Organisational Change and Accounting Control Systems at an Australian University: A Longitudinal Case Study

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Hoque, Zahirul

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Mia, Lokman

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Date
2003
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Abstract

This thesis provides an attempt to better understand the design and operation of accounting control systems as part of an interrelated control package in an Australian higher education institution subject to an increasingly competitive environment. The study was designed: (1) to understand how and why the accounting control systems changed; (2) to understand how accounting shapes and can be shaped by other institutional processes; and (3) to understand the roles accounting control systems play in higher education institutions. The research aims and objectives lend to a longitudinal case study approach. The data collection consisted of two phases: (1) a pilot study to determine issues for the intensive study and to identify or develop a suitable theoretical framework; and (2) an intensive field study of the subject organisation to develop and explain the observations. Data collection involved a triangulation approach that mixes three sources: interview, observation, and document evidence over a two-year period between 2000 and 2002. The interviewees were selected from different hierarchical levels: Vice-Chancellor, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Deans, Heads of School, general staff, and Education Queensland. This thesis draws on multiple theoretical perspectives to understand the complexities of accounting control systems change. These perspectives are: institutional theory, leadership theories, political and power theories, and resistance theories. Such an emergent research strategy was deemed pertinent to build a more holistic analysis and to offer alternative explanations of the phenomena under scrutiny. The case highlights a number of findings. First, despite the suggestion that universities operate as autonomous institutions, the University studied still succumbed to external pressures, especially from the Federal Government, for a more managerialist approach. In this study Federal Government pressures were the primary source of change identified. Second, the design and operation of the accounting control systems was found to be contingent on the related control systems and vice versa. Third, the accounting control systems played several roles in the organisation. In particular, they provided visibility to external constituents giving the impression that rational techniques had been employed consistent with Government prescriptions. This was the case for both the budget system and the performance management system. In addition to this, from an internal perspective, the budget was used to promote a sense of equity and fairness, at the same time reducing conflict in the organisation. Finally, the budget system was found to be a source of power in the organisation; it determined the level of control used to direct organisational activity. Implications for future research are presented in the concluding section.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

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Accounting and Finance

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The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.

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Subject

Accounting Control System

Higher Education

Management Control System

Public Sector Reform

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