Responsiveness and its Institutionalisation in Higher Education

Master's Thesis, 2010

176 Pages, Grade: 70

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Chapter 1 Introduction
1.1 Statement of problem
1.2 Research question
1.3 Rationale and significance of this study
1.4 Scope of this study
1.5 Synthesis of the theories and concepts used in this study
1.6 Structure of this thesis

Chapter 2 Literature review
2.1 Responsiveness in context
2.1.1 Global(isation) pressures
2.1.2 National pressures
2.1.3 Local-organisational pressures
2.1.4 Communities and stakeholders
2.1.5 Synthesising the global, the national and the local
2.2 Responsive capacity
2.3 Predominant polemics
2.3.1 Responsiveness and teaching
2.3.2 Responsiveness and knowledge
2.3.3 Responsiveness and the third mission
2.4 The notion of responsiveness
2.5 Conclusion

Chapter 3 Theory, concepts and a proposed typology of responsiveness
3.1 Theoretical framework
3.1.1 Institutional theory
3.1.2 Clark’s levels of authority
3.1.3 Vaira’s organisational allomorphism
3.1.4 Core versus peripheral academic activities
3.1.5 Conclusion
3.2 Untangling responsiveness
3.2.1 Types of responsiveness
Direct and indirect responsiveness
Descriptive types of responsiveness
Typologies of responsiveness
3.2.2 Responsiveness and engagement
3.2.3 Responsiveness in context
3.3 Plotting responsiveness - towards a typology
3.4 Indicators for the institutionalisation of responsiveness
3.4.1 Rules, structures, sanctions and rewards
3.4.2 Alignment
3.4.3 Bearing
3.4.4 Plotting the indicators on the typology
3.4.5 Delimiting concepts

Chapter 4 Methodology
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Research design
4.3 Method
4.3.1 Selection of universities and projects
4.3.2 Data and data collection
4.3.3 Data analysis
Evidence of responsiveness
Types of responsiveness
Indicators of institutionalisation
4.4 Limitations

Chapter 5 University of Mauritius
5.1 Super structure
5.1.1 Policy and regulative framework
5.1.2 Funding higher education in Mauritius
5.1.3 Conclusion
5.2 Middle structure
5.3 Under structure
5.4 Discussion

Chapter 6 Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
6.1 Super structure
6.1.1 National policy
National Council on Higher Education (NCHE)
White Paper 1997
National Plan for Higher Education in
South Africa 2001
6.1.2 Public higher education funding framework
6.1.3 CHE’s Higher Education Quality Committee
6.1.4 Conclusion
6.2 Middle structure
6.3 Under structure
6.4 Discussion

Chapter 7 Conclusion
7.1 The typology of responsiveness
7.2 Indicators of institutionalisation



This thesis proposes a typology of responsiveness in order to reduce

interpretive ambiguity and to provide a framework which makes possiblean assessment of the extent to which responsiveness is likely to beinstitutionalised in higher education. The typology is tested at twouniversities. The findings indicate that the typology developed can bedeployed to reveal insight into how responsiveness is manifesting atuniversities. The findings around institutionalisation of responsivenessare less conclusive but indicate that while there is evidence of theinstitutionalisation of a particular type of university responsiveness, theprocess is at best partial as the academic heartland of higher educationsystems remain slow to accept the demands made by the state, universityleadership and other stakeholders for more responsive universities.




third mission




higher educationSouth Africa



I declare that Responsiveness and its Institutionalisation in Higher Education is my own work, that it has not been submi ed before for any degree orexamination in any other university, and that all the sources I have used orquoted have been indicated and acknowledged as complete references.

François van Schalkwyk, October 2010



I would like to thank the Higher Education Master’s in Africa (HEMA) programme funded by the Norad Programme for Master Studies (NOMA)for its financial support without which I would not have been able toapply for and complete this thesis. I would also like to thank the HigherEducation Research and Adovcacy Network for Africa (HERANA)project of the Centre for Higher Education Transformation (CHET) forgranting me access to the project’s data on development projects at thetwo universities selected in this study. I would like to thank Nico Cloetefor convincing me to register after I had doubts about my ability tocomplete my masters studies given my work and family commitments;Gerald Ouma for the detailed and constructive input; and all those whoprovided feedback and encouragement at various times during the writingof this thesis. Finally, I would like to thank my wife, Samantha, for herunwavering support.

Basic to the analysis of academic change … is the simple principlethat existing structures have response sets that shape what follows … We need to shift analysis to the response side, to search for the institutional conditioning of action and reaction … Those

who would change a modern academic system need to knowthat desired changes will a enuate and fail unless they becomea steady part of the structure of work, the web of belief, and the

division of control.

