Archive for May, 2008

Accounting Tools and Forecast Ability – Confirming the Association

May 20th, 2008

normal_brian.jpgIn a forthcoming publication in Contemporary Accounting Research, recently appointed Professor of Accounting, Brian Gibson, and his coauthor Gavin Cassar, an accounting professor at Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania, have identified a clear association between accounting activities and forecasting ability. In the study, titled Budgets, Financial Reports and Manager Forecast Accuracy, the authors examined a group of about 4,000 Australian firms, each with less than 200 employees. Data was available that indicated the presence of budgets and internal accounting reports, and, as the data was longitudinal, it was also possible to access revenue forecasts that could be matched with subsequent actual revenues.

While the association has been taken as a self evident truth for some time, this is one of the first studies to validate the improvement in decision making (represented by forecast accuracy) that comes from accounting activity. The results indicate the budget role might not be as critical as is often argued as the impact of budgeting alone was trivial, improving forecast accuracy by less than 2%. Internal reporting, however, made a real difference, improving accuracy by about 8.5% and used together, the two techniques improved forecast accuracy by about 12%. These findings are consistent with the notion that budgeting in itself may be of limited value because budgeting without internal reporting represents a meaningless formal control system.

Collectively these results suggest that an initial emphasis on developing a budgetary or planning system in firms is misguided. The emphasis needs to be on an internal accounting system that is then integrated with budgetary activities to provide an integrated control environment to enhance decision making.

Service Recovery in the Banking Industry in Chile

May 20th, 2008

normal_fredy-valenzuela-0212.JPGDr Fredy Valenzuela is a Marketing Lecturer in the School. His area of research is marketing and in particular, topics related to service recovery, customer satisfaction management and relationship marketing. In his PhD thesis he evaluated service recovery in Chile in order to explore ways in which banks within that cultural context can improve their recovery performance. A secondary aim was to determine the influence of positive and negative switching barriers on service recovery evaluation so that marketing managers can design strategies to retain and develop valuable relationships with their customers. Overall, the results contributed a unique finding to the area of service recovery, and extend existing theory on switching barriers by showing the complexity and interrelated nature of the dimensions of importance to customers who experience service failure in the banking industry in Chile. His work has been published in several international refereed journals, such as the Journal of Travel Research, Journal of Contemporary Management Research and Journal of Services Research, among others. He has also participated in a number of international conferences in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Germany, India, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and Chile. In the International Conference on Business and Information held in Hong Kong, 2005 he received the best paper award. He is also the International Co-chair-Australia for the International Conference on Business and Information and member of the Editorial Committee of the journal Contemporary Management Research.

The ‘Stitching Up’ of Regional Development Governance

May 20th, 2008

dorrigo-view-copy1.jpgLou Conway has recently completed her PhD on regional development governance as part of an ARC Linkage grant within the School of Business, Economics and Public Policy. Her examiners congratulated her on making a substantive contribution in the interpretation of regional development by those engaged in governing and the internal and external political dynamics of regional governance.

In describing one of the key findings of her research, Lou used a metaphorical quilt to portray the complexities and tensions in the way in which the board members describe their role. What she found is that board members struggle to identify what regional development means amidst competing regional development discourses and government priorities often seen by board members, to be designed by those outside of the region. While board members are generally not content with either the ‘hands off’ approach of current government policy or government priorities; they are loath to evoke public criticism of the system and be seen to bite the hand that could feed their community with funding, or risk other benefits of membership. Board members describe a politicised appointment process, which is not transparent and confounds both accountability and legitimacy for the governance of the agency and indeed the agency itself. Board members are adamant that they see state government firmly steering the course for regional development, and attending to the needs of large scale capital rather than the specific needs of regional areas. This research highlights the uncertainty which surrounds board members as they struggle to make sense of their governance role when the role of the agency and the board itself is obfuscated and has important implications for the current review of regional development governance that is being chaired by Richard Torbay.

