The Australian tax system is complex. For domestic and international students, learning the concepts and calculations can be difficult. The Faculty of Law’s Introduction to Tax Law Subject Coordinator, John Taggart, has created an online video to help students understand basic income tax. Produced in English, it has been translated into Mandarin by Master of Professional Accounting student, Elaine Xu. Taggart and Xu reveal how this innovative tool is helping students succeed.
John Taggart and Elaine Xu
The idea for the income tax law video came to me during my last trip to Shanghai in 2006. UTS has a unit at Shanghai University called SILC – the Sydney Institute of Language and Commerce. While I was there I had to give a lecture on campus six. I took the shuttle bus, but got off early and realised, once the bus went on its way, that I was on campus five. I had around 80 students waiting for my lecture and no way to get there.
I went into an office, but nobody could speak English. It’s the same, I suppose, as if somebody turned up here and started speaking Mandarin. When I asked them how to get to SILC they thought I was talking about a silk worm farm.
All the computers at Shanghai University allow you to read information in Mandarin or English. I went to a computer, clicked the English button, found SILC, then pressed the Mandarin button and it was all translated in a flash. The staff put me in a taxi, gave the driver the instructions and I walked into the lecture just in time.
It seemed very clear to me that Shanghai University had done their best to facilitate foreigners. I thought surely we could provide similar assistance to our Chinese students.
Close to 50 per cent of students coming into the Master of Professional Accounting (MPA) are from China and they also make up a large component of the students in the Master of Business Administration (MBA). In both courses they have to do my subject: Introduction to Tax Law.
Some may ask, ‘Can’t these international students speak English?’ But the reality is the concepts taught in this course don’t exist in their own tax system. It’s not really just a question of language, it’s a question of the mathematics, the formulas and the concepts behind the tax.
We were finding about 80 per cent of students couldn’t calculate individual tax by week eight. To help them understand income tax by week four, when we hold our first quiz, we introduced exercises in week two and online sample quizzes in week three.
With support from the Law Faculty, I was also encouraged to make an introductory video to explain how to calculate basic income tax for an individual. The aim is to help our students prepare for the quiz.
My daughter, Jessica, who is at INSEARCH studying communication, produced the video. She spent hours learning the intricacies of the tax system, creating computer models of the calculations and translating them onto video. Then the soundtrack was translated by Elaine Xu. She’s a native Mandarin speaker and was one of my high distinction students last year. Both versions of the video are now available on UTS Online so students can download and view them whenever and where ever they want.
It’s important for us to do anything we can to make it easier for students to pass the standards we set. Otherwise you end up with high failure rates, which is distressing to the students and the teaching staff.
I’m not aware of any other university that has produced such an aid for tax law students before. Already, the results are promising. The marks from this semester’s week-four quiz have shown around 80 per cent of students have now scored either nine out of 10 or 10 out of 10.
A number of students said they found it very useful, so we’re planning to create a Capital Gains Tax video soon too.
I’m currently a student of Master of Professional Accounting and I did John’s Introduction to Tax Law subject in my first semester last year.
I came to Australia four-and-a-half years ago because I wanted to upgrade my knowledge, my communication skills and deal with different people.
I chose to come to UTS because my husband, James, is an alumnus and recommended it to me. Also, it’s close to Wynyard where I work in an accounting firm as the Assistant Accountant. The transport is convenient and I can study part-time after work.
I enjoy studying accounting and most of my grades are high distinctions, but the Australian tax system is quite different from China’s. Many concepts don’t have an equivalent. For example, in China’s tax system we just pay the tax, we don’t get a refund and we don’t have the deductions. So many students around me from China found it more difficult than any other subject.
When John first called me regarding making a Mandarin version of the video, I really liked the idea. I thought, undoubtedly, if it works it will definitely help Chinese students.
The timeframe was quite tight – one-and-a-half weeks – because John hoped to finish the Mandarin video before the new semester. I work full-time, so I did the translation in my spare time.
Deductions, fringe benefits tax and franking credits; they are terms you’d never, ever come across in China. So I started by doing some research focussing on the official translation of tax terminologies from English to Mandarin.
When I had a lunch break I would research the Australian Taxation Office website. They provide some simple concepts which helped, but I also read a lot of Chinese newspapers or publications in Australia, especially the finance sections.
After work I would do the formal translation. If I had some difficulty, I just left it and did the easy ones first. Then I discussed it with James; he helped me to review it and to read through it in Mandarin.
I thought it should be easy, but actually it wasn’t as easy as I imagined. Because I needed to write in the formal article and get a professional translation, I needed to organise the sentence. I think I edited it three times before the final version.
After I translated the script, we made the video. I did some rehearsals at home – reading clearly and slowly to make it easier for students to catch up. Then one Sunday afternoon Jessica and I came into UTS and I read the script in a lecture room at MaryAnn House on Harris Street. We finished the video quickly, within one hour. Jessica did a great job. She was very prepared.
It’s important to remember the video is just one supplementary resource for international students. The reason why you come to Australia for study is not only study itself, but also the need to learn the culture, the language and speaking habits. Otherwise, the benefits of living in Australia are too small.
A friend of a friend who takes Introduction to Tax Law this semester, watched the video and he said it helped him. He didn’t really understand what the franking credits were in the lectures, but after he watched the video, he got it.
I felt I did a great job and I hope the video does help people. That’s the most important thing; it’s why we made it.
Marketing and Communication Unit
Photographer: Joanne Saad