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Higher Education Institutions as (Changing) Organisations Jeroen Huisman SRHE Newer Researchers Conference, Newport, 9 December 2014.

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Presentation on theme: "Higher Education Institutions as (Changing) Organisations Jeroen Huisman SRHE Newer Researchers Conference, Newport, 9 December 2014."— Presentation transcript:

1 Higher Education Institutions as (Changing) Organisations Jeroen Huisman SRHE Newer Researchers Conference, Newport, 9 December 2014

2 Organisational contexts of HEIs  Key question: We do so much research on higher education, but do we sufficiently take into account the organisational context in which teaching, learning and research take place?

3 Structure of presentation  Images of higher education: the nature of its activities  Boundaries of higher education institutions  Conclusions …

4 Part I: Organizational images  What is so special about higher education institutions (HEIs) as organizations? Are they special?  Take a minute and write down what you think are essential organisational characteristics of HEIs …  If you were to draw a picture of an “HEI” what would you draw?

5 Images

6 First ‘universities’ University of al-Karaouine or al-Qarawiyyin, Fez, Morocco, established 859 Al-Azhar University, Egypt, est. 970-972 Nizamiyya universities, Iran, 11 th century (e.g. Al-Nizamiyya of Baghdad, est. 1065) Europe: Bologna, 1088; then Paris, Oxford, etc.

7 Images … icons

8 Icons





13 Impressions  So, … old buildings, prestige, grandeur, elite, exhibiting the rich intellectual history and culture, hence legitimate …?  Or … beyond its “sell-by” date (“why do men change into colorful dresses?”).

14 Impressions … (10 years olds) "I might have to go because I want to be a hair salon person." "I want to be a firefighter, and I'm going to go to university to learn that." "My brother never went to university or college and he hasn't turned out so well."

15 On names … “There's this university - Rabbit? “Harbour (Harvard) - I think that's in America” “Oxford, like Libby in EastEnders” “King's College, LSE, Imperial, London Met, Brunel”

16 Who goes to uni … “Very rich people” "Kids desperate for a girlfriend. That's what my brother's going to go for”

17 Higher things: Powerful images



20 … less powerful images

21 Harmful images …



24 Professors are human …

25 … too human?

26 Higher education yields …  International education contributes around $15 billion annually to the economy and is Australia’s largest export service.  Returns to higher education: collective 8-12%, private 15-25%

27 So far …  What HEIs do (and how …), is to the outside world apparently quite a mystery or - at least – there are different stories to tell...  What explanations can we give for this …?

28 Explanations  HEIs as “multiple-service” organisations  Services that are partly intangible, but also rather unpredictable re process and outcomes  Higher education gradually has lost its “taken-for-grantedness”  Consequence: identity and image challenges (crises?)

29 Organizational consequences (preliminary thoughts …)  Bottom-heavy organisations, driven by rather autonomous professionals, with unclear goals and technologies, loosely coupled activities (unpredictable in terms of outcomes) in a complex multi-level and multi-stakeholder context  … Consequence: identity and image challenges (crises?)

30 Part II: Boundaries  Demarcations between the organization and its environment (Santos and Eisenhardt 2005)  Interesting? … Yes, it leads to a deeper understanding of the dynamics between internal and external world and arguably to insights in internal dynamics

31 Novel? In higher education studies, it goes back to e.g. Parsons and Platt (1973) In science studies: Gieryn (1983) on boundary work between science and non-science Organisation theory: Santos and Eisenhardt (2005) => used as guidance to explore contracting and expanding boundaries of HEIs

32 Boundaries I: efficiency  Revolves around authority and ownership + institutional autonomy + strong(er) leadership + actorhood (Krücken & Meier, 2006) - portfolio management (Whitley, 2008) - former outsiders now in governance structures

33 Boundaries II: external relations and resources  Revolves around handling uncertainty + resource diversification - multiple dependencies => networks - dependencies at shop-floor level: small fiefdoms within the larger kingdom

34 Boundaries III: core and boundary-spanning activities  Revolves around protecting core activities + emergence of boundary-spanning roles (alumni relations, technology transfer offices, etc.) - Paradoxically: these new roles make boundaries porous (Hughes & Kitson, 2012)

35 Boundaries IV: membership and identity  Revolves around building coherence + autonomy, positioning, identity - membership diversity, hybrid professions - contracts - perimeter roles: in or out?

36 Summarising part II  Boundaries are continuously (re)defined and – at face value – both contracting and expanding  In some areas more than others … IDENTITY!  Boundaries are in some respect stronger than before, but also more porous and blurring: HEIs as amoebae, Swiss cheese …

37 Wrapping up  Ambiguities in its goals, technologies and outcomes, because of “knowledge production” as a service.  Coupled with (very?) dynamic boundaries, has significant impact on how we research teaching, learning, research, students and staff

38 Reflective exercise  If you think this made sense, what does this all imply for your research in and on higher education?

39 Thank you!

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