Staff Bullying in Australian Schools

May 20th, 2008

normal_dan-riley-009.JPGDr Dan Riley leads the research team of Professor Deirdre J Duncan (Australian Catholic University), John Edwards (Statistical Analyst) and himself in a study of the experience of staff bullying by those employed in Australian schools. The first national online survey into the phenomenon of adult bullying in schools was conducted late 2007. The statistical analyses of data from Government, Catholic and Independent schools in each State and Territory revealed the existence of the phenomenon of staff bullying in Australian schools.

Approximately 99.8% of the 802 respondents indicated they had experienced some form of bullying. More disturbing was that 50% of respondents had experienced 75% or more of the 44 forms of bullying identified by the researchers. Analysis revealed no significant difference between school systems by State or Territory in the top six forms of bullying experienced by more than 90% of respondents.

The common forms of bullying found to exist nationally were:

  • Information is withheld which affects your performance
  • Questioning of your decisions, procedures and judgment
  • Tasks are set with unreasonable or impossible targets or deadlines
  • Attempts are made to belittle and undermine your work
  • Recognition, acknowledgement and praise are withheld
  • You are ignored or excluded

Across Australia, nearly 90% of respondents reported their mental or physical health has been affected by the behaviour towards them. In New South Wales the result was similar. Nationally, respondents identified the bullies in descending order as: School Executives, Colleagues, Principals and Parents. They identified the targets of bullying (victims) also in descending order as: Colleagues, Students and Support Staff. Dr Riley will shortly release the analysis of the quantitative data with analysis of the qualitative data to follow in the coming months.

The Changing Nature of the Academic Profession

May 20th, 2008

normal_lyn-meek-leo-goedegebuure.jpgAccording to a recent national survey conducted by staff at the Centre for Higher Education Management and Policy, Australian academics are satisfied with their jobs as academics but are critical of their working conditions.

The study is the largest ever of its kind, being part of an international comparative project across 20 countries and will provide the opportunity to benchmark Australian academic views and experience with that of key competitor nations. Some 1,250 academics from 21 institutions, including UNE, participated in the Australian leg of the survey conducted in late 2007.

When asked, How would you rate your overall satisfaction with your current job? 55 per cent indicated a ‘very high’ to ‘high’ job satisfaction, whilst only 12 per cent indicateD ‘low’ or ‘very low’ job satisfaction. This is confirmed by strong disagreement with the statement If I had to do it over again, I would not become an academic.

These survey results are all the more remarkable when we take into account that almost two thirds of Australian academics are of the opinion that their working conditions have deteriorated. Only some nine per cent feel that working conditions have improved since the start of their career.

Not surprisingly, academics spend approximately 50 hours per week at their jobs, which is quite a few more hours than what they are contractually obliged to do. When classes are in session, obviously a good deal of time is spent on teaching, though they still find time to do research. Administration throughout the year takes up close to 20 per cent of their time. When classes are not in session, research activities increase, although some time still is devoted to teaching.

Contact Dr Jeannet van der Lee, x2091 Project website: www.une.edu.au/chemp/projects/cap

Evaluating the Economic Impact of Avian Influenza in Indonesia

May 20th, 2008

picture-1-1.JPGIn 2003 Associate Professor Phil Simmons was in Lombok researching how contracts affected poultry farmers. Phil received a grant from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and happened to see close-up the first wave of avian influenza as it hit Indonesian poultry farmers and consumers. Phil said, There was real panic. No-one knew how the disease was spreading from farm to farm. There were strong consumer responses with the poultry meat and egg markets collapsing and everyone was afraid of a human pandemic.

The situation opened up a lot of opportunities and by June 2004 Phil was working at Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in Rome helping with the Global Strategy for Avian Influenza. Then, later that year, ACIAR provided UNE with funding to do a pilot study in East Java to find out which farms were most vulnerable to the disease and what policies might best stop the disease spreading.

