Activity based costing in universities: an inappropriate technique?

Broad, M. and Crowther, D. (2000) Activity based costing in universities: an inappropriate technique? , Southampton, UK University of Southampton 27pp. (Discussion Papers in Accounting and Management Science, 00-161).


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The technique of ABC has been widely adopted by universities in the UK, with the assumption that the more accurate identification of costs makes them more manageable. It is the purpose of this paper to consider this question of manageability through identification and allocation in the university sector and to question this as a basis for decision making and resource allocation. The type of costing systems in place in an organisation must meet the needs of the organisation as a whole and there are a number of factors that will affect the type of costing system that is required and there are a number of costing systems that can be used. This paper considers the use of ABC within a university and whether school costing and course costing can meet the requirements of a university facing a challenging business environment where a significant amount of pressure is being exerted on the financial stability of some universities. In doing so, the ability of ABC to satisfy the informational requirements of a university is called into question.

The use of ABC is contrasted with the Theory of Constraints (and its derivative costing system - throughput accounting), which the authors argue is an alternative to the more traditional costing systems. It is the authors' view that the environment with which universities are now faced places added impetus to this question of appropriateness and could have a bearing on the design of an accounting system and the type of financial analysis that a university requires. It is also argued that the stage of decentralisation within a university has a bearing on the type of costing system that may be required; the culture within that university and the extent of a financial control system will also be important factors that will need careful consideration. The focus of this paper is that the search for a costing system has been simplified to a consideration of ABC, and that the problems with this technique in the university environment make it in appropriate. The alternative of throughput accounting is therefore proposed

Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
ISSNs: 1356-3548 (print)
Related URLs:
ePrint ID: 36105
Date :
Date Event
Date Deposited: 27 Jul 2006
Last Modified: 16 Apr 2017 22:07
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