— Burton Clark,

The Contradictions of Change in Academic Systems

Chapter 1 Introduction

In Don DeLillo’s White Noise, Jack Gladney is the chairman of theDepartment of Hitler Studies at an American college. Jack claimshe created the programme in Hitler Studies because he anticipatedthe demand for such a programme. He received support and afew pointers from the college chancellor who was ‘quick to see thepossibilities’. Hitler Studies becomes hugely successful, drawingmany students (and fee income) and earns the college an enviableinternational reputation. The chancellor dies in a ski-lift accidentin Austria, and Jack Gladney puts on weight and dons glasses withthick, black frames to acquire greater austerity needed to become amore legitimate Hitler expert.

White Noise was published in 1984, long before the emergence of thekeyword ‘responsiveness’ in the higher education studies literature.DeLillo’s own post-modern social commentary aside, the story ofJack Gladney and the rise of Hitler Studies provides an interesting,if unexpected, springboard for some of the issues commonly raisedin the debate on responsiveness in higher education. If we take itfor granted that the rise of Hitler Studies is an example of a highereducation institution being responsive, then one could raise severalpertinent questions: Why the need to create a Department of HitlerStudies in the first place? Was it a selfish career move by a burgeoningacademic or a loyal a empt to promote the reputation of the college?Perhaps it was an insightful a empt to develop specific or moredetailed knowledge within the broader discipline? How wouldsociety benefit from the creation of a Department of Hitler Studies?Are there any such benefits? Or maybe the question could be askedwhether there should be any direct, quantifiable benefits for societywhen students are paying ‘the College on the Hill’ in excess of tenthousand dollars a year for their education? Should the benefits that accrue from their investment in education not be of a personal rather than a public nature? And should students as paying customers not be entitled to courses or programmes that they demand? In short, is a Department of Hitler Studies the kind of outcome policy-makers and other external stakeholders have in mind when they call for greater responsiveness in contemporary universities?

As noted earlier, White Noise predates the emergence of responsivenessas keyword in the literature. Perhaps this is telling in a less obviousway. The notion of change in universities in response to significantdevelopments in the environments in which they operate (in DeLillo’scase, changes in American society) is neither new nor is it specific tothe recent emergence of the call for responsive universities by boththe state and other stakeholders. The keyword ‘responsiveness’ couldconceivably have emerged as a moniker for change. Why then has theterm ‘responsiveness’ emerged in recent years? A possible explanationis that the call for responsive universities is an a empt to engineerenduring change within the university’s ivory towers (both in itsorganisational form and function) in order to create what is perceivedto be a more direct link between the university and its socio-politicalcontext thereby ensuring that universities make a greater contributionto the advancement or development of society. And that responsiveness,with its positive normative dimension due to its ostensibly nobleintentions, is thought to be a more palatable notion for universities thatare at worst resistant to change and at best slow to do so.

Key to this process of engineering change within the university is theobservation that the drivers of change are now increasingly complexand predominantly external to the university (Amaral et al. 2002; DuToit 2007; Jongbloed 2008; Neave et al. 2000) whereas in the case ofthe College on the Hill, the change was ostensibly driven from within.Sawyer (2004: 50), in coining the expression ‘the immediacy of theexternal’, adds to environmental change the dimension of a changein the degree of insulation traditionally enjoyed by universities fromsuch external pressures. As the dependency of the university on external funding increases (and it is forced to turn to the market foradditional income) and as the state as the last bastion of bloc fundingshifts its expectations in terms of the function of higher education,the university can no longer shut out these external demands (Mora& Vila 2003). Increasingly, constituencies external to the universityare demanding change based on the belief that there is a correlationbetween investment in higher education and (economic) development,as well as on the ever-insidious notion of a non-negotiable positivereturn on the investment made in higher education by these externalconstituencies in the form of the state, donor agencies, students andthe a entive public (Jongbloed et al. 2008).

The assumption made on the part of external stakeholders,particularly those who seek a positive return on their investments(be they monetary or non-monetary), is that responsiveness inhigher education will result in a closer relationship between theuniversity and society (including industry, the labour market andlocal communities) thereby ensuring that higher education makesa contribution to development. Based on this understanding of thefunction of the university, the institutionalisation of responsivenessis therefore seen as desirable; the responsiveness of universities mustbe permanently embedded in the accepted scripts and practices ofuniversities rather than being incidental or confined to symbolicgestures. Current policies at both national and organisational levelsare indicative of a empts at institutionalising responsiveness andreinforce the belief that responsiveness is indeed being institutionalisedin higher education. It is this assumption which this thesis wishes tochallenge: Is responsiveness becoming a steady part of the academicendeavour?

