A retrospective analysis of curricular accounting
I explain how and why higher education learning has come to be accounted for using calculative practices, and to examine critically the implications of this curricular accounting. The practices in question, in which credits or credit points are the prime unit of currency, are most visible in specifications of qualifications and courses (or units or modules), credit accumulation and transfer systems, and qualification frameworks, and on students’ academic records and diploma supplements. They run in conjunction with learning outcomes, assessment scores and grades, levels of learning, graduate profiles and similar items. They cross over into student fee charging methods and scales, public funding of higher education based on student numbers, mechanisms within institutions for allocating financial resources and controlling academic workloads, and so marrying up with things more usually associated with accounting functions and practices. I use a genealogical approach, based on occurrences and events at a college and now university in Christchurch, New Zealand, since English settlers established it in the 1870s. Today’s practices are shown to trace to ever-present concerns to attain and maintain equivalence in standards with institutions whence the settlers hailed and other places their descendants venerate, while simultaneously responding to economic, social, political and cultural needs in their settlements (e.g., locally educated secondary school teachers, engineers, lawyers, accountants and other professionals, and academics). Further international and national influences on how and why these practices developed were the growth of student numbers, as demands for educated labour increased and wider access to higher education became a social policy imperative, the broadening of the higher education curriculum, and the extension of accounting and associated calculative practices in government, public policy and higher education, as ideas associated with neo-liberalism and managerialism took hold.