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Universities as Organisations. Jon File. The university as a mini-city. The university as shopping mall?. The University. “Sometimes thought of as a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over parking” Clark Kerr 1963: 20.

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The university as

shopping mall?


The University

“Sometimes thought of as a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over parking”

Clark Kerr 1963: 20


“About eighty-five institutions in the western world established by 1520 still exist in recognisable forms, with similar functions and unbroken histories, including the Catholic church, the parliaments of the Isle of Man, of Iceland and of Great Britain, several Swiss cantons, and seventy universities. Kings that rule, feudal lords with vassals, guilds with monopolies are gone. These seventy universities, however, are still in the same locations with some of the same buildings, with professors and students doing much the same things, and with governance carried on in much the same ways.”

Clark Kerr: 1982: 152


University management -

a 700 year old problem?

“ Whatever the differences in scale and technology, there is a hard core of perennial problems which have taxed the minds and ingenuity of university legislators from the thirteenth century to the present day. Matters of organisational form and democratic procedures … are just some of the issues which reveal the strands of continuity linking the medieval

studium generale and the universities of the modern world.”

Cobban, 1975


Levels of authority





Differences across systems




A new convergence?

key characteristics of universities as organisations
Key characteristics ofUniversities as organisations
  • Goal ambiguity
  • Knowledge provides building blocks
  • Multiple clients/stakeholders
  • Problematic technology
  • High professionalism
  • Fragmented - loosely coupled

Hmm, looks the same

as the first. Here I go

around again!

BOX # 2

the perverse black box
The perverse black box

large wheel

rubber band






black box




are universities different
Are universities different?
  • HEIs lack a single, clearly definable production function
  • HEIs demonstrate low levels of internal integration
  • The commitment to discipline and profession is higher than commitment to the institution
  • HEI managers ability to hire and fire is relatively low
  • HEI managers are accountable to more stakeholders than their counterparts in business.
  • More and more HEIs have to be managed as hybrid organisations (public & private elements)
  • More businesses are knowledge based

Professional Bureaucracy?

Can’t live with them, can’t live without them

Tensions between the patients

and the nurses

A necessary evil

Them and us

Up and down the hill

Senate House


The five major sites of

internal institutional authority







Teaching, research

& contracts




academic policy

four models of university decision making
Four Models of University Decision Making
  • The Bureaucratic Model
  • The Collegial Model
  • The Political Model
  • The Organised Anarchy Model
the bureaucratic model
The Bureaucratic Model
  • Clear and consistent goals
  • High level of consensus
  • Well understood technology
  • Adequate knowledge base for decisions on means
  • “deliberate calculation and purposive choice”
the collegial model
The Collegial Model
  • Organisations respond to internal and external demands
  • Informal organisation has unplanned and emergent properties
  • integration between parts of system via shared culture
  • “The community of scholars”
the political model
The Political Model
  • Diversity of interests
  • Lack of shared goals
  • Differential access to power and resources
  • Problem solving based on bargaining and compromise
the anarchistic model
The Anarchistic Model
  • Organised Anarchy - ill defined goals, unclear technology, fluid participation, ambiguous history
  • Garbage can metaphor for organisational choice - problems, solutions, participants and opportunities
  • Loosely coupled organisations - elements weakly connected to each other
your university




Your university?
your unit




Your unit?

Birnbaum (1998) on leadership and

models of university decision making

“ The leader of a bureaucracy makes rational decisions, the leader of a community of equals searches for common ground and consensus, the leader of a political system uses power to craft coalitions and compromises, and the leader of a cultural system manipulates symbols to influence the way the organisation creates meaning.

A good academic leader is one who can do all these things, even when doing one of them is inconsistent with doing another.”


American universities constitute one

of the largest industries in the nation

but are among the least businesslike and

well managed of all organizations

George Keller, 1983:

Management revolution in HE.

HEIs suffer from demand overload and a lack of capacity (including management capacity) to deal with these growing


Bob Clark, 1998:

Creating entrepreneurial universities


American colleges and universities are poorly run but highly effective

Bob Birnbaum, 1989: How colleges work

Speculation 1: the success of the system has come about in spite of bad management, and if management could be improved the system could be made even more effective

Speculation 2: in universities and colleges management and performance are not closely related. Management improvements will not affect performance too much

Speculation 3: Colleges and universities are successful because they are poorly managed. Attempts to improve management might diminish organizational effectiveness