What are we, who are we and how does that Position us? Change and Continuity in the Identity of a new University
Cook, Karen Mary
Date: 16 July 2014
University of Exeter
EdD in Education
This empirical study of the organisational identity of a newly titled university provides an insight into how identity is constructed, maintained, deconstructed and reconstructed in the higher education sector in England. The purposes of the university sector, and the higher education sector of which it is a part, are being increasingly ...
This empirical study of the organisational identity of a newly titled university provides an insight into how identity is constructed, maintained, deconstructed and reconstructed in the higher education sector in England. The purposes of the university sector, and the higher education sector of which it is a part, are being increasingly challenged following significant legislative and environmental changes over the past century. Through these changes what it means to be a university is shifting. Increased complexity and diversity has given rise to a university sector that now encompasses much of what was previously defined as non-university higher education, resulting in what many argue is a crisis of sector identity. Whilst recognising that organisational identity does more than provide a definition of membership, this crisis of sector identity impacts upon the identity development and understandings of those who are now part of it. Research on identity in the higher education sector has been focused on professional and academic identities, the concept of what it is to be a university in a policy-driven, mass participation higher education system or the interaction between the two subject areas. This thesis has a different focus, concentrating on the relatively under-researched area of change and continuity in organisational identity particularly focussing upon a period of change in legal definition and organisational positioning. During the period 1998 to 2013, the University of St Mark & St John (Marjon) moved from being a college of higher education, to a university college and finally, through a change in legislative criteria, to a university. This thesis explores change and continuities in its identity through its journey and various incarnations. It investigates how definitional constructs and sectoral positioning interface with who the organisation is; its identity. The thesis is based on an interpretive mixed methods case study, focussing on the strategic development of the University during this period. Existing theoretical models of organisational identity have informed the analysis of the data which include documentary sources, a small number of key informant interviews and participant observations. The latter exploited insights gleaned from working as a senior manager in the University for part of the period in which the research was undertaken. The research findings reinforce the existing theories highlighting the importance of organisational identity to organisational health, but challenge existing theory in respect of identity development and change. The research highlights the significance of the relationship between ‘what’ an organisation is, which is a definitional and spatial construct, and ‘who’ an organisation is, which is a reflection of its identity. This relationship has previously been considered as inconsequential to organisational identity development. The findings also challenge the assumption that identity change is a change management process brought into effect through a strong leadership narrative and strategic planning tools. The study makes evident the interplay of organisational history, and the strength of internal and external influences on the capacity and willingness of an organisation to undergo identity change. This has resulted in the development of a conceptual framework to support leaders in the exploration of an organisation’s identity, highlighting the interrelationship of specific factors on identity development.
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