1.1 Statement of problem

Encapsulated in the question of whether responsiveness is beinginstitutionalised in universities lies a seemingly innocuous problem:

how is the notion of responsiveness understood by these stakeholdersand, more importantly by the universities themselves? In otherwords, while responsiveness is increasingly expected to becomepart of what academics do, university responsiveness is variouslyunderstood and applied, and there appears to be a lack of sensitivityto how responsiveness is being accepted and operationalised byuniversities (particularly their academic staff). Both of these conditionspotentially hamper the presumed positive impact of responsivenesson development and may have negative, unintended consequenceson the traditional functions and contribution of higher education.

There is therefore a need both to develop clarity around the notion of responsiveness at all levels of the higher education system and to assess the extent to which responsiveness is in fact becoming part of the daily, taken-for-granted activities of the university.

1.2 Research question

In order to address the above problem, this thesis sets out to provideclarity around the current understanding of responsiveness as wellinsights into how responsiveness is being as institutionalised in highereducation. The primary research question that this poses, then, is: Howis responsiveness being institutionalised in universities? In order toanswer the primary research question, this thesis will examine howrepsonsiveness manifests itself at three levels of the higher educationsystem - the national, macro level; the university administration,meso level and at the micro level of the university where its corefunction are carried out. In an a empt to answer primary researchquestion, this thesis will seek to answer the following sub-questions:

- How is responsiveness currently understood in both policydocument and the higher education literature?
- At the national level, is university responsiveness entrenched ingovernment policy?
- At the level of organisational bureaucracy, are university leadersand administrators implementing processes and/or structures topromote responsiveness in their universities?
- At the organisation level where the core academic endeavours ofresearch and teaching are located, are academics responding todemands to be more responsive?
- At each of the above system levels, what are the ideologicalimperatives for being responsive, and are they in alignment?
- Are the responsive activities of academics more or less likelyto strengthen the core teaching and research functions of theuniversity?

The answers to these questions will inform the research objective ofestablishing whether the expectations for responsive universities isin fact engineering the kind of change within higher education inorder to create a more direct link between the university and its socio-political context, thereby ensuring that universities make a greatercontribution to the advancement or development of society.

If it is found that universities are indeed embracing responsiveness,some consideration will be given to whether such a manifestation ispartial or ubiquitous. If it is found that universities are not embracingthe calls for responsiveness or are only doing so to a limited extent,then consideration will be given to why this may be the case.

1.3 Rationale and significance of this study

Given that there is a greater likelihood of universities bridging thedivide between themselves and society by becoming relevant ifresponsiveness is institutionalised, this enquiry proposes to makean initial contribution in assessing whether responsiveness is in factbeing institutionalised in higher education. This will be done bydeveloping a be er understanding of the concept of responsivenessas well as the conditions that promote or stunt the institutionalisation of responsiveness in higher education. In developing a typologyof responsiveness and deploying the typology to assess whetherresponsiveness is being institutionalised in higher education, thisstudy will fill an existing gap in the higher education literature.This, it is hoped, will provide valuable insight as to the conditionsin which responsiveness is more likely to be institutionalised and, byimplication, how the university may contribute to development in asustainable manner. That is, if responsiveness can indeed ‘becomea steady part of work, the web of belief and the division of control’(Clark 1983b: 114) in the institution of higher education.

From a broader and more ambitious perspective, it is hoped that this enquiry will provide some insight into the unique characteristics of universities as organisations operating within an institutional context; and that by examining how universities are grappling with change, a more nuanced understanding of organisational adaptation will be developed which, in turn, will lead to more realistic efforts to steer the contemporary university system.

1.4 Scope of this study

Institutions operate across multiple jurisdictions. This, according toSco (2001), is a defining characteristic of an institution. Jongbloedet al. (1999) support this notion when they describe the universityin particular as universal in its function and form. Meyer (2007: 193)writes as follows:

This is perhaps the single most important implication arisingfrom institutional theory. If higher education structures […]reflect common models in national or world environments, theyshould show unexpected similarities across diverse se ingsand change in similar ways over time. And by all accounts, theuniversity is indeed a central historic global institution. [...] Theempirical literature provides clear evidence on this issue.

This introduces an important point in terms of the context and scopeof this study. The location of the universities selected - Mauritius andSouth Africa - from an institutional perspective, is largely irrelevant.Universities in Africa or in Sub-Saharan Africa or in the SouthernAfrican Development Comminty or in middle-income countries,are all part of the same multi-jurisdiction institution as universitieselsewhere in the world. They respond to the same institutionalpressures to conform. They are bound by the same fundamental,unquestioned sets of rules and beliefs of what a university is and ofwhat academics do. They are also prone to the same environmentalpressures often a ributed to globalisation.

