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Conservatism, change and resistance: a Bourdieuian study of the Vietnamese accounting field
Nguyen, Thi Phuong Uyen (Lisa)
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The International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) are currently proposed as a global set of standards which will provide high quality, transparent, comparable and understandable information to capital markets and other users. Since the Anglo-Saxon environment is embedded in the IFRS, this leads to doubt about the quality of the IFRS implementation in countries that do not follow common-law or market practices. Vietnam is a large country of 86 million people with a communist government directing a centralised and planned economy. It can be argued that the IFRS fits uneasily into a non-market economy where government dominance is ubiquitous. This thesis aims to investigate the probability of substantive change in the Vietnamese accounting field, given that as viewed from Bourdieu’s perspective of the habitus, most participants are likely, but not necessarily, to resist change. Vietnam has agreed to adopt IFRS, but the fundamental question is, is the accounting field in Vietnam ready for change? Will the 2 million bookkeepers in the Vietnamese accounting field look forward to changes to the structure of the accounting field and to the methods they practise? How will the 2,000 professional accountants, half of them members of foreign professions, react to change? How does the Ministry of Finance (MOF) adjust to being part of an accounting field where its total dominance has had, more in theory, to give way to Anglo-Saxon institutions such as large accounting firms, international institutions, multinational enterprises and to the entry of foreign professions? Semi structured interviews were conducted to draw from respondents their feelings and thoughts on the possibility of change. Some 44 interviews were conducted with informed parties such as professional accountants who were members of the Vietnam Association of Public Accountants (VACPA) or other Western professionals, together with other participants in the field such as bookkeepers, businessmen, and accounting academics. The 44 interviewees believe that the majority of bookkeepers in Vietnam will not welcome changes to the structure of the accounting field and to their practice methods. It is thought that they prefer a compliance mode of accounting, which relies on government instruction as to accounting treatments and that accounting primarily serves the needs of tax collection. However, the findings indicate that although the government officials and bookkeepers resist change and view any real change as unlikely, most of the representatives of other groups, such as professional accountants, managers and academics were more open to change and saw merit in following accounting principles rather than government rules. In terms of domination in the accounting field, the government shows no sign of relaxing its dominance but with increasing and, sometimes coercive, globalisation some changes are inevitable. Another finding is the possibility of a more independent profession may evolve. However, such a change involving more independence of “players” in the field can, worryingly for the government, possibly trigger changes in other fields within the Vietnamese economy. A further finding is that the Government is reducing the role of Western professionals by bringing in new rules requiring professionals to undertake Vietnamese language conversions tests. Such a development will slow the impact of Western professionalisation in the field. The literature refers to “a paucity of studies on developing countries” with respect to the effects of exogenous changes to local accounting fields. The paper explores the Vietnamese accounting field to assess the extent and effects of such exogenous induced changes among the practitioners in the field. Whether the Vietnamese accounting field will change and how it will change is worth investigating, not the least, because of the knock-on effect on the Vietnamese economy.