In 2005 Phil obtained further ACIAR funding ($400,000) to extend the pilot study from East Java to the eastern island provinces of Bali, Nusa Tenggara Barat and Nusa Tenggara Timur. These provinces are potentially the land gateway to Australia for the disease.

The study will be completed in June 2008. 1700 smallholder households affected by the disease have been surveyed and parallel studies undertaken on how the disease affects (i) Indonesian imports and exports (ii) ripple welfare effects in Indonesian domestic markets outside the poultry sector and (iii) readiness of Indonesian government agencies to fight the disease at provincial, district & local levels.

Workshops are being conducted in Jakarta, Denpasar and Canberra to extend results from the study to government officials from Australia and Indonesia. Also, a number of reports have been produced including several academic articles and conference papers. A major report in English & Bahasa will come out later this year when the project is completed.

The study involved collaboration with people from the Australian National University, Brawijaya University in Malang and Institut Pertanian Bogor near Jakarta. With government links, UNE staff worked with the Australian Bureau of Agricultural & Resource Economics and AusAid in Canberra and most of the divisions of the Ministry of Agriculture in Indonesia. NGO linkages included the regional office in Bangkok and head office in Rome.

Invasive Species

May 20th, 2008

cacho-galapagos-1.jpgBetween 2000 and 2008 Oscar Cacho has obtained over 1.5 million dollars in external research funds (some of it in collaboration with Associate Professor Sinden) to study a number of issues. Here are highlights from two studies.

Invasive species are major threats to global biodiversity and are responsible for multi-billion dollar losses in agriculture and forestry. Australia is particularly vulnerable because of its unique environment, which has evolved in isolation from other continents and because agriculture is so important to us. Feral animals tend to receive most of the attention, but weeds are also important invasive organisms and have features that make them difficult to control.

Weeds are difficult to eradicate because they produce seeds that settle in the soil, can survive for many years, and are not detectable until they germinate. When weeds invade a natural environment, such as a national park, the problem is compounded because we cannot spray herbicide over a large area as may occur in agriculture. When controlling weeds managers cannot be certain that all weed organisms have been detected and removed from a site. It is necessary to estimate the proportion of weed targets likely to have been detected with a given amount of resources.

We found that the US military had been dealing with similar effort targeting issues using search theory. Search theory was developed to improve success rates in detecting submarines and other military targets. The theory is also used to improve search and rescue operations. Two key features of search theory are the consideration of detectability of a target and estimation of the effect that search effort has on the probability of detection. The team adapted these concepts to their ecological-economic models to help determine the feasibility of eradicating an invasion with limited funds. This is a radical new use of military search theory. It allows managers to answer questions like: What is the probability that we will eradicate an invasion if we have a budget of $x dollars? How many years will it take? How will this probability change if we increase search effort? The team is also able to provide realistic estimates of the long-term commitment required to eradicate a weed invasion, particularly for plants whose seeds can survive for a long time in the soil.

The work has attracted a great deal of international interest. Oscar was invited to the Galapagos Islands, which face the risk of losing endemic species because of invasive organisms. The visit was part of a large project funded by the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank. Oscar is also collaborating with McGill University in Canada, where he is involved in a project on predicting and monitoring the spread of marine invasive species, with Sea Grant funding from the US. This work has also caught the attention of conservation biologists in Hawaii, who invited Oscar to present at their conference and provide a demonstration of his models. Recently, the Australian Centre of Excellence in Risk analysis has provided additional funding to continue this work.

Climate Change Economics and Policy

May 20th, 2008

cacho-indonesia.jpgIn 2006 Oscar Cacho completed a 5-year project (funded by ACIAR) on the economic potential for land-use change and forestry for carbon sequestration. This project involved establishing and managing two research teams (in Indonesia and Australia) to produce a series of outputs that included a database of Australian tree species for use in Farm forestry. The main contribution of this work has been to provide sound economic analysis in an area that has been subject to much confusion regarding accounting for temporary carbon sequestration through forestry, the role of monitoring and the role of transaction costs. This work has led to several international collaborations, including an invitation by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) to work in Rome as a visiting expert, as well as invitations to present at conferences, symposia and workshops in several countries including Indonesia, Kenya, Taiwan, Italy and Canada.