Vaira (2004) confirms the universality of form in what he terms‘morphemes’. But he also acknowledges declensions from theuniversal - local variants of the unified form. Others also point to‘local realities’ in the face of global pressures (Cloete 2006; Sawyer2004; Swar 2006). The danger, however, of overemphasising theselocal realities is a possible African apologist approach. This kind ofapproach is evident in Altbach and Balan’s (2007: vii) research onwhat they call ‘world-class’ universities in which they deliberatelyexclude African universities on the basis of the ‘special conditions’that characterise the African higher education landscape. In otherwords, there is a risk that local conditions come to obscure theuniversal characteristics that shape the university as an institution.

This is not to say that local realities are irrelevant or unimportant in the study of higher education, but that from an institutional point of view, African universities are fundamentally no different from their international counterparts. And to historicise and over-contextualise this study as particularly African, is to the run the risk of se ing African universities apart as a special case or, in the context of this study, as a different kind of institution.

A practical example of this distinction can be found in themassification of higher education in 1960s and 1970s in the USA and Europe. While massification or the principle of equal access becameinstitutionalised in higher education during this period, the mannerin which it happened was uneven across the European continent. Insome systems, enrolments increased up to 50% of the university-agecohort a ended university, while in others, enrolments remainedas low as 10% despite the acceptance of massification (Clark 1983b).In other words, while the fundamental principle of massificationbecame institutionalised in higher education, the manner in which itwas operationalised was conditioned by deeply entrenched (national)belief systems, thereby introducing regional variance. More recentobservations citing agreements such as the Bologna Process in Europeand the effects of globalisation, contend that national conditioning oforganisational form are becoming less pervasive (Meyer et al. 2007).

This study does not set out to deliver a verdict on whether responsive-ness is good or bad, or whether it should or should not become aninvevitable part of what universities do. Rather, it seeks to examinethe prevailing conditions in higher education in order to reveal theobservable outcomes and consequences - intended or otherwise - ofcurrent pressures exerted on universities to be more responsive.

This study does not claim to provide conclusive evidence for the likelyinstitutionalisation of all types of responsiveness. This is because, first,there are types of responsiveness which I would argue are inherent touniversity functioning and this kind of responsiveness has ensured itssurvival over the centuries in the face of many threats and upheavals.Second, the study is concerned with a particular type of responsivenessobservable at a particular level of the higher education system - thatis, that of the academic endeavours of research and teaching - and notwith other types of responsiveness which operate at other levels of thesystem. In other words, while this study will examine different typesof responsiveness, only one type of responsiveness is operationalised.(See Chapter 3 for a detailed analysis on types of responsiveness andthe type of responsiveness focused on in this study.)

This study advances on the assumption that it is relevant because thereis a positive relationship between higher education and development.It does not seek to prove or justify this relationship, nor does it pay asignificant amount of a ention to the possible types of developmentwhich are so positively impacted on by higher education. It does,however, seek to establish how responsiveness is understood andwhether responsiveness is progressing towards institutionalisationin higher education. The nature of the relationship between highereducation and development is influenced, it is contended, by howresponsiveness is being institutionalised in higher education.

1.5 Synopsis of theories and concepts used in this study

This study faces a particular challenge in developing indicators for the institutionalisation of responsiveness. This is because in order to develop indicators, there must be a clear understanding of what it is that the indicator is indicating. This thesis therefore seeks to establish a more coherent and sensitive understanding of university responsiveness before advancing possible indicators.

Responsiveness, in the context of higher education and in broadestterms, can be described as the state in which universities supplythe market (labour, industry, students, etc.) with knowledge-basedproducts and services that match the demands of the market. Inorder to advance the understanding of responsiveness, a typologyof responsiveness is proposed which allows for the categorisationof responsiveness activities along dual dimensions of functionand ideological imperative. A distinction between direct andindirect responsiveness is proposed and this distinction is criticalin operationalising the study of academic activities regarded asinstances of responsiveness.

The research draws considerably on institutional theory and on thework of Burton Clark on change in higher education systems in order to develop indicators on the institutionalisation of responsiveness using the proposed typology of responsiveness.

From an institutional theory perspective, for a new process to beinstitutionalised requires that it becomes part of the shared set ofbeliefs and norms of the institution in question (Hall & Taylor 1996;Olsen 2007a; Sco 2001). North (in Dill 2004: 1) defines an institutionas ‘rules, norms of behaviour, and their enforcement characteristics,which shape human interaction’. An institutional theory perspectivewould suggest that the actions (including the allocation of resources)of actors within an institutional se ing are shaped by their sharedvalues, beliefs and norms. Therefore, by gaining insight into thebehaviour and discourses (scripted actions) of the institutionalagents, insight should be gained as to whether a process such asresponsiveness is being institutionalised. In addition, the existenceof rules, procedures and structures that sanction responsive activitywill provide further evidence of institutionalisation.

