AC411      Half Unit
Accounting, Strategy and Control

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Wim Van der Stede OLD 2.18, supported by various professors who teach blocks of materials on the course.


This course is available on the CEMS Exchange, Global MSc in Management, Global MSc in Management (CEMS MiM), Global MSc in Management (MBA Exchange), MBA Exchange, MRes/PhD in Accounting (AOI) (Accounting, Organisations and Institutions Track), MSc in Accounting and Finance and MSc in Accounting, Organisations and Institutions. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Other students may be admitted only with the agreement, in writing, of the MSc Programme Director, if they have sufficient relevant background knowledge.


Course content

This course provides an advanced overview of current theoretical and practical developments in the area of organisational control, which is an essential function of management to ensure that the organisation's objectives and strategies are carried out effectively. Good management control increases the probability of organisational success.

Specifically, the course discusses what it means to have an organisation be in control, what alternatives managers have for ensuring good control, and how managers should choose from among various control system alternatives. Then the course turns to focusing on each of the elements of financial control systems, which provide the dominant form of control in the vast majority of decentralised organisations. These elements include financial target setting, performance measurement and evaluation and the assignment of various forms of organisational rewards, such as bonuses and promotions. The latter part of the course extends these key notions of management control from the intra-organisational level to the inter-organisational level, highlighting some of the difficulties involved in organisational control of new, fluid, inter-organisational settings and configurations, such as joint-ventures and various types of alliances, often involving global alliance partners.

The course will cover the following topics:

• Strategy and the design of management control systems, including strategic and operational plans and budgets

• Management control alternatives, including results controls, and organisational architecture

• Decision rights and results accountability in decentralised organisations

• Incentive compensation systems, including short-term and long-term incentive plans

• Performance measurement and evaluation, including objective and subjective performance evaluations

• Management control in inter-organisational relationships, including joint-ventures

As a final note, the discipline of management accounting is often partitioned into (1) management control systems and (2) cost and management accounting systems, where the latter is the key focus of another course, AC415. AC411 can, but is not required, to be taken with AC415. Students can take either AC411 or AC415, or both.


Teaching is delivered in two weekly 90-minute sessions over 11 weeks across Michaelmas Term. Each session contains a variety of conceptual material, discussion, and application through pertinent examples or cases. This year, some or all of this teaching may be delivered using virtual classes as an alternative to face-to-face teaching.

Specifically, AC411 consists of 10 principal topics delivered in two sessions of 1.5 hours each week. The first session each week typically provides an introduction, conceptual analysis, and discussion of the key facets of the topic. The second session offers a further discussion and expansion of the issues through case study analysis and real-world applications. The case study discussions permit the exploration of management control issues in a broad range of settings. The case method of instruction requires good advance preparation by the students, and thus students are expected to have done the recommended readings and to have read and thought about the case before the session. Blocks of sessions are taught by various professors who are experts in the relevant topic areas and the subject of management controls generally.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to prepare for each session in advance, having done the assigned readings and having prepared the assigned cases.

Indicative reading

A detailed reading list is laid out for each session on the syllabus.

Reference textbook: Merchant & Van der Stede, Management Control Systems: Performance Measurement, Evaluation and Incentives, 4e (Prentice Hall, 2017).


Exam (60%, duration: 2 hours) in the January exam period.
Essay (20%) in the MT.
Project (20%) in January.

Students are required to complete two essays during MT (totalling 20% of the mark for the course), a group project, due in late January (20%), and a final exam in LT week 0 in early January 2021 (60%),

Student performance results

(2016/17 - 2018/19 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 21.4
Merit 60.1
Pass 16.2
Fail 2.3

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Accounting

Total students 2019/20: 134

Average class size 2019/20: 45

Controlled access 2019/20: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Commercial awareness
  • Specialist skills