AC411      Half Unit
Accounting, Strategy and Control

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

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


This course is compulsory on the MSc in Accounting, Organisations and Institutions. 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) and MSc in Accounting and Finance. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

AC411 is a required course for students on the MSc Accounting, Organisations and Institutions programme.

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

AC411 can accommodate a large number of students (up to c. 150), usually matching demand, but for the avoidance of frustration, admittance on the course when demand exceeds this number cannot be guaranteed. If demand exceeds capacity, priority will be given to students on the MSc Accounting, Organisations and Institutions and the MSc in Accounting and Finance.

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 implemented 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

Of 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 10 weeks in the Michaelmas Term. Depending on the state of the ongoing pandemic, some or all of the teaching on this course may be delivered using virtual means as an alternative to face-to-face teaching due to social-distancing or other pandemic-related restrictions that may need to be observed.

Specifically, the first 90-minute session each week typically provides an introduction, conceptual analysis, and discussion of the key facets of the respective week’s topic. The second session then offers a further discussion and expansion of the issues through a case study analysis to explore the various management control issues in a broad range of settings. The case method of instruction requires good advance preparation by the students. 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 case study.

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 just before the start of LT in early January 2022 (60%).

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Student performance results

(2017/18 - 2019/20 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 17.2
Merit 59.4
Pass 21.1
Fail 2.3

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 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 differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching 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 2020/21: 145

Average class size 2020/21: 74

Controlled access 2020/21: 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