At the same time, keeping in mind an understanding of aninstitution as being extra-organisational, one would expect to findresponsiveness embedded in the policies and dictates of the stateapparatus if responsiveness is indeed being institutionalised. Inaddition to evidence of responsiveness at various levels of highereducation, one might also be interested to ascertain whether the same ideological principles drive responsiveness. An overlap of ideologicalprinciples could indicate a greater likelihood of responsiveness beinginstitutionalised as it indicates a pervasive cognitive script operatingat all three levels. Conversely, there may be evidence of responsivenessat all three levels in the system but the principles that underpin theexistence of responsiveness may differ and this could conceivably bean impediment to the institutionalisation of responsiveness.

At the level of academia, over and above the extent to which it is inideological alignment with policy (both national and organisational),it will be informative to evaluate both the type of responsiveness activities that academics are engaging in as well as the degree towhich such responsive activities are strengthening or weakening theacademic core. The types of responsiveness observed will provideinsight into the distribution of responsiveness in relation to theuniversity’s core functions. The degree to which activities strengthenthe academic core provide an additional indicator for the likelihoodof responsiveness being institutionalised. Activities which strengthenthe academic core (so-called bridging activities) and therefore bolsterthe core functions of teaching and research, are more likely to beassociated with the institutionalisation of responsiveness because theactivities do not conflict with traditionally accepted and internalisednotions of what it is that academics do. Conversely, bufferingactivities, that is activities which don’t strengthen the core, can beinterpreted as symbolic acts of responsiveness that decrease thechances of responsiveness being institutionalised.

Drawing on institutional theory it is suggested that responsiveness is more likely to be institutionalised if:

1. There is evidence of rules, structures, sanctions and accreditationin relation to responsiveness at the organisational level;
2. There is evidence of accepting the imperative for responsivenessat policy level, at the level of university governance (leadership,management and administration) and at the level of thedisciplines (academia), and there is ideological alignmentbetween all three of these levels; and
3. There is evidence of instances of responsiveness among universityacademics bearing towards strengthening the core academicfunctions of the university (that is, research and teaching).

Should there be a lack of ideological alignment and/or shouldresponsive activities in the under structure be predominantly locatedin the extended periphery, then, despite the pressures being exerted,responsiveness is less likely to be institutionalised. Consequently, thecall for responsive universities is less likely to engineer meaningful change within higher education of the kind which will create a more direct link between the university and its socio-political context in order to ensure that universities make a greater contribution to the development of society.

1.6 Structure of this thesis

Chapter 2 examines the literature in order to map current pressures foruniversity responsiveness, predominant polemics around perceivedproblems associated with responsive universities vis-a-vis knowledge,teaching and service, and provides a preliminary overview of thedifferent notions of responsiveness prevalent in the literature.

Chapter 3 delineates the theoretical and conceptual framework for thisstudy. It also provides what are suggested as important conceptualand ideological distinctions for the slippery notion of responsiveness.In order to operationalise the primary research question, while atthe same time taking cognizance of the ambiguities inherent in thenotion of responsiveness, a typology of responsiveness is developedand presented in the second half of Chapter 3. The typology servesas a framework for plo ing different types of responsiveness but alsoserves as a template for assessing the extent to which responsivenessappears to be institutionalised. Proposed indicators for theinstitutionalisation of responsiveness in higher education are set outin the closing parts of Chapter 3.

The research design and methodology for this study are set out inChapter 4. Chapters 5 and 6 present the findings for the cases ofthe University of Mauritius and the Nelson Mandela MetropolitanUniversity respectively, and briefly discuss the findings at each ofthe universities. Chapter 7 concludes this thesis by providing anintegrated and more detailed analysis of the findings, and identifiesareas for further enquiry.

Chapter 2 Literature review

Within the context of a globalising world, rapidly developinginformation technologies, diminishing public funding and increasedexpectations in terms of contributions to social and economicdevelopment, universities worldwide are being ‘forced’ to developstrategies on how to respond to new and increasing environmentalpressures. That higher education is undergoing a period of intensepressure to change is neither a contested nor a revelatory statement.What is contested is the process by which such pressure will result inchange and the extent to which the pressures will transform universitiesas we know them. Among the constellation of environmental pressuresis the ‘growing requirement to pursue, warrant and improve quality,effectiveness, efficiency and responsiveness in all the strategic highereducation activities (didactic, research, curricula innovation, staffand budgeting)’ (Vaira 2004: 490; emphasis added). If responsivenessis indeed a new, formalised requirement of the contemporaryuniversity, then the extent and form of its incorporation into theuniversity will inevitably require and depend on adaptive strategiesat organisational level.

