It said that “Wisdom comes not from age, but from education and learning”. Challenges to students’ engagement in the learning strategies with different technologies still exist after the COVID-19 pandemic. Strategies that appear to work well include the use of controls to simplify and provide learning support to students in online learning. One of the most significant things that students need to learn is knowledge of tax laws, which provides businesses and individuals with a sense of security, for example when they are planning an annual budget. COVID-19 provided students with new opportunities for learning and education, and these will help them in the post pandemic environment.
According to the OECD INFE (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development International Network on Financial Education) guidelines (OECD, 2012, page 4), the younger generation appear to be increasingly involved in solving financial problems and making financial decisions. They also want teaching and learning programs that will empower them to make practical and realistic financial decisions both while they are students and when they become adults.
Taxpayers provide the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) with information on their recording status and number of dependents. The income section of the form they fill in includes wages, salary, taxable interest, capital gains, and other types of income. Taxpayers can claim deductions for business expenses, education, moving expenses, and the like.
Students learning how to prepare individual tax returns use different tax rates, gross incomes, and charitable deductions to calculate their federal income tax obligations. The income tax topic in tax units is designed to provide a more in-depth understanding of the effects on both individuals and businesses. There are many similarities in the treatment of individual tax and business tax, but there are also many differences.
The sustained impact of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, COVID-19, has put enormous pressure on Australian universities and other higher education providers. The reactions of these providers have been varied since the government banned public gatherings in March 2020, forcing them to move immediately to online learning without any public assistance.
KEY INSIGHTS FROM RESEARCH
Reflections on the structure and content of the taxation unit
The unit on Taxation taught by this author includes the preparation of individual tax returns including the calculation of tax liabilities using different tax rates, gross incomes, and charitable deductions. It is suggested that the income tax topic should provide a more in-depth understanding of how income taxes can affect individuals and businesses, especially post COVID. This would include the following:
Superannuation – expanding eligibility for downsizer contributions ~ Treasury Laws Amendment (2022 Measures No. 2) Act 2022:
The Amendment of Taxation Administration Act 1953 requires electronic platform operators to provide information on transactions to the ATO, allow small businesses to apply to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) for an order staying or affecting the operation or implementation of decisions of the Commissioner of Taxation being reviewed by the AAT, and enable the Commissioner to direct an entity to complete an approved recordkeeping course as an alternative to financial penalties where they rationally believe the entity has failed to comply with its tax-related recordkeeping obligations.
The Fringe Benefits Tax Assessment Act 1986, Income Tax Assessment Act 1936, and Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to remove the $250 non-deductible threshold for work-related self-education expenses and Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 qualify individuals aged 55 and above to make downsizer contributions to their superannuation plan from the proceeds of selling their main residence.
Making COVID-19 business grants non-assessable non-exempt ~ Income Tax Assessment (Eligible State and Territory COVID-19 Economic Recovery Grant Programs) Amendment Declaration (No. 5) 2022:
A COVID-19 business grant or support program payment received from the government is not taxable if taxpayers meet three important requirements:
- Under a legislative instrument, the payment was received under a state or territory grant, or Australian Government support program that is formally declared by the Minister to be treated as non-assessable non-exempt (NANE) income.
- Taxpayers carried on a business and have an aggregated turnover of less than $50 million in either the income year the payment was received or the previous income year.
- The payment was received in:
- the 2020–21 or 2021–22 financial year for eligible state or territory grants, or
- the 2021–22 financial year for eligible Australian Government programs.
The taxpayer must pay tax on the grant if the grant has not been formally declared as NANE or do not meet the eligibility criteria.
There are two types of government grant and support that may be non-taxable (NANE) under the COVID-19 payments to support businesses program, namely:
- State and Territory grants relating to the recovery from COVID-19; and
- Australian Government support payments established under the COVID-19 Business Assistance Program.
The Minister has the power to announce which government COVID-19 business support programs provide eligible grants.
Digital Currency – clarifying that digital currencies are not taxed as foreign currency ~ Treasury Laws Amendment (2022 Measures No. 4) Bill 2022:
This item seeks to clarify the clarify the treatment of digital currencies, such as Bitcoin and other similar digital currencies, and declares that they will not be regarded as foreign currencies for tax purposes. It includes:
- Amendment of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to provide for a 30% refundable tax offset in relation to the development of digital games in Australia and update to the list of deductible gift receivers.
