Ntim, Collins G., Soobaroyen, Teerooven and Broad, Martin J. (2017) Governance Structures, Voluntary Disclosures and Public Accountability: The Case of UK Higher Education Institutions. Accounting, auditing & accountability journal, 30 (1). pp. 65-118. ISSN 0951-3574

Purpose: We investigate the extent of voluntary disclosures in UK higher education institutions’ (HEIs) annual reports and examine whether internal governance structures influence disclosure in the period following major reform and funding constraints.

Design/methodology/approach: We adopt a modified version of Coy and Dixon’s (2004) public accountability index, referred to in this paper as a public accountability and transparency index (PATI), to measure the extent of voluntary disclosures in 130 UK HEIs’ annual reports. Informed by a multi-theoretical framework drawn from public accountability, legitimacy, resource dependence and stakeholder perspectives, we propose that the characteristics of governing and executive structures in UK universities influence the extent of their voluntary disclosures.

Findings: We find a large degree of variability in the level of voluntary disclosures by universities and an overall relatively low level of PATI (44%), particularly with regards to the disclosure of teaching/research outcomes. We also find that audit committee quality, governing board diversity, governor independence, and the presence of a governance committee are associated with the level of disclosure. Finally, we find that the interaction between executive team characteristics and governance variables enhances the level of voluntary disclosures, thereby providing support for the continued relevance of a ‘shared’ leadership in the HEIs’ sector towards enhancing accountability and transparency in HEIs.

Research limitations/implications: In spite of significant funding cuts, regulatory reforms and competitive challenges, the level of voluntary disclosure by UK HEIs remains low. Whilst the role of selected governance mechanisms and ‘shared leadership’ in improving disclosure, is asserted, the varying level and selective basis of the disclosures across the surveyed HEIs suggest that the public accountability motive is weaker relative to the other motives underpinned by stakeholder, legitimacy and resource dependence perspectives.

Originality/value: This is the first study which explores the association between HEI governance structures, managerial characteristics and the level of disclosure in UK HEIs.

Accepted_Manuscript _September_2015.pdf - Accepted Version

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