2.1 Responsiveness in context

Generally speaking, the appearance of the term ‘responsiveness’ inthe higher education literature is used to suggest the university’scloser relationship with the market and/or society (collectively, ‘theenvironment’) in order to meet the needs of the market. These ‘needs’originate from changes in society and the concomitant pressuresexerted by society for higher education to make a contribution tothe well-being of society at large. The most commonly referred toenvironmental pressures as follows: globalisation, accountability, massification and reduced public funding (Brennan 2008; Gorni ka1999; Jansen 2007; Moja et al. 1996; Neave & Goedegebuure 2006;Maassen & Olsen 2007). Peterson (2007) identifies seven environmentaldynamics as change drivers: diversity, telematics (or ICT), quality,new learning markets, economic productivity, globalisation andresource constraint. Tierney (2004) identifies four pressures that area result of changes in the environment in which universities operate:limited resources (increasing costs associated with decreasingincome); changes in the workplace (both on campus in the case ofacademics and university administrators, and off-campus in thecase of graduating students); the rapid up-take of new technologies,particularly in terms of the impact this has had on communication;and the dilution of both academic culture and common purpose.

The pressures driving the process of change within the contemporary university can be analysed at three levels: global, national and localorganisational. And while the level of interpretation or translation may be local, the requirements (or pressures) for responsiveness are simultaneously global, national and local, and should therefore be considered in all three of these contexts.

2.1.1 Global(isation) pressures

Several authors make mention of the need for responsive universitiesin the face of what are said to be rapid and extraordinary social changeson a global scale (Brennan 2008; Jongbloed et al. 2008; Jongbloedet al. 1999; Marginson & Rhoades 2002; Swar 2006; Tierney 2004;Vaira 2004), changes that are framed within the slippery concept ofglobalisation. Most notable of these changes due to globalisation isthe ongoing transformation of the university to a ‘service serviceenterprise embedded in competitive markets’ (Olsen 2007b: 35) or tohigher education as industry (Gumport 2000). This ‘forced’ changeis premised on the argument that, in relative terms1, state funding for higher education is in decline due to the diminishing role of thestate in a globalising world2 and that universities need to turn to themarket (and operate a service enterprises) in order to generate newincome streams (Gumport 2007). If universities are indeed facing sucha period of seismic transition, and if they will to an increasing degreedepend on the market as a source of income, then their success willdepend on the extent to which they are responsive to the needs of themarket (and the customers that constitute this market).

Swar (2006: 128) points to contradictory pressures of globalisation and democratisation in relation to responsiveness, and the path taken by universities when forced to accede to one of what he claims are mutually exclusive pressures:

[D]emocracy exerts pressure on universities to expand theirhorizons across ever-widening social spheres in promoting‘public good’ and building social capital [… T]he dominantlogics of globalisation place countervailing pressures oninstitutions to be more competitive, entrepreneurial and self-sustainable. Caught between these two contradictory pressures,institutions often tend to privilege revenue yielding (as opposedto socially rewarding) strategic partnerships, which bring someconsiderable short-term advantage, but which establish pa ernsof ‘engagement’ favouring corporate interests over social capitalimperatives within communities.

This sentiment is echoed by Rhoades and Slaughter (1997: 13) who point to ‘a dramatic inversion of not-for-profit universities’ ideological underpinnings’ as they become directly involved in the marketplace and therefore by necessity align themselves with market forces rather than the needs of society.

Other than the shift in the revenue models of higher education said to be a consequence of globalisation, two other drivers of change a ributable to globalisation should be mentioned: (1) new management imperatives and (2) the knowledge society.

New management imperatives can be described as a shift towardsthe ‘entrepreneuralisation’ or ‘managerialisation’ of universitiesas organisations (Amaral et al. 2002; Bentley et al. 2006; Brennan2008; Clark 1998; Neave at al. 2000; Reed et al. 2002; Sha ock 2005).New approaches to how universities are governed, it is argued,approaches more akin to business management which prioritise theorganisation’s relationship with its market, are required. This shiftis seen to be tightly coupled with the reduced role of the state in aglobalised world (Vaira 2004). Key concepts in the new managementimperative are innovation, flexibility, and alignment of supply(products and services) and demand (clients and consumers). In thecase of universities, these have significant implications in terms ofhow they re-orientate themselves towards the market. Universities’‘products’ in the form of knowledge, graduates and curricula needto match the demands of the market in the form of industry, thelabour market and students respectively. This imperative, combinedwith flexible systems, processes and decision-making within theuniversity structures, further highlights the need for universities tobe responsive to their environments.

