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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. ‘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

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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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

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