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Institutional work and the interplay of stability and change in public budgeting reform: the case of public universities in Iran

Farzaneh Jalali Aliabadi (Accounting and Data Analytics, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia) (Accounting Department, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran)
Muhammad Bilal Farooq (Accounting, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand)
Umesh Sharma (Accounting, Waikato Management School, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand)
Dessalegn Getie Mihret (Accounting, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 2 March 2021

Issue publication date: 1 June 2021




The purpose of this study is to understand the efforts of key social actors in influencing the reform of Iranian public universities budgeting system, from incremental to performance-based budgeting (PBB), the tensions that arose as competing efforts of institutional change were undertaken, and ultimately the impact of these efforts on the extent to which the Iranian government transitioned to a system of PBB in public universities.


Data comprises of semi-structured interviews with managers and experts involved in the budget setting process and an analysis of budgetary policy documents, reports and archival material such as legislation. An institutional work lens is employed to interpret the findings.


While actors advocating the change were engaged in institutional work directed at disrupting the old budgetary rules by disassociating the rules moral foundations and creating new budgetary rules (through new legislation), universities undertook subtle resistance by engaging in extended evaluation of the new proposed PBB rules thereby maintaining the old budgetary rules. The reforms undertaken to introduce PBB in Iranian universities achieved minimal success whereby incremental budgeting continued to constitute by far a larger percentage of the budget allocation formula for university budgets. This finding illustrates change and continuity in university budgetary systems resulting from institutional work of actors competing to control the basis of resource allocation under the proposed PBB system by proposing contradicting models.

Practical implications

The findings highlight the importance of understanding the interplay of institutional work undertaken by competing social actors as they seek to advance their goals in shaping budgetary reforms in the public-sector. Such an understanding may inform policy makers who intend to introduce major reforms in public-sector budgeting approaches.


Unlike prior studies that largely focused on how organization-level budgeting practices responded to changes in public budgeting rules (i.e. at the site of implementation of the rules), this paper highlights how strategies of change and resistance are played out at the site of setting budgetary norms.



Jalali Aliabadi, F., Farooq, M.B., Sharma, U. and Mihret, D.G. (2021), "Institutional work and the interplay of stability and change in public budgeting reform: the case of public universities in Iran", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 34 No. 4, pp. 786-818.



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