Vaira (2004: 488) identifies the following characteristics of the knowledge society: ‘knowledge production for competitive purposes; the wider and faster flow of communications; the shift inthe occupational structures from manual workers to highly educatedand flexible knowledge workers’. This shift to the knowledge societyplaces pressure on all educational institutions, including highereducation, to produce graduates suited to the knowledge economy.In other words, the university needs to occupy a position in societywhere it not only forges links with industry for the financial benefitof the university (as per the drive to managerialism) but for the benefit of the economy as universities produce the kind of knowledgeand graduates (knowledge workers) that make economies morecompetitive and drive economic growth. Universities are thereforerequired to be responsive to the needs of the economy in order toproduce the kind of knowledge and knowledge workers that willbenefit the economy (Brennan 2008; Castells 2001, 2009; De Weert1999; Kruss 2003).

2.1.2 National pressures

Government, industry and civil society organised at national levelexert pressures on universities to be responsive to national needs sothat universities will contribute to the development of the country,elevate the country’s competitiveness and provide solutions toaddress national social ills (such as poverty). In this section, the caseof South Africa is used to illustrate national pressures being exertedon universities. (It is perhaps worth making the point that nationalpressures are not always differentiable from global pressures, eventhough they may be easier to trace to national sources. In otherwords, what appear to be national pressures may in fact be iterationsof global shifts from which the national context is not insulated.)

National pressures for universities to be responsive to the needs of society find expression in national legislation, policies and in national formulae for calculating state funding of higher education.

At policy level, the call for responsiveness in South African universitiesis unmistakable (even if it appears fraught with borrowed ambiguity).The 1997 White Paper is the policy framework intended to fosterequity, democracy, efficiency and responsiveness in South Africanhigher education. As the post-1994 ‘framework for change’ (p.2) itproclaims that the ‘present system of higher education is limited inits ability to meet the moral, political, social and economic demandsof the new South Africa’ (p.4) and that the ‘higher education systemmust be transformed to redress past inequalities, to serve a new social order, to meet pressing national needs and to respond to newrealities and opportunities’ (Department of Education 1997: 2). Fromthe outset, then, the fate of South African higher education from apolicy perspective is directly linked to its immediate (predominantlynational) environment. South African universities must not transformin isolation, it was contended; they must transform in such a wayso as to make a positive impact on national needs and a new socialorder. And, according to the White Paper, it can only do so by beingresponsive to its immediate environment. The requirement forresponsive universities is set out in the White Paper as follows:

In summary, the transformation of the higher education system and its institutions requires: […]

Responsiveness to societal interests and needs. Successful policymust restructure the higher education system and its institutionsto meet the needs of an increasingly technologically-orientedeconomy. It must also deliver the requisite research, the highlytrained people and the knowledge to equip a developing societywith the capacity to address national needs and to participate ina rapidly changing and competitive global context. (p.10)

In addition to national ‘policy pressures’, South African universitiesare subject to institutional audits carried out by the Council on HigherEducation, the agency mandated to advise the education ministry onhigher education-related ma ers. The institutional audit frameworkcontains 19 criteria. One of these criteria relates to the extent to whichuniversities are seen to engage with communities; in other words, theextent to which they are responsive to the needs of communities.

Cloete (2006) argues that policy intended to foster responsivenesshas not been successful in transforming South African universities’curricula nor their knowledge output and type to be in line with theobjectives of policy. He concludes that ‘the evidence reveals a verycomplex picture … [S]ome progress has been made, but in all cases thegains have been more modest than anticipated by the policy-makers

… [I]n most cases change can be a ributed to institutional responsesand the impact of the market, and much less to government policy’(Cloete 2006: 286). Favish (2003) points to a disjuncture betweenpolicy on responsiveness in South African higher education andits implementation. Of particular concern to Favish (in accordancewith Swar 2006 and Rhoades and Slaughter 1997) is themarginalisation of the social dimension of responsiveness, in otherwords, institutions, researchers and even policy-makers appear morelikely to interpret responsiveness in terms of linkages with the labourmarket or industry than in terms of the contribution to the public goodthat responsiveness should, according to Favish, engender. Muller(2005) also questions the direct impact of policy on research andcurriculum as the state’s dominance recedes in a globalising worlddirective power is ceded to the market. But, he cautions, it would beerroneous to conclude that the market is the only directive power.

Market pressures at national level for more responsive South Africanuniversities typically assume two forms: (i) national labour marketpressures for universities to supply relevant skills and qualificationsthat are in demand and/or in line with national, strategic humanresource development objectives (Kruss 2003); and (ii) nationalindustry pressures for universities to supply the kind of knowledgethat is utility-based and which drives innovation (Muller 2003).