UNE Agricultural Economist chairs National Environmental Committee

May 20th, 2008

jsinden.jpgAssociate Professor Jack Sinden is chairing the industry leadership group and the national workshops for the nationwide project to encourage horticultural growers to introduce natural resource management (NRM) on their properties.

Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL) is the horticultural industry’s research and development organisation, is financed by grower levies, and wins substantial Commonwealth Grants to fund its R&D projects. HAL has recently been investing in a series of nationwide projects across all the many individual horticultural industries to encourage growers to adopt more natural resource management practices on their properties.

In 2004, Jack was asked to chair the Industry Leadership Group (ILG) that steered the first project in the series, Horticulture for Tomorrow: environmental assurance. The project produced guidelines to show growers how to improve the soil, water, chemical, vegetation and other environmental outcomes of their businesses.

In 2007, HAL asked Jack to chair the Industry Leadership Group to steer the follow-on project Horticulture for Tomorrow: natural resource management, and to chair the national workshops that are part of this project. So far, workshops have been held in Sydney, Gosford, Brisbane and Devonport. In 2008, a further workshop is planned for Sydney and there will be a NRM Summit conference later this year. Associate Professor Sinden has been invited to give a major overview of the whole Horticulture for Tomorrow programme at the Summit.

Jack says he has been impressed by the level of corporate and grower commitment to natural resource management in horticulture. Of his own contribution, he says, Basic economic principles have guided my approach to these leadership roles. We identify incentives to natural resource management, encourage the market to operate and be competitive, and share the costs of community benefits across the community.

UNE initiative to boost professional services in rural areas

May 16th, 2008

roxyThe University of New England has launched an initiative aimed at making it easier for professional people to live and work in rural areas.

UNE’s Faculty of The Professions hosted a Rural Professions Summit in Bingara last Friday to find solutions to the national shortage of professional services in rural areas. The Summit (at The Roxy, pictured here) brought together  from all over Australia  40 representatives of professions including law, education, accounting, management, health, and allied health.

The participants met several local professionals to discuss some of the challenges they face on a daily basis. They also reviewed a survey of more than 100 professionals, mostly from rural areas, that showed these challenges are widespread and growing.

The survey revealed that concerns about the welfare of their own families often make it hard for professionals to deliver the support to rural communities that they think is needed. It also revealed that some communities are not well equipped to make the best use of what is available, and that for others it will be necessary to change the way services are provided if they are to get the support they need.

“Recruiting expert professionals for rural areas poses significant problems not just for the government, but for businesses, professional associations, and rural communities themselves,” said the project leader, Dr Amanda Kennedy from UNE’s School of Law. “Demand is generally greater than the supply of these services, for reasons including the ageing population, the mobility of professionals, and perceptions about the welfare and development of rural practitioners.”

“The outcomes of the Summit were exciting and hopeful,” Dr Kennedy said. “The participants developed concepts for innovations that could ensure the welfare of rural professionals and their families, and significantly improve service delivery. These include different approaches to services, better support for families, better arrangements to make communities welcoming, and a range of opportunities to improve skills and management arrangements.”

She said the Summit had highlighted, for the Faculty of The Professions, “the many opportunities that are available  through a range of innovative solutions  to help rural professionals and the communities in which they operate.”

The Rural Professions Research Initiative, led by Dr Kennedy and Professor Paul Martin, is intended to lead to a series of projects, across the Faculty of The Professions, that will help to overcome the challenges identified. As a result of the Summit, the Faculty is already scoping applications for research projects that should make a difference to the lives of rural professionals, helping them to support the communities in which they live and work.

For more information, or to become involved, contact Dr Kennedy on (02) 6773 3493 or amanda.kennedy@une.edu.au.