Degree Name

Master of Accountancy - Research


School of Accounting, Economics and Finance


This study investigates the use of and changes to accounting technologies in the context of New Public Management (NPM). This principled approach to public management has placed great emphasis on business style practices with the enduring goal of getting public sector organisations to run more efficiently, effectively and with greater accountability. NPM has been a pervasive agenda for public sector organisations, particularly in western democracies, and has therefore been subject to significant academic and professional scrutiny. The investigation of NPM rationales in practice has revealed discrepancies between intended and actual outcomes and has exposed differing rhetorical stances (cf. Bisman 2008; Broadbent and Laughlin 1997; Christenson and Laergreid 2001; Dixon 1996; Edwards and Ezzamel 1995; Falconer 2006; Guthrie et al 2003; Lapsley 2008, 2009; Mir and Rahaman 2006; Pollitt 2000). This study therefore seeks to investigate whether similar dissonance exists in the context of a reforming education sector in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW), a contemporaneous context which, although highly topical, has not been the subject of significant accounting research. In so doing, the study attempts to identify/investigate contextual factors and the antecedents of NPM, many of which surfaced during the reforming era of Australian public administration in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It will be shown that NPM contrasts greatly with the previous approach to public administration known as ‘modern bureaucracy’.

From a methodological perspective, the study emanates from a constructivist ontological foundation, thus the subject of social inquiry is acknowledged to possess contextual specificity. Accounting technologies are regarded as purposive devices capable of guiding social action and defining the roles of the various actors present in the researched organisation. The philosophical and theoretical underpinnings tethered to this ontological foundation reinforce the methodological framework for the study. Qualitative field research was selected to gain a better understanding of the phenomena in question. One NSW public school was selected for conducting the field research in order to substantiate the convincing arguments of the study. Research conducted in the field consisted primarily of interviews with relevant school staff members as well as from the researcher’s individual observations and the use of archival.

It is found that, though the researched organisation eschewed many NPM principles in favour of a more traditional approach, recent reforms have impressed significant changes to accounting technologies such as devolved budgeting, the introduction of an enterprise resource planning system and the future transition to accrual accounting. This has expanded the role of the key players within the organisation. It has been envisaged that NPM has created new visibilities including a more parsimonious approach to human resource management. In addition, it appears that traditional values such as stewardship and a focus on the student are potentially diluted by a more salient agenda focussed on the optimisation of administrative function and the discharge of formal and informal accountability to constituents. Furthermore, it is argued reflexively that the application of NPM in the NSW education sector is yet to be fully adapted and implemented in order to achieve its maximum potential thrust.