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The changing higher education landscape: Establishing a new identity during an institutional incorporation. Eduard Fourie Department of Psychology Unisa. ‘Unisa and TSA are the two elephants, they are making the love. . . and VUDEC is the lawn on which they are making the love’.

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The changing higher education landscape: Establishing a new identity during an institutional incorporation

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The changing higher education landscape: Establishing a new identity during an institutional incorporation

Eduard Fourie

Department of Psychology


‘Unisa and TSA are the two elephants, they are making the love. . . and VUDEC is the lawn on which they are making the love’

Human Resource implications

  • ‘People our greatest resource’ seldom appears to inform merger practices

  • Little attention:

  • reaction of employees

  • stress employees experience

Six theoretical approachesanxiety theory, social identity theory, acculturation theory, role conflict theory, job characteristics theory, and organisational justice theory (Seo and Hill 2005)

Social identity theory

  • Social groups form significant part of self-concept

  • Individual to a greater or lesser extent think, act and have feelings consistent with group

  • Institutional identity – particular form of social identity

  • Associates with membership of a specific institution or unit

  • Strong identification with the institution generally desirable for the well-being of the institution and its members

  • a strong workgroup identification in the pre-merger phase may lead to negative feelings about the merger

Mergers alter employees’ identification

  • Those from the incorporated institution – may go through a state of cultural shock (Stahl and Sitkin 2001)

  • Dysfunctional culture classes may lead to us and them dynamics

    (Giessner et al. 2006)

Longitudinal study into well-being of employees

  • 2004 - 2008

  • Unstructured interviews with 24 participants

  • Ages of participants between 35 and 60 years

  • Years of appointment varied from 1 to 18 years

  • Theoretical sampling – participants from governance (1), academic (12), administrative (7) departments, and HR consultants (4)

  • Individual & focus group interviews

  • Participation on voluntary basis

Thematic analysis

  • Inductive approach in identifying themes (Patton 1990)

  • Aim of analysis to proceed with coding of data without trying to fit it into pre-existing coding frames (Braun and Clarke 2006)

  • Or into my own analytical preconceptions

  • Acknowledge my own interest and experience provided ‘fore-having’, fore-sight’ and fore-conception’ (Heidegger 1962)

  • Coded extracts of data – meaningful groups – potential themes - thematic maps – thematic network (Attride-Stirling 2001)


  • Various themes came to the fore and were more evident during different stages of the four year incorporation process

  • Two global themes:

  • institutional culture

  • identification with the new institution

  • Divided into three levels

  • Individual

  • Group

  • Institutional

VUDEC: Family affair

Legacies, traditions & patterns

Institutional culture

Unisa: Us & Them




Establishing new position


Identification with the new institution

Impact on self

Unfinished business

Maintaining new positions

Current status

Future prospects

A thematic map of general, basic, and global themes

Institutional culture: Us & Them

  • Difficult to leave the old and familiar behind

  • Personal experiences varied drastically

  • Phasing out of VUDEC’s programmes

  • Negotiating new positions

  • Valued new opportunities

  • Old loyalties remain

  • Incorporator institution more powerful

  • Difficult to become part of established work-groups

  • Constant comparison of the old with the new

  • Stormy history of VUDEC & transformation in the general higher education landscape

  • Speedy transformation on managerial level

  • Concerns about transformation on middle management and departmental levels

  • All role players are effected

Identification with the new institution

  • Establishing and maintaining positions

  • Facilitated or hampered by various factors

  • Academics in better positions

  • Administrative employees intense uncertainty

  • Uncertain times, inadequate guidance and communication – not new to VUDEC employees

  • Getting use to new ways of functioning and new structures

  • the whole process was far more smooth than one would have expected

  • I’m still testing the waters

  • Vista is still with us

  • Acknowledgement that employees of Unisa & TSA are also influenced

  • Time will tell whether the new Unisa will continue to be a major role player in HE in RSA

Concluding remarks

  • Us & them

  • Racial and power relations

  • Sense of continuity

  • Communication

  • Accepting the changes

  • HE landscape & national landscape not stagnant

Only time will tell whether the divorce from the old and the re-partnering of the three institutions will lead to a successful blended family


  • Attride-Stirling, J. 2001. Thematic networks: An analytic tool for qualitative research. Qualitative Research 1: 385–405.

  • Bartels, J., R. Douwes, M. de Jong and A. Pruyn. 2006. Organizational identification during a merger: Determinants of employees’ expected identification with the new organization. British Journal of Management 17 (s1): S49–S67.

  • Braun, V. and V. Clarke. 2006. Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology 3: 77–101.

  • Giessner, S. R., G. T Viki, S. Otten, D. J. Terry and S. Täuber. 2006. The challenge of merging: Merger patterns, premerger status, and merger support. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 32: 339–352.

  • Haslam, S. A. 2004. Psychology in organizations: The social identity approach. London: Sage.

  • Heidegger, M. 1962. Being and time. Trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson. New York: Harper and Evanston.

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  • Van Dick, R., J. Ullrich and P. A. Tissington. 2006. Working under a black cloud: How to sustain organizational identification after a merger. British Journal of Management 17 (s1): S69–S79.

Thank youEduard [email protected]

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