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Calculative practices in higher education: a retrospective analysis of curricular accounting about learning

Dixon, Keith (2009): Calculative practices in higher education: a retrospective analysis of curricular accounting about learning.

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Accounting has been shown to figure variously in New Higher Education. However, despite their infant precursors having been labelled curricular accounting (Theodossin, 1986), accounting researchers have overlooked a collection of calculative practices that has grown and spread internationally over the past two decades. The collection in question comprises credit points, levels of learning, level descriptors, learning outcomes, and related characteristics of student transcripts and diploma supplements, qualification frameworks and credit transfer systems. This paper extends coverage of the accounting literature to this particular variant of accounting. The subject is addressed both in a technical way and in the broader context of accounting in organisations and society. The former University of New Zealand and its affiliate in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the University of Canterbury, also of that city, are used as a case study. The credit point system in place at the University of Canterbury in 2009 and its antecedents back to 1873 are analysed genealogically. Participant-observation and related means are used to collect data. These data are analysed using ideas of representational schemes, path-dependent changes and negotiated orders among parties who have been associated with the case institutions. The analysis illuminates how and why learning (and teaching) at the University of Canterbury has come to be specified, recorded and controlled using curricular accounting; and why the accounting in use accords conceptually and, to an increasing degree, in practice to that in use across tertiary education in many countries. Among the social, economic and political issues that have spurred on this spread are international standards, quality and equivalence of tertiary education qualifications, study and learning; diversification of participation in tertiary education; changes to the levels and sources of funding tertiary education; and the many and varied ideas, etc. associated with New Higher Education. The spread has multifarious consequences for students, academics, alumni, universities and similar institutions, higher education, governments and others. There is much scope for further research.

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