- A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Act 1999, A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Regulations 2019 and Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to clarify that certain digital currencies continue to be excluded from the income tax treatment of foreign currency, Fringe Benefits Tax Assessment Act 1986 to qualify the Commissioner to regulate alternative records which may be retained and reserved by employers for fringe benefit tax record keeping purposes.
- Income Tax (Transitional Provisions) Act 1997 on temporary procedures allowing certain small businesses to access 20% bonus deductions for eligible expenditures on external training for employees, expenses, and depreciating assets for the purpose of digitising processes.
- In 2024–25, the Government will streamline and smooth the personal income tax system by eliminating the 37% tax bracket. Australians earning more than $41,000 will only pay 32.5 cents in the dollar all the way up to the top marginal tax rate threshold, which will be raised to $200,000.
- From 1 July 2024, there will only be three personal income tax rates: 19%, 30%, and 45%. From 1 July 2024, taxpayers earning between $45,000 and $200,000 will have a marginal tax rate of 30%. With these adjustments, around 94% of Australian taxpayers are expected to have a marginal tax rate of 30% or less.
Reflections on delivery and assessment of taxation
Recent research findings indicate that students experienced increased uncertainty about their responsibilities during COVID-19. Students also intimated that the changes in their learning environment made it more difficult for them to make social connections. They wanted teaching methods to be more supportive of students’ learning.
Students need to know that when they are enrolled in a course in Australia that lasts six months or more, they can be considered an Australian resident for tax purposes, and ~
- will pay tax on earnings at the same rate as other residents.
- Will be entitled to the benefits of the Australian tax system, such as:
- the tax-free threshold (or part of it if they are here for only part of the financial year).
- tax offsets; and
- generally lower tax rates than a foreign resident.
Commonly, Australian residents must declare all income they have earned, both in Australia and internationally, on their Australian tax return. This may pose a problem for an overseas student who probably has a temporary visa or may be a temporary resident.
Most organisations operate within a tax governance context. However, it is sometimes difficult to determine the outlines of this context in practice. Governance and systems failures are the main reason for the high level of audit expenditures relating to GST collections. The ATO has published a best practice governance guide for testing and assessing the GST governance, systems, and controls.
Students need to understand the tools available for identifying the worldwide profit from Australian-linked business activities, as well as the Australian and offshore tax paid on that profit. This can increase confidence that businesses are not involved in mispricing to reduce tax liabilities.
The ATO has introduced a tool called the GST Analytic Tool (or GAT), which allows taxpayers to prepare accurate financial statements on the BAS, identifying and testing the relevance of changes or modifications. GST systems are often “bottom up” and disposed to exclusions or double counting when links break or fundamental systems are amended. Companies without a “top down” check have little safeguard against this type of error, which often has very substantial impacts when recognised years down the track.
Reflections on student engagement in taxation law and practice classes
According to Vygotsky's theory, higher student engagement reduces the impact of ability gaps between students. It is fundamental for the processes that are emerging.
Post 2020, numerous practices were introduced to increase student engagement during the adjustment to online learning. There are important lessons to be obtained from these practices. It is useful for academics to share their experiences with their colleagues so they can learn from each other and improve the educational experience of students, especially as the COVID-19 epidemic may have set us on the path of online learning from which there is no return. Online learning could become the new normal.
End-of-semester student feedback indicates that greater student engagement in learning is correlated with higher-quality learning outcomes:
- Numerous factors influence the level of student participation in learning. In addition to the time and effort put in by the students, teachers play a significant role in enhancing student engagement. This role includes:
- Encouraging students to work on class activities related to the topics covered by including short questions related to recent developments, providing case studies, and requiring them to undertake innovative research. For example: Students might engage in research on current circumstances like “Accessing Super during the Covid 19 pandemic” or “Job keeper payments during a pandemic”. By completing these exercises students can learn not only the relevant topics, but also practice writing and referencing to develop academic integrity.
- It is essential for teachers to be aware of their role in improving the student learning experience by using effective approaches that involve students in learning and assist them to expand their knowledge and improve their skills for personal and professional development. For example: Engagement of online students could be enhanced through video recordings and by collaborative activities such as multiple screen sharing, using whiteboards to explain topics/ numerical analysis/ make lesson revision more convenient, allow students to showcase their thinking, share ideas, and brainstorm by using the microphone or live chat on the online learning management system.