Additional national-level pressure for more responsive universities assumes the form of reduced state funding in absolute terms (a consequence of shifting budget allocations and policy-driven funding formulae) (Pillay 2008).

The new funding framework for higher education in South Africais driven by the availability of public resources for higher educationrather than by the costs of provision. In both real and student percapita terms, funding has declined. A recent analysis shows thatbetween 2000 and 2004, government funding of higher educationin South Africa declined by 3.1% in real terms (DoE 2007b in Pillay 2010). From 1995 to 1999, total state spending per university studentincreased annually by ZAR 352 in real terms (2000 rand) but declinedannually by ZAR 515 between 2000 and 2004. This decreasing pa erncontinued in the period to 2009 and is unlikely to be reversed in thelight of the government’s budget projections to 2012. As a percentageof GDP, state funding of higher education has also declined from ahigh of 0.82% in 1996 to a low of 0.68% in 2008. As a percentage of thegovernment budget, after peaking at 3.0% in 2000, it has consistentlydeclined reaching 2.4% in 2008.

Duncan (2009 in Pillay 2010) has shown that the proportion ofinstitutional revenue received from the state (the so-called first streamof income) has declined, on average, from 62% in 1986 to 41% in 2007.‘Second stream’ income (tuition fees) increased from 15% to 32% and‘third stream’ income (research, consultancies, investment income,etc.), increased from 23% to 27% during the same period. Buntinget al. (2010) has shown that the proportion of private income for theSouth African higher education system increased from 27% in 2000to 32% in 2008. This data could be taken as a proxy for universitiesbecoming more responsive as they seek to supplement government-income shortfalls.

Other national pressures (often isomorphic in nature) includeincreasing competition between local universities for students, forresearch contracts and for donor funding, and mimicry (CHE 2007a;Clark 1983b; Maassen & Olsen 2007; Olsen 2007b; Van Vught 2008).3

2.1.3 Local-organisational pressures

Responsiveness is increasingly becoming part of the discourse on andwithin universities. The term appears in university mission statementsand senate proclamations as well as in official documents such asannual reports, on websites and in university marketing material.

Technology transfer and patent registration offices are increasinglycommon at universities. They are set up to promote and facilitateengagement of university academics with industry and businessenterprises. At some universities, other formal structures are beingset up to promote and monitor responsiveness within the university.These assume the form of commi ees or working groups that reportto university management on the responsiveness of academic staff.Responsiveness is even becoming a key performance indicator in theformal evaluation procedures for academic staff. These are some ofthe pressures for responsiveness that are being exerted on academicsat the local-organisational level. All amount to instances of universitymanagement aligning itself with government policy or concedingto external pressures which demand a closer relationship betweenuniversities and their environments (industry/society).

The local-organisational level is the site at which the pressures forchange are interpreted, and at which university governance structuresmay affect strategic choices based the extent to which externalpressures are in alignment with the values, norms and beliefs of theorganisation. As Muller (2003) cautions: it would be erroneous toconclude that the market is the only directive power; it is equallyimportant to consider the contribution of the universities themselves(endogenous factors) to facilitate or resist external directive power(exogenous factors).

The claim that higher education - with its long history, andestablished values and norms - constitutes an institution identifiesa critical organisational-level contextual dimension that determineshow a university responds to external demands (Higgins 2007; Meyer et al. 2007; Muller 2003, 2005; Oliver 1991; Sco 2001).


1 While funding has increased in absolute terms in some countries (for example, several of the Nordic countries), relatively speaking, fundinghas decreased due to the increase in costs associated mainly with the expansion (massification) of the relevant systems (Mora & Vila 2003).

2 From a neo-liberal perspective, the role of the state should be reduced from a regulative and interventionist one to a mediating one; and onein which there is greater confidence in the market as an efficient regulative and allocative mechanism. However, with the recent collapse offinancial institutions on a global scale in 2009 and the intervention of the state to rescue failing financial systems (market), it could be arguedthat the role of the state has been marginalised too easily. Others may argue that stronger state control would not have prevented the collapse,as the collapse of financial institutions and the consequent destabilisation of the system had more to do with the complexity of the financialinstruments being traded than a lack of sufficient regulatory frameworks.

3 The distinction between local and international pressures in the area of competition and mimicry is not clear cut. While these pressures certainly exist at the national level, they also exist at a global level as universities compete internationally for students and as world rankings increasingly dominate the strategic agendas of universities.

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Responsiveness and its Institutionalisation in Higher Education
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responsiveness, engagement, third mission, institutionalisation, typology, development, africa, south africa, mauritius, higher education, alignment, academic core
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François van Schalkwyk (Author), 2010, Responsiveness and its Institutionalisation in Higher Education, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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