. If students are offered a position, the necessary paperwork and onboarding processes are undertaken with the WIL placement coordinators and the academic supervisor. Students complete an induction process to understand the daily operations, the procedures in place to deal with clients and the professional responsibilities of being a tax advisor. Students observe past program students interacting with clients, a tax practitioner and an administration co-ordinator for the first two weeks of the program to understand how these procedures work in action.

    Since the Griffith Tax Clinic is an internal university program, an academic supervisor is on site to monitor student progress. The academic supervisors designed the assessment items which include reflections diaries, presentations to the community and an academic paper of a tax issue that the students identify during their interaction with clients during the program. All items of assessment are marked according to a rubric. From these three assessment items, a grade is determined and transferred to the student academic transcript.

    Describe how the case study is informed by relevant theoretical or empirical literature, research and/or scholarship. Include relevant references.

    Prior research demonstrates that as a WIL experience, the tax clinic can provide students with a ‘rich, active and contextualised learning experience’ (McLennan, 2008). It can improve students technical knowledge (Arnold et al., 1999), generic skills (Blackwell et al., 2001), self-efficacy (Brimble & Freudenberg, 2010) and professional identity (Blackwell et al., 2001). This has been considered in structuring the tax clinic, and a research agenda has been implemented. This includes a pre and post survey of students considering self-efficacy, professional identity and generic skills. Additionally, clients are surveyed to consider their financial capability, tax literacy and confidence.

    What are the plans for the WIL activity in the future?

    Given our track record, the Griffith Tax Clinic has been successful in securing another three years of Federal funding until February 2025. To enable the clinic to expand its days of operations, discussions are being held to determine if additional industry or agency funding can be sought. Also, greater relationships are trying to be established with High Schools to assist teachers to improve the tax literacy of students before they commence their working careers. Collaborations are being enhanced with other stakeholders (such as Small Business  Commissioner and Financial Counsellors) for the clinic to complement their services provided, and provided tax resources.

    References

    Arnold, J., Loan-Clarke, J., Harrington, A., & Hart, C. (1999). Students' perceptions of competence development in undergraduate business-related degrees. Studies in Higher Education, 24(1), 43-59.

    Blackwell, A., Bowes, L., Harvey, L. E. E., Hesketh, A. J., & Knight, P. T. (2001). Transforming work experience in higher education. British Educational research journal, 27(3), 269-285.

    Brimble, M., & Freudenberg, B. (2010). Will WIL’ing work?. B-HERT Newsletter, (28), 2-4.

    McLennan, B., & Keating, S. (2008, June). Work-integrated learning (WIL) in Australian universities: The challenges of mainstreaming WIL. In ALTC NAGCAS National Symposium (pp. 2-14).

    Case Study Leaders

    Associate Professor Denise Jackson (ECU)

    Professor Brett Freudenberg

    Associate Professor Denise Jackson (ECU)

    Dr Melissa Belle Isle