- Taxation education researchers have suggested ways in which online technology could be utilised for enhanced student engagement. For example, various researchers recommend the use of digital storytelling to enhance student engagement. Facebook can also be used as an educational resource to engage students in taxation learning by sharing recent taxation-related real news articles.
- Relevant activities could include “Read & explain the article with link: Promise check: Limit tax deductions available to multinational companies - ABC News”. Students can read the article and provide their own viewpoints by summarising the topic, researching the internet, and using social media as a more modern way of studying. Subjective experience suggests that there is limited use of online tools for student engagement in most courses, especially work on assessments.
- As an educator, the author has created a Facebook private group - including taxation students - that shares topic-related real articles/journals. Students can comment on each other’s ideas – effectively, learning by doing. Students work on these types of fun-loving activities after class, which has the added benefit of restraining their use of online devices during class.
- Some education institutes are using innovative online exam monitoring solutions – such as Invigilator Plus - to increase the integrity of online learning.
- It is said that throwing people in the swimming pool can force them to learn to swim. This approach was, of necessity adopted by higher education providers as conventional methods of student engagement had to be adapted to a completely online model during the pandemic.
- It should be noted that student engagement in online learning can be reduced by personal factors, and some groups of students may not participate efficiently in online learning activities. It is therefore important for instructors to use approaches and methods that encourage and improve student involvement by incorporating both live and recorded lectures in the materials available to students.
- Students who participate effectively and efficiently in learning activities acquire more knowledge, develop superior skills, and achieve higher grades.
Reflections on learning and practice of taxation
The research to date has focussed on understanding topics from the viewpoint of the institutions and teachers. For example, research on student learning, student experience, and student wellbeing during COVID-19 was in the form of institutional case studies and critical staff reflections, stereotypically created through an academic lens or a student contentment survey. The literature offers an account that assumes students to be partners. One study included four students from two countries (Australia and Singapore) who self-reliantly reflected on their experience and cooperatively combined their learning journey through the pandemic. They were advised and supported by two researchers/professors. It was found that the students felt generally disengaged from their educational activities, that their agency was important, that self-awareness and responsibility assisted, and that moving to the online learning environment had made it more difficult to make social connections. The students suggested that teaching practices should be more supportive of communal learning, especially post COVID-19.
Accompanying students during the abrupt crisis, adopting online advances quickly, using tele-supervision and proven remote teaching methods, and establishing alternative settings allowed students to meet their academic requirements. Alliances between field education faculty teams, professional bodies, and agencies as well as clear communication between students and supervisors empowered all participants to access flexible arrangement options. COVID-19 carried not only challenges but also opportunities to explore new methods of field education and to prepare for education in a post-COVID-19 world.
In 1999, Greg Kearsley & Ben Schneiderman observed that the essential principle of engagement theory is that students be meaningfully involved in learning activities through collaboration with others on valuable tasks. The research above supported this proposition.
Latest surveys indicate that the average Australian citizen is largely tax compliant – they pay about 94% of their tax voluntarily. This is due partly to limited scope for tax avoidance and partly to the economic literacy of the Australian community. It will be important to enhance knowledge of taxation among Australia’s largest taxpayers to maintain tax compliance in the evolving post-COVID world.
Online learning plays a fundamental role in making education available to wider society, thereby overcoming social differences, and promoting social cohesion. Given such an important role, it is important for schemes to be supported that promote effective forms of online student engagement, including for taxation practices.
Support for businesses and employers | Australian Taxation Office (ato.gov.au)
Support for individuals and employees | Australian Taxation Office (ato.gov.au)
Support for not-for-profits | Australian Taxation Office (ato.gov.au)
Support for self-managed super funds | Australian Taxation Office (ato.gov.au)
Assistant Professor Kaneez Selim lectures in Tax Law & Practice, Financial Statement & Investment Analysis, and Accounting Information Systems at UBSS. Formerly, she was an Accountant, working in the area of Tax, Financial planning, and Auditing since 2007. Kaneez also lectures at Federation University, Charles Stuart University (online course) and TAFE.