Exploring the impact of organisational and environmental factors on the behaviour of English universities

Murray, Catherine

March 2012

Thesis or dissertation

© 2012 Catherine Murray. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The thesis explores how environmental and organisational factors impact the organisational behaviour of English universities. Drawing on post-war higher education literature the organisational characteristics of universities and the environmental pressures they have been subject to over the last fifty years are described. A case study of an English university covering the same period was undertaken to illustrate how the organisational and environmental changes faced by the sector affected a particular organisation and how the way it responded to external pressures changed during that time. The case study was analysed according to a theoretical framework, drawn from Neo-Institutionalism and Resource Dependency theory, which seeks to understand how the internal and external contexts of organisations interact and influence the way in which they respond to pressure to change.

The results of the literature review and case study demonstrated that, as institutional-organisations, universities are primarily concerned with achieving legitimacy (rather than maximising resources) and that for cultural and structural reasons they are inherently resistant to changing their strategies and behaviours. The case study results indicated that traditional universities are likely to be prompted to change when compelled to respond to external/environmental pressures. When faced with significant environmental pressure they may begin to adopt behaviours associated with production-organisations which challenge and erode academic autonomy and the traditional university model of ‘academic self-government’, but can result in improved performance in terms of revenue generation and institutional outcomes in Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) reviews and research selectivity exercises.

The results of the case study informed the development of a model that can be used to plot the organisational-type/level of environmental dependence of organisations and predict the behavioral traits that they are likely to adopt.

Centre for Educational Studies, The University of Hull
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