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From community to public ownership: a tale of changing accountabilities

Carolyn J. Fowler (School of Accounting and Commercial Law, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand)
Carolyn J. Cordery (School of Accounting and Commercial Law, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 19 January 2015




The purpose of this paper is to examine changes in accountability as the provision and control of education moved from private nonprofit organisations to a public sector provider.


Analysis of nineteenth century archival documents from significant primary educational providers in a major early New Zealand settlement.


The nonprofit education provider utilised public meetings including public examinations, whose effect was to develop trust based on the education values it shared with its community of stakeholders. It also published financial reports which, along with inspections and statistical returns, were preferred once the government became the education provider. Such publications and inspections indicated bureaucracy and control. Nevertheless, government funding, rather than the nonprofit organisation’s dependence on its community, made education provision sustainable.

Research limitations/implications

It has been suggested that the differences between public sector and private sector accounting and accountability are not always sharply defined (Carnegie and Napier, 2012). However, this case study shows that a change of education provider did lead to a marked difference in accountability. While theory suggests that public sector accountability should enhance democracy, the party best meeting this brief was the nonprofit provider, with the public sector provider preferring hierarchical accountability. It could be argued that funding dependence drove these different approaches as community accountability was traded for financial security.


Distinctive study of accountability practices to external stakeholders, in a mid-nineteenth century education context.



The authors are grateful for the advice provided by the reviewers and colleagues as well as the participants at the 2013 AFAANZ conference.


Fowler, C.J. and Cordery, C.J. (2015), "From community to public ownership: a tale of changing accountabilities", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 28 No. 1, pp. 128-153.



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